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.
It 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
55 YEARS LATER…
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.
“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….
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.”
TO BE CONTINUED…
We are proud to finally have live Harbour’s new website! Take a click around and we think you’ll like it. We’ve added lot’s of new items including new board models, a place for you to post reviews about our board models, new ways to categorically view photos of our board models, a link to our Pinterest page to view all things Harbour and there will be more new features to come within the next few weeks! We are pretty stoked on our new look!
I rode both the diamond tail single fin and the “Why” all weekend at Trestles. They both work great. The waves were very fun and I got a little bit of footage.
The “Why” is very fast and surprisingly responsive. Even though it is so short it paddles great. I think that is due to the width. I was able to paddle into the more mushy waves that a standard shortboard would not be able to. I think this model is great.
The diamond tail single fin rides similar to a normal shortboard but causes you to draw more traditional lines. You can still hit the lip and do pretty big cutbacks. I also had a blast on this board.
I printed, numbered and sold 20 copes of HARBOUR UNCENSORED CHRONICLES.
I have no plans to re-order, so if you got one of these, it is a real collectors item.