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Diving into San Diego's surfing culture

 April 23, 2024 at 5:19 PM PDT

S1: It's time for Midday Edition on KPBS. Surfing is part of San Diego culture , and today we're going to dive into the history and art of the sport. I'm Jade Hindman. Here's to conversations that keep you informed , inspired , and make you think. We'll talk with a local professor who teaches a college course in surfing.

S2: I do think that there is so much wisdom that you can derive from a simple act of riding a wave.

S1: Plus , the nonprofit panel for peace talks about diversifying the sport , and a local surfboard shaper talks about the art of making boards. That's ahead on Midday Edition. This morning , surfers waxed their boards and got ready to hit the waves at Tourmaline Surf Park. KPBS reporter and avid surfer Scott Rod was there and describes the scene.

S3: It's gray , overcast.

S4: Tide's filling in , but still some surf waves out there. This is a spot with a lot of surf history , and it's also my go to surf spot. It's right around the corner from my apartment. It's not just a spot that people go to paddle out and catch a few waves and then come back. You always see people hanging out in the parking lot. You always see people trading tips , talking about their board , talking about their latest setup. Talking about the best wave of the day. Yeah , just a really special place.

S1: In many ways , surf culture has shaped San Diego , from everyday fashion to the laid back life. That's certainly true for Ben Carter. This history professor trades a traditional tie in briefcase for a surfboard and wetsuit in one of his classes. That class is all about surf history and culture. Ben is associate dean of general education at Point Loma Nazarene University. He's also a professor of history and literature there. Ben , thanks for being here.

S2: Oh , thank you for having me. I'm pleased to be here.

S1: Oh , so glad you're here. So , Ben , in your eyes.

S2: It's , uh. It really does help put San Diego on the map in terms of sports and lifestyle. But I'd also like to add that today in , uh , colleges and universities , it becomes sort of a symbol of what's unique about San Diego. Hmm.

S1: Hmm.

S2: And I was at first , um , you know , very intimidated by the ocean because it's so alive and powerful. Um , but over time , as I developed , you know , confidence in the water was swimming. In particular , I just developed this real affinity for getting up on the board and going fast. And , uh , really also the , the sort of , uh , state of mind that surfing can put you in when you're sitting in the lineup. It's very easy while you're waiting for waves to sort of think about big life questions. And I , I suppose I have that sort of reflective temperament. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. Well , and it's great to , to be able to incorporate that time and space into your life. You know , let's get into the early history of surfing. I understand that it didn't originate in San Diego or even on American shores.

S2: That is the case. Um , really ? Surfing originated in Polynesia before common times. The first recorded instance of Western people observing surfing is with , uh , Captain James Cook when he , um , anchored in Tahiti in 1769. Uh , he saw some Tahitians standing up and and writing boards on waves. Uh , later we we found out that it was really Tahitians who settled the Hawaiian Islands. And that's really where stand up surfing , um , is then communicated to America or the United States in the early 20th century. Essentially , people on , uh , from the United States on holiday in places like Waikiki observed Hawaiian surfing , and they think it looks like a lot of fun. And so , um , they'll give it their first shot at Waikiki. And they're really the 1890s and early 1900s. And then it's just a matter of time for a couple of Hawaiians to be invited to Southern California to demonstrate surfboard riding , which was , uh , the name it was given at the time.


S2: I think , uh , you know , the most obvious thing is that we have really great beaches. Um , we have , uh , beaches that have all sorts of kinds of waves , and the waves can be accessible and alluring to a whole variety of skill levels. So you have , uh , you know , really easy waves to ride at La Jolla Shores. Then you have more challenging ones , perhaps at the cliffs of Point Loma. And then you have , you know , really big , powerful , uh , winner waves at Blacks Beach. So I think that that has something to do with it. I think we're also blessed with just really generations of very creative people who really know how to shape and design surfboards. The surfboard industry really takes off in the 1960s through brands like Gordon Smith's Surfboards and individuals like Billy Caster. They're very , very talented.

S1: Yeah , and it seems to be carried on by younger generations. Tell me about how they're impacting surf culture.

S2: Typically , surf culture is a youth culture. Uh , history. Quickly. That is the case. Surfing becomes associated with the quote unquote youth in the late 50s and early 60s. Um , because so many of the people who participate in the sport , uh , are young and creative and idealistic , I think what they're doing is they're bringing their youthful energy and creativity and big ideas , uh , to the industry. Uh , but also how we think about surfing. Wow.

S1: Wow. And you mentioned some , some great legends there , um , who really shaped surfing in San Diego.

S2: And , uh , what the course intends to do is to introduce students to surfing as a sport , but also a culture. And that culture is largely informed by the surf industry , which emerges in about the 1960s , largely in San Diego. And so you have surfboard manufacturers like Gordon and Smith Surfboards , who I just mentioned. Uh , they will become very , very prolific , providing well designed surfboards at an affordable price. And so in the 1960s , you have what is , uh , basically the democratization of surfing taking place in San Diego , as well as , you know , places North Orange County , L.A. County , they become basically the epicenter of what becomes a national , almost sensation or appreciation of surfing. And you see this with the rise of , you know , the Gidget book and then later the movie and then the TV series , followed by the Beach Boys and their surfing USA jingle. Mm.

S1: Mm. Well , you know , surf clubs seem to be a big thing in the 70s. Tell me more about those.

S2: I would say they're experiencing something of a renaissance. Um , surf clubs began , uh , really in the 1890s in Waikiki , uh , Hawaii. The first one was called the Outrigger and Canoe Club and essentially it is a club , um , that is started by , uh , mainlanders from the United States who are interested in business prospects in the islands. Um , it's also a sports club. And so a lot of these people , as they get together to broker business deals , uh , will also go for a paddle out and try to get a wave or two. Um , the whole club tradition , uh , is perpetuated in the early 20th century in Los Angeles , Orange and San Diego counties. And essentially they bring together , uh , men , both , uh , blue collar and professional men who are very interested and in surfing. And they'll get together , um , you know , to surf , you know , with friends at local breaks. Um , you know , the tradition of surfers surfing alone isn't really a thing at this point. It's more of a communal activity. Probably the heyday of surf clubs , particularly in San Diego , is by about the 1960s , the most famous being the Wind and Sea Surf Club , uh , out of La Jolla. And then by the 1970s , the whole appeal of clubs really begins to break down during the counterculture. They're revived again in the 1980s , and they take on a bit of a civic activism dimension to them in which , you know , club members are getting together with surf , but more often than not , uh , to clean up beaches or to raise money for cancer research. Uh , today they exist , but they're I would say they're probably a little more ideologically driven than in the past. Surf clubs that are interested in making the lineup a little more accessible to segments of the population that have traditionally , uh , maybe been discouraged to go paddle out and try to get a few waves.

S1: And that's all something that we're going to dive into more , um , later in the show. But I want to talk about your history class , your surf history class. These are a lot of the lessons that you teach to students.

S2: Um , and so we need to really , as institutions , set ourselves apart and do something really creative in eye-catching , uh , so that we can really sort of make a claim for why students should come study with us. I think that's part of it. I think another reason is , you know , given our location in Sunset Cliffs , you know , Point Loma is really geographically situated to teach the history of a of a sport and tradition that's been part of San Diego history for so long. One of the cool things about teaching the course is that while we study ideas through reading and lecturing and discussion , we also have an opportunity to really experience and embody those ideas , because I basically allow a variety of surfboards , uh , to be ridden by students. If they choose , they could go paddle out in front of a school and really , uh , sense can aesthetically , some of the ideas that we're talking about with regard to surfboard design and that. And I think a final reason is that because I'm dean of general education , um , what I think this course is a is a perfect fit for it because ultimately the purpose , in my opinion , of general education , is to instill the right questions , uh , in students minds , questions not about a particular career , but about living well in general. And I do think that there is so much wisdom that you can , uh , derive from the simple act of riding a wave.

S1: Uh , a great advice there. I've been speaking with Ben Carter , associate dean of general education and professor of history and literature at Point Loma Nazarene University. Ben , thank you so much.

S2: You're welcome. Thank you for having me.

S1: Coming up , the conversation continues with the nonprofit paddle for peace and their efforts to diversify the sport by providing access.

S5: And that's how we increase the representation of black and brown communities in the outdoor space. If we can't find them , we create them.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Welcome back to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm your host , Jade Hindman. The weather is warming up and our beaches are getting more crowded. So today's show is all about surfing in San Diego. We now turn to an organization working to diversify the sport. They also promote coastal access for Bipoc and low income communities. Joining me now in studio boards and all are two members of paddle for peace. Marissa Bell is founder and executive director of paddle for peace. Welcome , Marissa.

S5: Thank you.

S1: Also , Latifa Safi , water safety and program coordinator. She's also a surf instructor at UC San Diego. Latifa , welcome to you. Hi.

S6: Hi. Thank you.

S1: So glad you both are here. So , Risa , tell me , what is paddle for peace.

S5: Well , first we're a community. But paddle for peace was created to diversify the coastal space , diversify the surf lineup , and provide access to the coast for Bipoc and low income inner city communities. And with that includes coastal recreation , ocean conservation , education and ocean safety. So our main goal is to diversify the coast. Wow.

S1: And Latifa , you're a surf instructor at UC San Diego.

S7: And then I was able to bring what I've learned in my passion over to paddle for peace. And we meshed perfectly. Yeah , yeah.

S1: Oh that's great. And you brought your board with you today. Uh , describe it for the listeners. And what's the story behind it ? Okay.

S7: Yes. So she's beautiful. First of all , she is , she is , she's beautiful. Her name is Ursula. She's a single fin. And she has a I would call it a sea green , uh , fin , single fin. But , um , she's a nine foot eight and she's tall. Oh , yeah. She's very tall. Slender. And so the story is , I work , you know , I'm a program manager at UC San Diego for a program called Black Like Water. And I work with Provost Wayne Yang. Wayne Yang , he created this program where we teach Bipoc at the University of UC San Diego how to surf. And I create a week long with him. We create a weeklong surf camp. And from that , other people on campus , um , really awesome allies. They came to us , approached us and asked , hey , we just set up , um , a program at the craft center , and we have some pro shapers come in. Would you guys like to shape a board and see how we can connect ? So I never dreamed in my life that I would ever shape aboard. And so Annika at the craft center , Annika Nelson I love her. She said , you know , whatever you want to do , if you want to do your dream board , like do it. And so , yeah , I got two of my favorite boards. One board was the foamy , and I hated that about it. But then the other board was not a foamy , but it was too short. So I put them together and made Ursula.

S1: Just the way you want her. Exactly.

S7: Exactly.

S1: It is. Well , um. So I want to know a little more about paddle for peace. So , Risa , I know your group does a lot of outreach work with kids.

S5: So we actually did not start with kids. We had kids. It wasn't kid centered. So when we first started , it was just anyone who was Bipoc , black and brown. Come and take a free surf lesson. Message us on Instagram. At the time it was me , messaged me on Instagram and so I was kind of like , I felt like almost every day giving surf lessons. And I said , okay , this is nice , but how do we make it sustainable and what am I really doing ? I know I want to bring more black and brown people to the beach , but it's not feasible to just hang out at the beach all day. I was still working a full time job and then I started to think , okay , well , how do we really make an impact and how do we really make it sustainable ? And I said , well , the kids , because they're the future. And when you're an adult , you know , we're kind of trying things and we're like , yeah , we like it. We don't. Starting off as a kid is kind of giving you a head start. And then I started to say , well , how are the kids going to get to the beach and what kids do I want to focus on. And it was specifically inner city kids , black and brown children who have the beach in their back. Yard and they just can't get to it because socioeconomic barriers , transportation barriers , financial barriers , etc.. Um , and so as I was thinking of like who I want to serve and what barriers they face and , and really asking the question , why aren't there black and brown people at the beach ? Um , and then you kind of , you know , trace it back to history , systemic racism , redlining , all of these things that our ancestors had to deal with. And I said , okay , I'm going to hit every barrier that there is. And the first grant that we ever got was , um , through the Coastal Commission for the Whale Tail grant. And with that fund , we were able to launch the program for the first time. So we took 20 kids from the inner city. We were able to pick them up , rent vans to pick them up , bring them to the beach. And we brought the community together , the community of surfers , and they all volunteered to give surf lessons , and we brought lunch. And that's kind of how our programs were born. And that's how we increase the representation of black and brown communities in the outdoor space. If we can't find them , we create them. Wow.

S1: Wow. I mean , and , you know , like access is such a huge issue. And Spring Valley Ryan had his song never been to the beach. Yeah. Um , I remember we did a story on access and we had some kids from City Heights get on buses , go to the beach , come back. It took a full day just to do that. Many of them had never even been to the beach. On the way back home , the the bus broke down , like , I mean , you know. Yeah , you're offering such a valuable experience for kids. So I want to talk about this main problem your group is trying to fix. And that's surf culture , which can be really exclusionary also towards people of color. Um , can you tell me more about your experience with that ? Latifa. Yeah.

S7: So how I so I started surfing at 18 , and I don't even know if I could say that I started surfing. I was introduced to it. I was a skateboarder in Long Beach , and I just seen some kids. They didn't look like me , but they were coming from somewhere with boards. I'm like , oh , those look fun. Those like sticks. I mean , it's not a skateboard , but what is that ? Right ? And I'm the type of person I'm curious and I want to make friends to understand what are your what's going on in your world. Yeah. And so we had this kind of barter system where I let the give them access , which was sad because white kids weren't allowed in the skate park for some reason. And I don't even know if that's a real rule , but it was just known. Okay. And so I said , yeah , I'll give you access to the skate park if you take me where you guys are coming from. Okay. And so that's how I was introduced. We did take a bus. It was a while , and we went to Malibu , and that was my first experience. And I didn't learn how to. I didn't know how to swim. Ah , yeah. So I'm out there and I all I know is that the leash was my savior. And somehow I got on the lineup and I felt so accomplished , and all of them were just laughing at me like , oh my God , look at her hair. Look at this , look at that. And I was like , I'm just , you can talk about me. I'm just here to be on the line. So just that experience of me not feeling validated and not feeling like I belonged on the lineup was a huge issue for me because I wanted to go back , but I didn't want to face all that trauma that went with going to the lineup. So then fast forward me almost dying a couple times because I didn't know how to swim. But having an avid surfer come and save me with their board. So if I had the type of representation and backup that Risa offers in our program that we offer , I think I would have been a much more well-balanced surfer. So I want to impart that , and that's why I'm huge on safety. I feel like safety is the number one. Even if you're not a great surfer and you don't even plan on surfing , this is how we take care of everybody on the lineup and create safe spaces.

S1: Yeah , it took a lot of courage to get back out there on the waves and just stick with that. Yeah.

S5: So I never did until I went to Hawaii. And I saw a bunch of brown people surfing , and I was like , oh , I want to take a lesson. Like , how cool. Um , so I took my first lesson there , and then I came back to San Diego and I was determined to surf , but I didn't have the guidance. I didn't really see a lot of people that looked like me in the lineup. I was out there by myself every single day alone. Um , and then I started making friends. Slowly but surely and even like as a surfer , a woman of color. When people found out that I served , they it was never anything like aggressive. But it would always be a shock. Oh , you surf and I'm like , yeah. Oh , really ? And the reason they have that reaction is because surf culture is so white. It's mainstream. Surf culture has portrayed a surfer to look a certain type of way. And it doesn't look like me. It's , you know , white blond hair , blue eyes , tanned skin. Um , there wasn't a lot of black and brown people , you know ? Um , so it doesn't feel welcoming , and you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb. So , you know , I didn't really do it until , like , seven years ago. And so in creating paddle for Peace , I'm like , I don't want people , black and brown people , to come to the coast and not see themselves or feel like they don't have representation. And a lot of feeling safe comes from like the cultural competency piece and having that relation to whoever's teaching you instead of just somebody random pushing you in , um , like our culture and our community has a historical fear of water and fear of drowning. And it's not something that we're seeing as participating in. So when you have someone who looks like you teaching you , there's an extra comfort level there.


S5: But to kind of like , you know , uh , like simplify it. Slavery , systemic racism , segregation. You know , let's just simplify and say , okay , slavery was no longer a thing. They were emancipated. Fine. But after that , there was still segregation laws , and then they're not allowed at the pool. There was redlining. They're not allowed to own property at the coast. These days we get a lot like not a lot. But some people come and say , like , what you're doing is silly. There's no more segregation laws. There's no more this there's no more that. You're correct. But we're undoing the damage from when there was. And the thing is , people don't realize that wasn't too long ago. So if my ancestors were not allowed at a pool or a beach , how can they pass that down to my grandma ? How can my grandma passed that down to my mom ? And how can my mom pass that down to me ? And a lot of localism , that's another privilege that comes from our past , because black people weren't allowed to own property by the coast. So the people who are locals to the coast and have that privilege , they think they own the ocean , whereas black and brown people , there's not a lot of us by the coast. And the ones that do don't surf , we don't , we don't have that. And so when you look at history , that's going to be your why to the what. And people shouldn't just focus on the what , they should ask the why. And that's what we did.

S7: But even going back further before that , before colonialism , African people , we're water people. Yeah. That our social socializing are where we get our food , where we play. That was all water in Africa. It's a wave catching community , you know. So then when to keep slavery ongoing , you had to keep them out of their comfort zone. If they're comfortable in water , you have to stop them from getting in water from , you know , uh , escaping. So I think that's where it's an innate fear that was driven into us to keep us in line.

S1: Well , I mean , I have to know then , since we're going to talk about history , lay it out for me. We know that surf culture is is overwhelmingly white , but there's a history that says otherwise.

S5: Thing is , like surfing is not inherently like a white sport. No black and brown people started like there's documentation of people in Africa , surfing in Senegal and West Africa to this day and Peru as well. And then you have Polynesia , and the Hawaiians are the one that the ones that brought it to California , where it just became like very colonized and white. But if you look at history , it was black and brown people that started surfing the the first ever time , you know , and then once it was brought to California , it was brought to Santa Cruz by the Hawaiians. And then it was kind of mainstream from there.

S1: Like , and I have to say this , I know we were talking about you guys mentioned segregation earlier , like blacks Beach. That's one of the key surf spots. Right. But that beach was segregated for quite some time. Absolutely.

S7: Absolutely. Yeah.

S5: Yeah. And I feel like even now you know. But Blacks Beach is such a good surf break. And like a lot of experienced surfers go there. You don't see a. Lot of diversity there , but there's some beaches like tourmaline and PB that are a lot more friendly and diverse , and we've just started seeing that over the last like 3 or 4 years. Um , there's been like black surf communities that have , you know , came about over the last four years , all the way from LA down to San Diego. And it's a community that supports one another. And we just text and say , hey , let's go surf so that it does feel like there's representation out there. Your homies are there and you're just having a good time because there are some people we haven't experienced it , but who have had racial slurs said to them. And even like during our programming , we do have some people who come up and tell us we don't belong , like , get out of here. You don't belong when we do our Juneteenth event. Or like , what is this , Juneteenth ? You know what ? But there's also a lot of allies and amazing people. And if you look at our org , we're not just exclusive of we have so many people that come from different backgrounds , and they're willing to support the black and brown community and be our allies and say , hey , like we're a community and we're here to support each other.

S1: Tell me about , like , the reaction that you get from from your students who like that's golden.

S7: That's a favorite. Yeah.

S5: We have so many.

S7: So their faces when you first tell them that you're a surfer , they're just like their mouth drops or they look and they like , wait , come and get that. And they're children. So they have the most natural reactions of what our society , they reflect society. Yeah. And so then when you tell them like , yeah.

S1: This is for you too. Yeah. Yeah.

S7: And then seeing them so scared day one like literally scared for their life. And then you have to reassure them the whole time. And then you see them at the end of the program and they're , they feel like they're avid surfers. Like they can go out there on their own now and they're like , like I.

S5: Would say , even by day two , they're like , okay , we don't need you anymore , right ? The way that they get so comfortable very quick. Yeah , has a lot to do with the community and the volunteers that we have who are dedicating their time and their patience and their comfort to allow the kids to feel safe and provide a safe space for them. And so they say things like , oh , do we have to go home ? And like , this is the best day of my life ? Yeah. Um , I had a couple kids cry because they're like , so happy. I'm so sorry. I'm crying. I'm just so happy. Like. And it's really nice , like , to see our older kids compete and then support. They compete like I'm the best surfer. And then if one of their counterparts is not catching that much waves , they'll go and help them.

S1: So yeah. Oh that's great. Yeah. It's it sounds like such a confidence builder. Absolutely. Um , but you know , I also I often hear from surfers too , that it's like a place of peace for them.

S7: And that's the component that I really want to pinpoint when , as I get older and in my career , more is putting those hand in hand , because that's where I found my peace and healing from my trauma that I've been through. And everybody goes through trauma. But where do you find that peace ? You know , and I only find that in the ocean. Right.

S1: Right. Same.

S5: Same. And that's why localism sucks , because you're ruining a place where people come to find peace. When we're on land , we have our watches , our phones , our job , our kids , our friends. There's a lot of noise. As soon as you paddle out , it's just. You're just focused on the waves. You're focused , you're being present. There's a lot that you could learn in the ocean. You can learn to let go of the fear of the unknown because you truly don't know what's beneath you , and you're just present in the moment. You learn to be patient while you're waiting for the right wave. You could take that on land , too , because some people try you and it'll teach you a little patience. Um , selective ness. Not every good wave is is going to be a good wave. You have to be selective. It's the same on land in your romance , your career , your friendships. Um , and it teaches you community. And just to kind of , like , be present because you have no choice. It can be very dangerous out there. You have to be present. You have to be able to read the waves , time them correctly , keep yourself safe , watch out for those around you. So I love. It.

S7: It. And I think to add to what she said , which is amazing , is the inner talk with yourself because that's who you're in competition with. That's who you're in relationship with. On the ocean is yourself. Wow.

S1: Wow. It sounds like the the ebbs and flows of the waves are very much a metaphor for life in how we interact.

S5: In life. There's a saying that says , um , if you can't fight the wave , then learn how to surf. Yeah.

S7: Yeah. Mhm.

S8: Mhm. I like life. Yes.

S1: Yes. Very good message for all of us. I've been speaking with Lisa Bell , executive director of paddle for peace.

S5: Thanks , Risa.

S1: Thank you. And also Latifa Safi. She's water safety and program director for paddle for peace. She's also a surf instructor at UC San Diego. Thank you. Latifa.

S6: It's my pleasure.

S1: Still ahead. The importance of local surfboard shapers.

S9: In La Jolla Lawn and Sunset Cliffs. You know , there's 30 different waves right there. There is a lot of different variety and quantity of waves. It's we're really one of the most incredible surf cities there is.

S1: You're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. Welcome back to KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Jade Hindman on the show today. We're taking you surfing. You just heard from local surf nonprofit paddle for peace about their effort to diversify coastal spaces and the sport. As mentioned , surfing was a global sport long before making its way to the U.S. , and Hawaiian Islanders are credited with introducing the sport to San Diego , which also influenced the art of surfboard shaping , which was a ceremonial right for islanders. Today , technology has changed the craft , and we now turn to local surfer Josh Hall , who happens to be a surfboard shaper. Hall owns his own surfboard studio and board building factory in San Diego. Josh , thanks for joining me today. Absolutely.

S9: Thanks for the time.

S1: Glad to have you here. So , Josh , I understand you're from San Diego , so tell me about your upbringing in the surf community.

S9: Um , yeah , really fortunate to have been born and raised here in San Diego. I grew up in Claremont. Um , most of my beach , while all of my beach life and my younger years was down at Pacific Beach there at Crystal pier , you know , the idea of doing something to keep the time schedule as open as possible , like potentially building boards , uh , took a , you know , pretty strong hold of me. And it started with doing something repair and high school in the garage. And then , uh , that summer after my senior year is when I shaved my first board back in two. Oh , sorry. 1999 , actually , uh , my freshman year of college. So , um , it really I was just really fortunate to grow up in a beach community down there that had so much history as far as San Diego board culture went , that it , you know , really kind of rubbed off on me and piqued my interest at , you know , at a pretty young age.


S9: We have just about every type of wave that you can encounter in most parts of the world , and so it's a huge blessing to be here in San Diego just because of the variety of waves , the proximity of the surf. I mean , just in La Jolla alone and , and Sunset Cliffs , you know , there's 30 different waves right there , you know , I mean , if you got to know. Right. But but and which season it is and whatnot. But there is a lot of different variety and , uh , quantity of waves. It's we're really one of the most incredible surf cities there is. Yeah.

S1: Yeah. It's great that you just built your life around doing something that you love. That's it's rare that people are able to do it. So that's pretty cool. Um , so I heard you were mentored by local surfboard shaper Skipp Frye.

S9: But , you know , come to find out , as you got older , he's everybody's hero. And back then you'd order a board. Um , his wife , Donna , would give you the order card. You'd go order the blank from from Mitchell's surf shop in La Jolla , and you'd wait about 3 to 4 months , and then , you know , they'd call you , hey , you're you're up. We're going to shave your board today or tomorrow or whatever. And he called me when he shaved my board. He's like , hey , I'm going to shave your board tomorrow. Let's meet up. And I'll never forget it. We we met up at the shop. We he's like , well , I like to ride a board similar to what I'm going to build that day. So here , let's ride these. And we took a couple of his personals out which was for us is kids was just like an incredible like , oh my god this is skipped personal board I can't believe. So we went out and surf out front riding those in my formative years. It really shaped how I surf like no pun intended. I oh my whole life style and career and surfing life to that. To him. Yeah.


S9: I just think it's changed. You know , your your knowledge and tradition and history was found through the surf shop and the guys that work there were , you know , the crew that work there , guys , the girls , whatever they were , they were local surfers that were older or they had traveled or and especially a surf shop owner back then , definitely was a core member of of the culture. To be able to educate you on everything from weather patterns and why the swells come in this way and that way to which tides and which winds and , you know , hey , here's where you got to park to go down to this spot , you know , and all that stuff. So that it used to be like that. And that's how the information was , was transmitted. But now there's if you wanted to shape a board , you could go to a online store , you could buy all the tools that I had to go figure out on my own. You could probably buy outlines of boards , and I mean , you could go to a cutting facility and just say , hey , I'm going to try to shape an eight foot board. And they go , okay , here it is. And that's to hurt the surf shops , too , because they're , you know , a lot of people just , oh , I don't need to go to Shopping's buy it online and Amazon will ship it to me. Yeah.

S10: Yeah. Well , I mean , I would.

S1: Imagine like each shop each. Each kind of has its own unique vibe , and to be able to walk into a local shop and have someone there who knows the waves of that particular beach is is something it's valuable. It's it's valuable information for sure. I mean , okay , so I want to talk about this concept of functional art.

S9: You got Picasso and Dali , their favorite painters in mind , and they have brilliant artwork , right ? I mean , sought after most some of the most famous art that's ever been created in the history. But you can't. It just sits on the wall. Right ? Well , surfboards. You take them and you go wrestle Mother Ocean. And she's different every two minutes of every day of her whole life. And so I think surfboards kind of really are the most functional art. I mean , airplanes , but airplanes are kind of stamped out , right ? An airplane design doesn't change that much , but. In surfboards. I'm building boards different for my zone than , say , somebody building a board for Australia. You know , on the Gold Coast for their zone. That's different from a local shaper in Japan and their zone. Right. But you're able to take it , craft it with your hands , finish it and then put it in the ocean and then have to contend with how it works. Hydro dynamically. So it's it's it's a major functional art piece , you know , because if you don't if it doesn't work right and you put yourself in a situation , you might die. I mean , ultimately you could you it might not work. And , you know , you're putting yourself in danger. So it's it's it's a really critical and functional piece of art.


S9: If they're built here and they feel different up in Northern California where the water is colder and denser. Right. So it's really. Yeah , that's that's something a lot of people don't key in on another factor. You know , for example , I build a lot of boards for guys in the northeast and they order it and I'm like , well , how much do you weigh ? Like , oh £185. Like , oh , you built like me. Perfect. I'll just shape myself a board. But then I go , wait , are you writing this in the wintertime ? They go , yeah. It's like , oh , well , you have a full suit on with gloves , a hood and booties. So you're at it at least £15 , right ? Just just because of the wetsuit. And so that board technically should be built a little bigger , a little thicker for that , for that type. But I mean , you know , you kind of have models and then it just depends what , what the surfers level is and what they're looking to get out of it. There's guys that are building boards of course for Kelly Slater in the top pros and then all of us normal humans right. That just like to go out and catch waves and and go fast. And so yeah there's there's a lot of factors that take in I mean that's what's the beauty of um , being a custom board builder and too , I , I ride about 99% of everything I build. That's an important piece to being able to communicate with a client , like , oh yeah , I've surfed that wave or I've surfed a wave similar. And you put that into the design.

S11: Well , you know , you make.

S1: Your boards by hand , but there's a lot of new board shaping technologies out there.

S9: So on my glassing crew , I have a team of five , I have a dedicated laminator , I have a dedicated hot coder , a dedicated fin guy and a dedicated glossier polisher and a dedicated sander. So there's five people touching my board every time and a pen liner. So there's six people. What's happening ? It's it's extremely skilled labor , eye shape. But my sander sands , he stands at my place. He sands it another shop , you know , because it's it's it's slowed down. Um , I think a big part of it is a lot of a couple bigger names took and went overseas and started building boards overseas and then shipping it back here and , you know , boards retail from overseas for what mine physical cost is like. That's not me making money or a markup. So it's hard to compete. You get the offshore brands that they can drop a container on a shop. Shop doesn't have to pay anything up front. It's all consignment. Well , if you're I totally get it. If you're a retail owner , you're like , oh , I'm going to get all this product and not have to pay a bill until it sells. Oh , I'll take it like I get it. Uh , I think that's kind of put everything in a little bit of a , like a not tailspin , but just it's it's hurt the market. Um , the machining. I do have a couple models that I get off the , uh , off the CXL machine. There's , there's 3 or 4 different versions of it. Uh , they've laser scanned my hand shapes and they're able to reproduce them , and I finish , shape them as if it were , you know , off a hand plane. Believe me , I was the guy that was slow. And , you know , 15 , 20 years ago didn't have orders. And now I'm at a place where it's like I , you know , I've had to turn it into a business. And if you want to , you know , have a life and surf and have a balanced life , you've got to get stuff , uh , pre-cut. Otherwise you're just you're just going to be a slave to your shaping room and not be able to do anything. And again , don't forget , I do this so I can surf. So. Right. That's the number one thing. Yeah.


S9: You know , I feel a very , um , strong , uh , responsibility to. Carry that specific design thread on. Um , and again , it's morphed. You know , I have my own surf style and I have other influences. So , you know , what I do specifically is a little different , but it's in that same vein of design theory and , and it's , you know , San Diego for the entire history of surfing , has been such a major factor in the design of surfboards and the culture and everything. And , you know , we can turn people on to this design thread still in other parts of the world. Surfing is everywhere now. Like I trip out , I go online and figure out that they're surfing here and they're surfing there , and there's surf camps here now , and there's a luxury resort at this place that I went to 25 years ago that , you know , we had to , you know , take boats to get into or whatever , like , so I think being able to take this San Diego design thread and be able to , you know , expose it to people throughout the world. I mean , that's I just think it brings , you know , ultimately a good surfboard. If you catch waves , it brings you happiness. And so if we can make more people happy , you know , the world hopefully is a happier place.

S1: All right. I've been speaking with Josh Hall , local shaper and owner of Josh Hall Surfboards. Josh , thank you so much for joining us today.

S9: Yeah , thank you so much for the time. It was a nice opportunity.

S1: That's our show for today. I'm your host , Jade Hindman. Thanks for tuning in to Midday Edition. Be sure to have a great day on purpose , everyone.

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Jess Ponting walks into the surf at Tourmaline
Nicholas McVicker
Jess Ponting walks into the surf at Tourmaline in this undated photo.

The swells of local beaches like Tourmaline draw dedicated San Diego surfers each day.

But it's not just the appeal of the waves, San Diego beaches are teeming with community. From the surfers to the surfboard shapers, there's an interconnectedness found in this solo sport.

Today, we look into the history of surfing, the growing diversity and activism in the lineup and the artistry of shaping a surfboard.


  • Scott Rodd, investigative reporter, KPBS
  • Ben Cater, associate dean of general education at Point Loma Nazarene University and professor of history and literature
  • Risa Bell, executive director and founder of Paddle for Peace
  • Latifah Safiei, water safety and program coordinator of Paddle for Peace and surf instructor at UC San Diego
  • Josh Hall, surfboard shaper and owner of Josh Hall Surfboards