Celebrating 55 years of craft and stoke 1 OF 9

 Mark Martinson –  Honolua Bay, where backlit by the setting sun, transparent green lines with almost flawless shape roll through, sliced occasionally by the fin of a lonely surfer’s board.

It was late December 1965 and few surfers had ventured away from the island of Oahu to surf.  Seven of us had the guts to take a chance and try to see if these rumors were true…

We rounded the point where you first see Honolua Bay and our chins almost dropped off our faces as our Chevy emerged from the underbrush covering the boat-launching area.  There were spectacular rides that hot, sunny afternoon.  It was a day none of them would ever forget; the beauty, solitude and perfection of Honolua Bay – the surfer’sheaven.   – Rich Harbour  

Mark Martinson 1965

 Come celebrate 55 years of craft and stoke –  Saturday, November 15 Bolsa Chica Sate Beach, tower #23

Mark Martinson,  Honolua Bay 1965

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Relics from 1964

50 Years ago today, September 5th 1964, these three custom boards were placed on order and shaped here at Harbour Surfboards .  55 years later, you can still stop by our shop and order up the surfboard of your dreams and watch it be shaped.  Custom colors, stringers, logo placement and any other bell and whistle you can think of….

1964 2

1964 3

1964 Custom Board Order





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My brother Alan had been so gracious in allowing me to use his garage after my parents had tired of the mess and odor of a mini surfboard factory.  But now my sister-in-law Pauline had become pregnant with Teri, my brother’s first child, and the smell of resin in their garage was not in her best interest.  So, it was time for me to again change locations.  A young local named Mark Johnson lived several blocks away and was in need of a new board.  A deal was struck, and I was now making boards in his garage – his being the first.





harbour_slide1_yestercolorIt was January 1962 and I had served notice to my architectural professor that I had chosen a life of surfboard making.  The number of orders I was taking was a bit overwhelming for a two-car garage.  My parents were very supportive and began looking for a place to rent that I could open a business in.  After several months, a small structure that was on the corner of 5th and Bolsa (now Marina Drive) became available.  The address was 502 Bolsa Avenue and was part of the Bernstein Salad Dressing Factory property and is now a church.  We took out a business license March 7, 1962.

I began shaping there and quickly had to find a glass shop that could handle the glassing.  The landlord was not keen on resin smell, and I was simply too busy shaping anyway.  Mel Ross, a former Hobie employee had just opened a glass shop in Newport Beach and he needed boards to glass.  His work was impeccable and now my surfboards had a real professional look.

I made several hundred boards that spring and summer in that building but already the seams were beginning to burst.  Dad began looking for larger quarters.

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Jack O’neill takes great pride to feature America’s best Surfboard Shapers with their “Support Your Local Shaper” collaboration T-shirts.  First up….Jack O’neill x Rich Harbour!  The project was sparked by a recent  in-house ad campaign, (which was thought up by the creative minds of Steve Harbour – and yes, he is a distant cousin and Jason Penning)  that played on the quirky relationship between a guy and his board    The guys at O’neill  loved the slogans and loved the legendary story of Rich Harbour’s beginnings and decided it was perfect to pair it all up.  You can find the limited edition T-shirts here at Harbour‘s online shop as well as other major retailers – even Nordstrom!


Jack O'Neill x Rich Harbour

Jack O’Neill x Rich Harbour


Starcrossed T


Turnback T


Marriage T


Crunch Time T

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If It Weren’t For Alice

It was Rich’s mom Alice who asked him why he didn’t try one of those surfboards she had been seeing on the beach instead the canvas surf-mat that he had been riding.  So it was Alice who got him into surfing.

A note from Rich to his mom / working at the umbrella stand, Seal Beach / 1956

A note from Rich to his mom / working at the umbrella stand, Seal Beach / 1956

She supported Rich both morally and financially when he dropped out of college for a life of surfboard making.  She (and his dad) loaned him at age 18, enough money to rent a retail store and take out a business license.

She did Harbour’s book keeping when the retail store opened in 1962 and continued for 33 years.  As business at the shop took off, Alice came by almost daily and kept the young crew in line while Rich shaped in the back.

If it weren’t for Alice, Harbour Surfboards may not have ever been.

You’ve been gone for seven years now, but Alice, we haven’t forgotten you.  Happy mother’s day!

Rich's mom Alice / cir. 1970's

Rich’s mom, Alice / cir. 1970s

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The Turning Point

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

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.

Skil 100

Skil 100

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

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.

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Now, an interesting development at Harbour Surfboards has occurred.  Rich has been designing the quintessential 55th anniversary model with several features that he deemed were a must.

  1. A board that someone could downsize a bit from their current length; maybe two to four inches without losing wave catching abilities.
  2. A board that would turn easily.
  3. It needed nose riding capabilities.

“So I began by shifting the thickness to the rear a tad, and also moved the wide point rearward.  The 50/50 nose rail with a hard tail rail seemed very appropriate.  The design  has significant curve in the last foot of tail which measures 17 3/16 with a nose of 17 ½.  It is a wide board that measures 23 1/4 on a 9-6.”

This board has definite Pig Shape undertones.  But I have gained a lifetime of surfboard design knowledge since those early days.  May we introduce to you, The Evolver….


The Evolver / 9.6" / 55th Anniversary ed.

The Evolver / 9.6 / 55th Anniversary ed.
































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As the Story goes….It was the year 1959 and Rich was a 16-year-old kid just having had his surfboard stolen –  the cheapest option to replace it was to make one.  Having no shaping experience and just some repair experience, Rich convinced his parents to give him enough money to buy a blank and some resin and fiberglass.  He glued a ¾” redwood into that blank that he had sawed in half, grabbed a hand plane and removed the blank’s skin.  He sanded that smooth and that was the extent of the first shape job.

It wasn’t until the 4th board that Rich made templates, one for a nose shape and a separate one for the tail.  He drew two parallel lines to make the board’s width and blended the nose and tail template’s curves into the parallel lines.  This method will work if your templates are long enough to cross each other, leaving no flat spot in the outline. That  board had some straightness in the middle, as seen below in the only known picture of #4.  The boards following had better outlines.


“I think that it was then that I began thinking about board design.  The hot maneuver at the time was “rad” bottom turns and the shape to achieve it  was the “Pig”.  The concept was to make the tail wider than the nose.  I applied this approach by the time I was building surfboard number 8, sometime in late 1960.  My mom took a picture of two customers and myself (on the left) standing across the alley from her garage, with board number’s 8, 9, and myself holding number 10.”






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