Surfboard makers honor their best
DANA POINT – Half a century ago, Steve Walden and his friends from Pioneer High School in Whittier would pile into a friend’s truck and head down to Doheny State Beach to surf every weekend.
Since then, Walden has become a world-renowned surfboard builder known as the “father of the modern longboard.” His “Magic Model” design helped create a resurgence in longboard surfing in the 1980s and ‘90s.
Walden was back at Doheny Saturday morning, the very beach where he learned to surf, to be honored as one of seven inductees to the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame.
“This really is the summary of my work shaping surfboards over the past 50 years,” Walden said. “To be in the company of so many other talented people where I got my start brings it all full circle.”
The International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame was founded in 2000 by Bob “The Greek” Bolen and Mike “Mickey Rat” Ester as a way to honor the unsung heroes of the surf community – the people who build the boards.
There’s no shortage of awards for surfers, Bolen said, but this is the only award worldwide for “shapers.”
“Without these guys, there’s no surfing,” Bolen said. “They’re the ones spending time in the water and time in the factory, and they often get no recognition.”
To date, 78 surfboard builders have been inducted into the hall of fame. They’re often referred to as shapers because of the way they hone down hunks of polyurethane into surfboards.
Every year, the previous honorees select the next class of builders to be inducted, which ensures that the hall is more than just a popularity contest, Bolen said. But that doesn’t mean inductees aren’t ever popular.
Jeff Ho, who opened Jeff Ho Surfboards and Zephyr Productions in Venice Beach in 1971, drew huge cheers when he was given his trophy. In addition to the Zephyr Surf Team, Ho founded the Zephyr Skate Team, better known as the Z-Boys, whose story was show in the 2005 film “Lords of Dogtown.”
Despite his relative prominence in popular surf and skate culture, Ho said being inducted into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame was the greatest honor he could ever achieve.
“This is everything for me,” Ho said. “This is like winning the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Emmys, you name it.”
For Ho, crafting a surfboard is as much about giving it a unique design as shaping the board itself. He call his boards “performance-based works of art,” with vibrant colors that flow in and out of one another.
C. Christine Nichols is currently displaying six of Ho’s boards in her Mar Vista art gallery. Once a year, the gallery takes a break from displaying paintings, photographs and scultures to show surfboard artistry, and Nichols said Ho’s boards stand above most others in that regard.
“He has an uncanny ability to bridge the worlds of art and waveriding,” Nichols said. “There’s a sort of ‘fetish of the finish’ in the surfing community, and Jeff’s boards always stand out visually and in the water.”
In contrast, Walden has typically been more concerned with the function of his boards. While many other board manufacturers focus primarily on improving performance for the boards that professional surfers would use, Walden said he likes to create boards that improve performance for surfers of all skill levels.
At 67 years old, Walden hasn’t stopped working on boards with his own hands. In fact, he brought a board with a new design with him Saturday, which he was considering taking for a test ride in the afternoon.
“Surfing and shaping keeps me young,” Walden said. “I still think I’m 25.”
“Age sometimes catches up with the body, but in the mind I’m still going.”
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