Every surfer remembers his first surfboard.
It goes along with memories of his first wave, first time standing up on the board, first surf trip, and the time spent with friends during these experiences. With all these memories there usually is a story (or two), so of course I thought I should share with you all.
In those days, before the dawn of history, my family lived in Seal Beach, California. Nearby lived Jack Haley, a lifeguard at Seal Beach and a great surfer as well. He even won the West Coast championship at Huntington Beach. Jack had a 9’5″ board that was very beat-up and pretty much waterlogged. All boards back then were made out of balsa wood, a very light wood, but porous, and therefore they absorbed water. This is in contrast to today’s boards which are made of closed-cell foam and therefore impervious to water.
Anyway, when I was seven years old, my dad bought the board from Jack, stripped off the fiberglass, and stored it in our attic where we had forced air heating so it would dry out. It sat in the attic for about six months until it was thoroughly dry. Then my dad shaped it down to eight feet and took it to a boatyard in Long Beach to be fiberglassed. I got to pick out what color I wanted; I chose red. All in all, they charged him about $10 to glass it and add a fin.
I kept that board in my bedroom and surfed every day for the most formative years of my life. When I got my first ding, I was almost in tears. My best friend was hurt! When my dad got home from work that day I asked him to fix it. He replied, “I will do it tomorrow.” I almost yelled at him, “No, please do it now! My buddy is hurt!”
Well, because I spent a lot of time in the water with this board, by the time I turned fourteen, I was a pretty accomplished surfer. By then there were commercial board makers springing up, so I sold the board to a friend and saved up $75 for a new board by Greg Noll. He built the board in his mother’s garage in Hermosa Beach and it took him two months to finish.
I have owned many boards since then, and have shaped many thousands, but I will never forget my first board…
Robert August is a surfing legend and was the co-star of the now classic Bruce Brown film, The Endless Summer. Read more about Robert on his blog here. In affiliation with Liquid Salt magazine.