Story By Brian Terhorst
Photo By Bo Cross
Josh Hall and Michael Miller are continuing a classic and sacred tradition. Under the watchful eye and discerning taste of a couple of masters, they shine as the next generation of board shapers. Skip Frye and Jim Ellington serve as something like Zen Masters or ‘mentors’ to these ‘Young Guns’ of the surfing world. All four men are also business partners in a surfer’s co-op (of sorts). Housed together in a warehouse situation off of Morena Blvd, the four shapers work together in harmony creating some of the most desirable surfboards in the industry. Each shaper has their own style and niche in building some of the finest hand crafted surfboards around.
Skip Frye is, well, Skip Frye. One of the legends in the sport of surfing. A world champion in the late sixties and a revolutionary shaper later, Skip Frye’s name is synonomous with classic, quality workmanship. His boards have been ridden by the best in the sport for decades and the waiting list for one of his surfboards is long and near impossible to get on.
Jim Ellington a ‘machine’ of a shaper is hard to pin down to one style. He shapes everything from short boards, to fishes. Guns to longboards & stand up paddle boards, all by hand. In fact his story (and Skip Frye’s) is such an extensive read we’re gonna put the brakes on it for now and follow up in a later issue with a full blown feature. Stay tuned.
Michael Miller learned from some of the greats in the industry. Working under Joe Roper in his early years he learned the art of glassing. Later he learned to shape for himself under Chris Christenson. He is currently occupied with glassing boards for Skip Frye, Josh Hall and a few others. But when he has some time for his own craft, he is a one man show. Handling all aspects of a hand built board. From concept to design, shaping, sanding, glossing, polishing, Michael does it all.
Josh Hall’s boards are an interesting mix of old school (heavily influenced by his teacher Skip) and experimental shapes influenced by his own wild imagination (and even wilder team riders). Josh started off his career as the last adopted shop grom at Harry’s Surf Shop in Pacific Beach back in the nineties. Mentored by Skip Frye in his shaping room, he gradually learned the craft for himself.
During our tour of the shop & interview, team riders Mike List and Mark Garcia showed up with the lure of cold cervesas. They attempted to coerce Josh and Michael into making it a ‘short day’. Both shapers politely declined, so the team riders contributed their two cents to the interview by showing off the latest, experimental Josh Hall model. A Double Fluted Wing, Quad fin, Fish Simmons. A perfect example of what imagination and the luxury of your own production facility can produce. An experimental board like that, can go from concept, to an actual ridable product, in a week or so.
When the surfboard manufacturing industry turned turtle a few years back (with the closure of Clark Foam) the rush to move the large scale production houses overseas began. However. Josh, Michael and a few other shaper’s capitalized on the opportunity. Almost a blessing in disguise, ‘Boutique boards’ were about to come back into their own, again. Surfing is an industry that is extremely sensitive to the economy. Most surfers don’t have money to burn. When an educated surfer is making a smart choice with his money, a custom shape will often win out. The benefits are numerous. A board shaped specifically for you, your weight & body type, your style of surfing, even the surf breaks it will be used on.
Depending on the glass job a custom board will last much longer than a board simply pulled off the rack. The cost of one of these boards may be a bit more, but in the long run it makes sense for most core surfers. The amount of work and care that goes into each of their boards is staggering. A production board will have 6 – 8 different hands on each one. Shaper, sander, fins, artwork, glass….each stage of production has a different person responsible. Josh Hall & Michael Miller oversee or handle all stages of production by themselves. Often the quality of a production board will drop compared to a custom, as a single person is responsible for every stage of production on his own boards. Josh and Michael take extra care and pride in every detail of their boards.
You can get a hold of Josh Hall & Michael Miller for a custom shape of your own, but be prepared to wait a bit. The turn around on a custom shape can be as much as 4 to 6 weeks depending on the season.
Josh Hall: www.joshhallsurfboards.com
Michael Miller: www.michaelmillersurfboards.com