It really all began in the fall of 1959 when I shaped my first surfboard using a hand plane. As previously mentioned, my first board had been stolen. My parents were not going to pop the bucks for a new board, so I talked my dad into getting me the materials to build one, convincing dad that this was going to be the making of some serious father son bonding. He was quite the craftsman himself and went for the bait big time. If you can imagine a surfboard built by a 16 year old with no board building experience, and no mentor to guide me. It was literally the blind leading the blind. The completed board was crude by any standards and the locals at the Seal Beach pier fire rings had a field day putting it down.
Putting down something I had struggled so hard to build did not settle well with me. But this may be the turning point in my life, because without these insults I would have never wanted to prove that I could do better.
I began studying professionally made boards with a driven obsession to try to put together in my mind the assemblage of steps that had to be taken to get to a finished product. Once I had this together in my head, I convinced one of my brother’s friends to join up with me and get 2 blanks that would be my second and third attempts to make a surfboard. These were carved out with a Craftsman power planer. It was a heavy, cumbersome tool that was essentially designed for fitting the edges of household doors, not the rail of a surfboard. But the completed boards were far superior to that first one. And this led to quite a bit of interest from the same group that was so critical of that first disaster.
Early board shaping in the garage
Soon I realized that the Craftsman planer was not going to do the trick, if I was to have to shape many more surfboards. By early 1960 I bought my first Skil 100 power planer that was the crown jewel of surfboard shaping tools, and I soon became proficient at shaping surfboards with it. In 1960 that machine ran about $125.00, which was a lot of money in those days, so I was obviously serous about a career of making surfboards.
Sometime in the winter of 1961 – 62, a local surfer by the name of Denny Buell had been checking out my shapes. Buell was a surfer of high stature in this young, fast developing world of surfing. He was featured in several surf films by John Severson and Bruce Brown and was in the very first Surfer Magazine. Buell was one of Gordie Surfboards better team riders, but he was not getting along with Gordie. So Buell asked if I was up to designing him a new surfboard.
Denny Buell / Surfer Magazine #1 / 1960
I was still making surfboards in garages and had no formal order forms. Therefore, no date or dimensions exist for this board. I only know that he was ecstatic about how the finished product looked and rode and the surfboard world took notice. The success of this board was truly the launching pad for my surfboard building career.