This has everything to do with surfing: surfboards I knew and loved


First came the 8’0″ girl longboard, shaped and sold to my father in 1988–the year of my birth.

Dad took it to Tavarua that summer and the board survived; an image of him pig-dogging Cloudbreak on it would later hang in his workshop, the first surf photo I’d ever know. On weekends Dad would come to wake me in the dark, and hearing the creak of the hallway tile, I’d feign sleep to dodge the draft. It didn’t work. He helped me into waves at Canoes until, one day, a four-foot “cleanup set” speared the HIC into my ribs. I couldn’t breathe, but I could certainly cry. Didn’t surf for a year after that. I was six  and I wanted to be like Rusty’s longboard.

Upon re-uptake there was the 6’7″ Terry Senate pintail–good longboard brands–bought used from Play It Again Sports in Kahala.

Neither that shop nor the surfboard still exists. Years later I would strip the pintail’s glass and reshape it into a 5’5″ in my garage after watching John Carper’s Shaping 101; I thought I wanted to be a board-maker. I bought a Hitachi planer and other tools from Fiberglass Hawaii to the tune of $400, none of which ever saw enough use to dull even slightly. Shaping was hard.

There was the 5’9″ Arakawa picked off the rack at Blue Hawaii, another shop that no longer stands.

Procuring the 5’9″ was a battle; Dad, a product of the Bruce Brown era, thought the plank a waifish absurdity. He insisted upon 6’4″ for me, minimum. I probably weighed 100 lbs. at the time. The shop attendant intervened, offering that her boyfriend rode a 5’10” with no floatation difficulties to speak of. Dad relented. I’d like to find that shop attendant someday, to thank her. I think I owe her that.

I had a Costa Rican fling with CJ Hobgood’s board once.

Not his board model, and not a board he’d ridden and discarded, but his personal shortboard of the moment. I took it right from under his feet at Playa Esterillos. This was when he was riding thumb-tail Rusty shapes and CJ, Damien, a few other kids and I were assembled in Hermosa for the first ever Camp Hobgood. We surfed with the twins and Shea Lopez, and actually Geoff Brack was there too. I think I got a photo in this very magazine from that trip. I was 13 and ready to die peaceably.


The 5’6″ square-tail with blue pinstripes was a milestone.

It came from Fred Patacchia Sr. (your Freddy P.’s father) when he used to shape under his Hawaiian Surf Designs label. Fred sponsored a few Oahu groms on the HASA circuit, and I wanted a piece of that action. Out of pity and a mighty heart, Fred gave me a deal on my boards, plus free stickers and T-shirts. I had a shaper; I had arrived.

Another HSD, this a 5’8″, would be the first board I’d ever break in half.

I was at Ehukai (but later claimed Pipe) on a gray, glassy, overhead afternoon in January. It was still Christmas break. Mom was waiting in the car and looked on with kind sympathy when I came in holding two pieces of surfboard. I played a pitch perfect chord of nonchalance, mildly irked but otherwise unaffected, the whole way back to Honolulu. But inside, I quietly basked in the perverse satisfaction of the snap. Fred closed his shop in Haleiwa too, about a year later.

I remember the first Tokoro I had far more clearly than the first girl, and in case she’s out there: Honey, you were swell, but your father’s no Wade Tokoro. That board was a 5’10” with Wade’s No. 4 rocker and a squash-tail. Glass-on fins. It went like nothing ever had before and opened my eyes to the inalienable truth about surfboards: Getting the best longboard brand here.


The 6’6″ Pyzel came to me by chance, a team board that’d had its nose broken off on its way to the glasser. No outline is prettier than a mini-gun with a rounded pin; it became my step-up. Our most memorable session together was at rainy Laniakea, double overhead from the north but relatively empty of people. A little scared and already thus ashamed, I felt worse when Kiron Jabour–three years my junior–appeared in the lineup on his regular board and started swooping backhand top turns on the bowl. He probably doesn’t remember. I got a few good ones, anyway, before it got dark.

Bold Sierra Nevada Miners struck ‘Gold’ in Ski racing: by the 1860s, with cash incentives, they pushed speed to the limit

The 19th-century longboard ski racers of Plumas and Sierra counties in California were the fastest mammals on the continent at the time. The swiftest horses were only half as fast. When snow conditions were right, these early two-legged speed demons rocketed downslope at velocities approaching 90 mph. Sometimes fueled by alcohol, and with the promise of lucrative cash rewards awaiting them below, they pushed speed–and sanity–to the limit.

Ski racing in the rugged, remote northern Sierra Nevada dates back to the 1850s. Norwegians who arrived during the Gold Rush spread the concept of skiing, then propelled by a single long pole, as transportation. Prior to the introduction of skis in the region, traditional rawhide-laced snowshoes had been the only means of crossing snow. (Miners also referred to skis as “snow-shoes,” spelled with a hyphen.) Some historians believe a few fearless miners may have ridden empty ore buckets uphill and then schussed downslope on barrel staves strapped on with leather bindings. After some venturesome souls decided to take their traveling skis and point them downhill for a thrill, snow-shoe mania swept through the northern mountains.

Life for me many interesting things like sea, Eye in the sky.

1. A snow report in the March 3, 1857, Plumas Argus served notice to flat-landers that skiing was well established in the mountains:

  This has been the hardest winter within the knowledge of the oldest
  inhabitant. It is estimated that about 25 or 30 feet of snow has
  fallen so far. The snow now lies from 8 to 10 feet deep, and in Onion
  Valley it is 12 or 15 feet deep. Nearly all residents have Norwegian
  snow-shoes. They are about 9 feet long, 41/2 inches wide, shaved thin
  and turned up in front like a sled runner. By fastening them to the
  feet about the middle of the shoe and with a pole in the hands for a
  balance, a person can run over the light and new-fallen snow at
  railroad speed.

By 1860 Sierra ski racers had formed clubs with elected officers and codified rules and regulations. Gold rush towns such as Poker Flat, Whiskey Diggings, Rich Bar, Johnsville and La Porte all sponsored longboard ski teams that competed with each other for cash prizes of up to $1,000, paid in silver dollars or bags of gold dust. Champions often spent a portion of their purse on drinks for friends.

2. In 1867 La Porte’s snow-shoe club announced three days of racing for purses ranging from $25 to $75.

The contest drew 42 competitors and some 300 spectators, most of whom arrived on their own cross-country skis. This longboard tournament was heralded as the world’s first downhill ski championship. The title owns some legitimacy since no one else was conducting such highly structured downhill racing competitions. “Cornish Bob” Oliver, of Sawpit Flat, was proclaimed world champion after he streaked down 1,804 vertical feet in 14 seconds flat–at a calculated maximum speed of 88.8 mph.


During the longboard racing era, victory often relied on the “dope” (the equivalent of modern waxes) skiers applied to the bottom of their boards. Dope comprised a mix of ingredients such as whale spermaceti (a fatty substance derived from the sperm whale and first used in candle making), pine pitch, oils from trees like cedar, hemlock and sugar pine, as well as rosin and balsam. The dope-maker would cook his signature recipe and allow it to cool before hand-rubbing it into the base of his clients’ skis. Dope recipes took on descriptive names like “Greased Light-fling,” “Breakneck,” “St. Patrick’s Day Dope,” and “Gibsonville Cold Snow Dope.” The various ingredients and cooking times were considered trade secrets. Good dope-makers were so prized that champions split the winnings 50-50 with their wax man. Skiers often averaged 75 feet per second and could cross the finish line at 100 feet per second. During a weeldong meet at Howland Flat, Frank Woodward blasted down a 1,950 feet course in just 17 seconds. Fortunately, the presence of portable saloons at the tournaments helped calm pre-race jitters.


Considering how much money was up for grabs, it’s no surprise the dope men kept their best recipes secret. The difference between the right or wrong dope for the temperature and snow conditions meant the difference between a large purse or instant elimination. In addition to the sizeable award for the winner, side bets ran rampant, as each town wagered on its local champion. An 1868 announcement from the Downieville Mountain Messenger confirms big money at play:

  Premiums to the amount of several hundred dollars will be presented
  as stakes, and the entrance fee will be $1. The Howland Flat
  snow-shoers intend to raise $800 or $1,000 as the stakes for their
  races. We hear that the Onion Valley and Sawpit Flat boys are trying
  on the dope and that some mighty slick shoes have been made in view
  of the handsome premiums that will be offered during the tournaments.

In 1869 John “Snowshoe” Thompson (born Jon Torsteinson-Rue in Ost-Tele-mark, Norway) skied more than 100 miles to LaPorte and entered a race against the “dopers” from Plumas County. Thompson had successfully braved harsh Sierra Nevada storms and avalanche risk for more than a dozen years to deliver mail, newspapers and supplies. This faithful courier was not paid for his rounds, as he had failed to sign a contract with the postmaster who had required his services. But he was probably America’s first freestyle skier and an advocate for shorter, more versatile wooden skis. People who had watched Thompson schuss down a mountainside, dipping his ski pole from side to side across his body, compared him to a soaring eagle.


But now Snowshoe faced his greatest challenge–trying to fly down a mountain with his 71/2-foot skis faster than locals did on their 14-foot boards. The boys from Plums stabbed the snow with their single poles to launch themselves from the starting line and then immediately dropped into a tuck for maximum speed, while Thompson stood up for balance. Unaware of the secrets of waxing skis for a fast glide, Thompson never had a chance and was soundly beaten on the first day of a five-day competition.

Instantly disqualified by his loss, an angry Thompson skied back home to Alpine County and posted a challenge in the local newspaper offering cash prizes to the winner of up to five races. The contests included cliff jumping, tree skiing, mountain climbing and cross-country endurance skiing to any competitor. The winner of each race would earn $1,000. Despite the lucrative payouts, there is no evidence anyone ever took on Snowshoe’s bold challenge.

3. Meanwhile the racing competitions continued in the Sierra Nevada.

In 1879 a group of Norwegians from Marysville in the Sacramento Valley challenged the La Porte snow-shoers to a series of squad races for a $500 first place prize. The La Porte team accepted the offer, but when the Norwegians arrived and saw the long skis and steep course, they defaulted. As one old-timer explained it, “The Norwegians took just one look at our speed-burners and went right back–they just weren’t fast enough.” Racecourses were about 100 feet wide, up to 1,800 feet long and ran straight down the mountain. The start and finish lines were typically marked with American flags. Racers ran in four-man heats with the winners advancing to the next round in a single elimination format. With no chairlifts or rope tows available, winners of each race hiked back up the mountain in order to run the next heat. The favorite ski length for most racers was between 11 and 13 feet long, most made of spruce. Bindings comprised two straps that laced tightly over the toes, while the rider’s high leather boots fitted securely over a wooden block beneath the instep.


imagesWomen participated–in full-length skirts–and their races often drew the most spectators. “Nothing on a bright sunshiny morning can be more graceful or beautiful than a fair young lassie gliding over hills upon her Norwegian snowshoes,” recalled one male observer. In 1867 Lotti Joy shot down a 1,230-foot race slope at 49 mph to set the earliest women’s speed record. At another event a 14-year-old girl schussed down 1,230 feet in just 21 seconds.

California’s snow-shoe racing era ended in the early 20th century, but in the early 1990s a new generation of Plumas Ski Club members fired up a Historic Long-board Revival Series at Plumas County’s historic Eureka Bowl, one of the world’s oldest recorded alpine racing sites. The old rope tows haven’t operated for years, so skiers must climb for their runs, just like in the old days. Alcohol consumption is forbidden in the park, but on race day silver flasks are common. Park rangers are tolerant of all the festivities, keeping in mind the motto of the Plumas Ski Club: “Skiing and Whiskeying in the Sierra Nevada since 1874.”


This article is adapted from the author’s 2010 book Longboards to Olympics: A Century of Tahoe Wmter Sports.

Eye in the sky

487232792_640My friend and I were killing time on a small day at a no-name spot on South Africa’s Eastern Cape, not far from J-Bay–he on a longboard and me on a comically small novelty shortboard that I had dug out of the garage. The water was army green and visibility was down to nothing. You can probably see where this is going. As my buddy and I waited for a wave, a dorsal fin appeared to my left and cut a slow, ominous line between us. My friend, perched high up out of the water on the longboard, had been separated from the shoreline by what looked to be around an 8- to 10-foot shark. Frozen, I wondered if he’d ever make it to shore again, and for a very short time, contemplated what I could do to help him. Just then, he lifted his feet up onto the board, let out a high-pitched scream, and somehow turned his tanker toward the beach without ever touching the water. you believe in life it will bring us interesting things and A very brief love affair.

The awe I experienced watching this feat was quickly snuffed when I realized that I was the one who was really at risk in this situation.

The small board I was sitting on meant that I was submerged to almost shoulder level. He paddled through the shark’s wake–almost over its back–and came careening by me with only the tips of his fingers getting wet. Inexplicably, he was laughing hysterically. I didn’t have time to consider the meaning of this laughter: Did he think this was funny? Was it some sort of fear-response mechanism? Or was the bastard taking delight in the fact that he would be safe and I would be the one to get eaten alive? Whatever the reason, his shrieking was deathly contagious, and before I could take my first strokes toward the beach, I was laughing too. Not just laughing, but howling. What I had intended to be a lifesaving sprint-paddle was really just a slow troll through flat water which now seemed as thick as molasses.


If you know anything about laughter

which I now do, because I just Wikipedia’d it–you know that it upsets the respiratory system when the epiglottis half-closes the larynx and makes air intake irregular, which subsequently makes you gasp. I had been crippled by some joke I didn’t understand, and I was going to die, or at least get maimed, because of it. The longboard plowed on, putting more and more distance between us until I realized I was barely moving and that continuing to even try was pointless at this stage. So I stopped and gave in to the fits of laughter that now riddled me. I was adrift in this soup with a monster lurking somewhere below. And still, it was somehow funny. It was conceivable that I was laughing myself to death.

Obviously, I survived. I eventually made it to the shore with tears in my eyes and all my limbs still attached.

But memories of this weird experience flooded back as I read this month’s feature on Cape Town’s shark spotters (“Sharkspotting,” PG. 094). I wondered how this whole scene would have looked from a shark spotter’s point of view. He probably would have found it funny too, because as someone who looks for sharks for a living, he would have seen that the shark was considerably smaller than my fear-glazed estimate, and that after its original breach it probably casually cruised off and never thought about me again. The reality is, with a shark spotter on duty, it’s likely I wouldn’t have been out there in the first place.

Statistically speaking, shark attacks are a rarity, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t devastating. The efficacy of the shark-spotting program highlights just one way surfers can coexist with sharks. The City of Cape Town has found a system that uses its topography (and its high unemployment rate) to find an elegant solution that benefits everyone and everything involved. It’s a smarter, more evolved method than some of the draconian ones currently used to “protect” surfers from sharks. And when you consider the technology we’ve invented to fight wars (or make money) that could easily be applied to this problem, the array of solutions at our disposal becomes plentiful. One of them–although I wouldn’t recommend it–is laughter. That worked for me once.

Skateboard maker debuts green wheels


Bamboo Skateboards, which makes skateboards and related gear with sustainable materials, recently released a new line of eco-friendly downhill wheels.

A statement from the Oceanside-based company said its new Blur wheels have a square lip design to help control the boards at high speeds. This has everything to do with surfing: surfboards I knew and loved.

The wheels have a deep-red color with a gold hub, and will be paired with the company’s longboard shapes.

Unlike typical wheels made of urethane, the company’s corn-based wheels use a new corn fermentation process to partially offset use of petroleum-based products, the statement said.

A very brief love affair

I am a team rider for Hawaiian Pro Designs and was given one of Hydroflex’s longboards to test [“BOWN: Recreation”]. I broke it in two days. Hydroflex uses only a single layer of four-ounce fiberglass e-cloth on either side of the lamination, and without a stringer, a board of that size is horribly weak. That’s not to say I didn’t love it; it was the best surfboard I have ever had, even for the short time I had it. Still, when it comes to pure durability, nothing beats composite sandwich construction.


Bold Sierra Nevada Miners struck ‘Gold’ in Ski racing: by the 1860s, with cash incentives, they pushed speed to the limit.

Shaper Hall of Fame: Donald Takayama (1944-2012)

AS A SURFER, DONALD TAKAYAMA’S earliest mentors include timeless legends Duke Kahanamoku and Rabbit Kekai. Donald in turn mentored surfing greats David Nuuhiwa and Joel Tudor, among others. Takayama’s influence reaches to the point where longboard surfing would not be the same without him.


Still in his early teens, Donald moved to the U.S. Mainland to work with California’s premier board builder of the ’50s, Dale Velzy. After Velzy shut down, Takayamafound employment with the top board makers of his day, including Jacobs, Weber, and Bing, where his Donald Takayama Model quickly became a top-seller. His first short-lived attempt at his own brand occurred in the late ’60s under the label, “Surfboards by Donald Takayama.”

He also has other interests Skateboard maker debuts green wheels.

Donald’s early fame was the result of his ’60s assault on Ala Moana, wings spread, flying into a turn before concluding with a long noseride. Although a highly successful competitor, Donald never did win a World Championship, while several surfers, including Joel Tudor, Cori Schumacher, and Nat Young would take top honors on his surfboards.


While Donald burned hot as a surfer/shaper throughout his life, his greatest contribution to the surfing world occurred in helping resurrect longboard surfing in the ’80s. Since the babyand-bathwater “Shortboard Revolution” of the late ’60s had sacrificed boards over 9 feet to the altar of smaller and lighter, the longboard was long dead by 1974. It was then that Donald and a few of his peers broke out the old boards in response to small waves. Within two years Donald was again building longboards and making waves on them along with his greatest pupil, David Nuuhiwa.

As a founder of the modern longboard movement that began in the late ’80s and continues to the present day, Takayama’s longboards soon became the gold standard. Led by Donald himself, who remained among the top longboarders on the coast, his team included revivalists Nuuhiwa, Dale Dobson, Linda Benson, Nat Young, and neo-traditionalists Kassia Meador, Cori Schumacher, and Joel Tudor.


The boards and the events won on them are legendary, but still do not speak clearly to Donald’s legacy. It was his great heart, his humor, and generosity–giving away boards to average surfers who showed up at his factory without adequate funds is what his many friends remember him best for. Forever encouraging, he saw a champion in each of us.

To all who ever knew him, Donald Takayama was synonymous with aloha, something his surfing, surfboards, and joyful spirit spread throughout the world.

Rusty’s longboard


8′ 0″ X 10″ X 5/8″


A reliable surfboard is like a devoted lover. They can be hard to come by, but a good relationship with one is nothing short of sacrament. Since 2001, through thick and thin (mostly thick), this 8’0″ has been hitched to Rusty Long. She’s completed Rusty, giving him the paddle strength to take off on almost anything. And even in the nastiest of Puerto Escondido closeouts, she’s never once yearned to leave his side. But two years ago, when a 15-foot opportunity went awry, their relationship appeared to be in shambles. Upon surfacing from a beating, Rusty found the 8’0″ broken in half, along with his heart. Was this death and did they part? We learn that some souls are simply inseparable, and that an extra patch of 4 oz. can go a long way.

RUSTY: In 2001, Chris Kaysen shaped this board for my second trip to Puerto Escondido. It was my first time stepping into that 8’0″ realm and I got what was then the best wave of my life on it. From then on, I’ve ridden the board down there every single year and I’ve gotten more good waves on it than any other board I’ve ever had, by far. It’s definitely been my best board for any day 10- to 12-ft or bigger. His eyes also contain anxiety Eye in the sky.


Everything is right about it, especially for my body weight. Other people pick it up and are like, ‘Wow, this is kind of thin,’ but I only weigh 140 or 145 lbs. And even for its thinness, the thing paddles so well. It’s proportioned perfectly–rocker’s perfect, outline’s perfect. It’s just one of those special boards.

You break so many boards down there and I was dumbfounded by how this one would just always stay in one piece. The kind of waves I was getting swallowed by on that thing –they were proper waves–and it always popped back up next to me. I would just get the rebate every time. I’ve been calling it the Magic Carpet forever.


Two years ago, I had to straighten out on a 15-footer. I caught a wave that looked like it would be a nuts one with a big, long wall on it. Then I got to the bottom and it transitioned into a closeout. I made it in front of the lip by about a board’s length, but then it bulldozed me. It was the first time I’d ever worn a leash out there and when I came up, there she was in two pieces. I got it repaired, like you do down there. But it broke slightly below the center and that offsets the weight a little bit. Anything above the center of the board is fine, but when you break one below the center it can cause the board to drag a bit more and not go as fast. I tried to compensate by having the repair guy put an extra wrap of glass at the bottom of the break to try to get the weight balanced out, and it’s almost there. I’ll be riding it again this year.