Since 1959, when Rich Harbour went into his parents’ garage with a saw and a piece of foam, Harbour has crafted more than tens of thousands of surfboards and counting. Today, vintage Harbour Surfboards are collected by enthusiasts around the world eager to grab a piece of true surfing history. Harbour Surfboards was established more than 50 years ago and remains as the worlds oldest surfboard manufacturing shop at the same location and a driving force within the surfing industry.
1950’s It was the year 1959 when Rich Harbour’s used longboard was stolen from his garage. Devastated over the loss of his surfboard, Harbour ventured out to build his own. He bought a blank and cut it in half with a handsaw.
Using a piece of redwood, and huge rubber bands cut from an inner tube, he glued the stringer into the blank. Rich shaped the board with a hand plane and sandpaper. Being the star pupil in his high school woodshop class and the best surfboard repairman in town gave him the confidence to do this. He glassed it and the results produced a board that wasn’t bad for a sixteen-year-old junior in high school. However, it received too many snickers from the local crowd at the beach. Boards numbers 2 and 3 were soon made and were a vast improvement.
1960’s 1960’s It wasn’t long before many of the locals were asking Rich Harbour to make them a surfboard. The boards kept getting better and better.
By the end of the next year, a Seal Beach surfer named Denney Buell, who had graced the pages of the very first Surfer Magazine, asked Rich to shape him a board. Rich’s ability to make great surfboards, and this vote of confidence from a top notch surfer, really got things moving. On March 7, 1962 Rich moved from the garage to open Harbour Surfboards. In less than one year at 5th street and Marina Drive, Harbour Surfboards quickly outgrew that location and re-located to the current address at 329 Main Street.
Within another year the board orders were morethan Harbour could shape by himself. Rich found Dean Eliott, an extraordinary craftsman, laminating at Mel Ross’ glass shop and showed him Harbour technique. Not long after that, local Newport Beach surfer Mike Marshall was brought on board. Within 2 more years the business had grown so large that a satellite shaping shop was opened in Costa Mesa, CA. A profile jig was developed to pre-foil the blanks to thickness, a process that greatly increases the accuracy of the shape. Soon John Graye was added to the shaping team. Dale Velzey did a couple of stints and during the summers, Dick Brewer came over and joined the crew. This was the core crew that produced the boards that made Harbour Surfboards a legend of the 60’s that continues today.
In 1964, Riding a Harbour Surfboard, Rich Chew had won the USSA championship on his Banana Model. This was the very first championship, and is the forefather of today’s surfing championships in that it was the first to crown someone from points compiled from a series of contests. That same year many Harbour team members competed in the world championships in Peru with Steve Bigler winning second in the hot dog contest.
The 1966 world championships had Harbour team members Jock Sutherland scoring second place and Steve Bigler scoring fourth.
By 1967 things had changed direction. Surfboards had gotten much shorter. Most of the shapers had gone on to other careers, and Rich Harbour hired Robert August to craft the new short machines, among them the Spherical Revolver.
1970’s After 2 years rooming with August and Mark Martinson, Rich married Helen, with Robert August in the wedding party. It was time to move on.
The 70’s were a developmental decade, the birth of the short board. Rich was deeply involved – experimenting with rocker, outlines foils and thickness. This was all uncharted territory that today’s shapers take for granted. It is so easy for contemporary shapers to mimic someone else’s design, but we had virtually nothing to copy. Harbour Surfboards was part of this incredible metamorphosis.
Kurt Augsbuger was taught to shape so that Rich could find time to thrust himself into skateboard design. After total fiberglass skateboards there came laminated wood skateboards. A huge 50-ton hydraulic was custom developed and a wheel well jig was invented. Harbour was making Harbour Skateboards as well as skateboard decks for George Powel. For a time, this was state of the art tooling. Although insurance costs drove him out of the skateboard business.
1980’s In the late 70’s Rich sold all of the skate board equipment and returned to a total focus on surfboards. Rich shaped and glassed every surfboard from the late ’70’s to the mid ’80’s. The 1980’s were the rebirth of the long board. A sophisticated profile machine was built with a set of rocker templates for each size creating a perfect foil for each blank that included tail “V” built into the system. Rich Harbour was again instrumental in design innovation. Not only was the unique channel nose concept developed, but more subtly, tail rocker was introduced to long boarding. It was this decade that our present core of surfers came on board providing the feed back that helped develop today’s shapes. Extraordinary surfer Tim Stamps was shown the Harbour way of shaping and continued as our in house master designer/shaper for 2 1/2 decades. We are truly blessed to have his mark being left here, and today he continues to be on staff as a consultant.
1990’s The High performance series of surfboards were developed in the 90’s. New models such as the Simms (re-named the Diamond Tail), San-O, Turbo, HP-1 Habanero, and Classic were all developed. Equally important, the H P (High Performance fin) was designed. Twenty-two prototypes were tested before the current design of this fin was deemed acceptable.
In 1998 a sophisticated profile jig was designed by Rich Harbour and built by an aerospace company. This machine was designed to deliver accuracy in cutting curves in the surfboard foam blank.
2000 Among the projects for the year 2000, Rich was commissioned by Clark Foam to produce his third blank design (known as a plug.) A plug is the original shape that a concrete casting is taken from. Within the shaping community, doing a plug is the supreme honor.
2001 The year 2001 has been very eventful at Harbour Surfboards. After 40 plus years of designing surfboards Rich Harbour was commissioned to hand craft a balsa surfboard for the permanent collection of the Design Museum of London. What an extreme honor! Since making this balsa board Rich has rediscovered his love for making exotic surfboards and we can’t seem to pull him out of his shaping room.
Harbour Surfboards also saw some of its surfboards as art work when there was another commission by Kbond, a hip Hollywood boutique, to build a few boards for their window display.
Also in the year 2001 Harbour Surfboards reintroduced two surfboard models, the Cheater II and the Sol. The Cheater II was brought to life after seeing huge resurgence of interest in step-decked flexible nose rider surfboards. This step deck design, where surfboards have rocker which flexes flatter when nose riding, was first pioneered by Harbour Surfboards in the 1960’s.
The new Sol model was conjured up while the Harbour design team was visiting the North Shore. They felt there was a need for a surfboard design to take on larger fast breaking surf such as the break on the North Shore or in Northern California.
As we continue to evolve Harbour Surfboards has much in the works for the upcoming years ahead striving to make the best in classic and contemporary surfboards.
2002 The year 2002 saw a departure from what Harbour is used to producing. With the input from our in house master designer/shaper Tim Stamps, we saw the development of the NINETEEN. The center width measures about 23 1/2″, a nose at 19″, a tail similar to our SanO model but wider, egg rails and classic weight foam. This is one wide, stable, nose rider. We have to say the Nineteen is the ultimate summer board – thank you Tim! 2002 also saw the reintroduction of the 70’s style shape with the 70’s Ripper. We took the classic early – mid 70’s concepts of thickness moved forward and pulled in tail to produce this very lively board for those who want a 70’s retro board.
Also developed is a large version of a short board called the Drifter. This is a “Big Boy Short Board.” In essence, it has much of the short board concepts, but has been expanded in length, width, and thickness. It is a remarkably lively board that will accommodate anyone who wants the short board feel but wants more floatation.
2003 Has us looking at new glassing materials with hopes of offering much stronger boards by year’s end.
We began producing the Rapier, a great rounded pintail that will really satisfy a huge part of the market. This filled a large void in our board line.
2004 We are doing some more experimentation with EPS/Epoxy construction.
We also developed a new shape the H3. It is the perfect all around High Performance shape.
2005 Clark Foam closes in December and has the entire industry scrambling for foam.
2006 We had more than 150 blanks in stock when Clark shut their doors. Gordon Clark decided to dispose of his inventory by allotting blanks by how good of a customer you were. They delivered more than 120 so we never ran out of foam like some other shops.
Our emergence into the EPS/Epoxy construction gets more serious and many test boards are made. We finally begin producing them.
By year’s end polyurethane (Clark style) foam is becoming readily available for boards 10-0 and under.
2007 Finally longer polyurethane blanks are available. This is important to Harbour Surfboards, as we are one of the largest makers of boards over 10-0.
Rich spends endless hours learning to create surfboard designs on his computer.
2008 We have introduced a new, computer-generated model designed by Rich Harbour called the Nose Rider. Test samples show it to be the best nose rider the test pilots have ever ridden. Sales are expected to go through the roof.
Rich has mastered this CAD (computer aided design) program that can take custom to limits that were never possible with hand shaping. For an additional fee we can use it to make small adjustments to (current) existing shapes. This means that we can now change rocker, rail shapes, thickness, foil and widths with precision never before attainable. The finished blank from the company that does the CNC (computer numerical control) work looks like a Ruffle Potato Chip. The base of the groove is the exact measurement and it takes a skilled craftsman about 45 minutes to finish one for glassing.
We can also make an exact copy of your old Harbour. This is a complex project of taking exacting measurements of more than 60 foil, rocker, outline, and slice points and inputting them into the program. At least 3 hours are required and charges will be by time invested.
2009 Our 50th year celebration begins! A 50th year model, the Limited Edition, is developed and will be produced only this year. A collector’s collectable for sure. In addition to this, a massive project was initiated in the production of 5 balsa/curly redwood Limited Edition surfboards. These would sell for $10,000.00 each. All sold!
A display of Rich’s life’s work in surfboard making was exhibited at the Frank M. Doyle Arts Center at Orange Coast College and in a 144 page hard bound book called The Harbour Chronicles – A Life in Surfboard Culture. This is a real tribute to a surfboard legend.
2010 Three new shorter boards are in the winter development stages. A new (More) Fun Shape, a short Egg Shape (the Sausage) and a 2+1 version of the Spherical Revolver called the Super Revolver. This is a bold move in that Harbour has been known for our long boards in the last decade. We have always made short boards, in fact Rich shaped, colored, glassed, and polished most of the boards made during the 70’s and 80’s.
2011 The Merlin is designed – another gift from Tim Stamps – our in house master designer/shaper. This is a great new shape with 50/50 rails in the front and hard rails at the rear that has a rounded Pin Tail shape.
2012 The “Why” is developed. In the beginning, this shape looked kind of like a Morey Boogie Board. Tom Morey, it’s inventor had sold his company and the name Morey Boogie, and subsequently changed his own name to “Y”. So I named the new shape, “Why” in his honor. This design no longer looks like a Boogie, but the name stuck. Also a mini Single Fin Diamond Tail is put in production rounding out our Mid Range board series.
2013 Preparations begin for our 55th anniversary! In the works is a special board with an almost “pig” outline. It has 50/50 rails up front and hard rails in the tail. This shape will be a great board for customers wishing to down size a couple of inches because it has a tail in the excess of 17”. This really captures a lot of wave energy. And along with this new exciting design, Kurt Augsburger is brought back to the shape room. In addition to Kurt, Steve Farwell, who had tutelage from Joe Quigg and Mike Marshall and has joined our staff.
The E series fin design is born, from the need to have multiple sized fins for our Evolution Series. This fin was initially 9.5. Rich tried moving the top area, known as the ”paddle,” forward ½” on the 9.5. This was very successful, so a complete series that includes 8.5, 9.0, 9.5, 10.0, 10.5, and 11.0 were designed, using this ½” forward style.