Josh Hall, 31, the president of the Pacific Beach Surf Club (disclosure—the club donates to WiLDCOAST), is one of the San Diego’s core shapers and surfers. His innovative and stylish shapes and surfing directly connect him to his mentor and surfing legend Skip Frye. On clean fall days I often catch up with Josh in the lineup at La Jolla Shores where we swap stories about Baja and Spain.
Patch: When did you start surfing and why? Do you remember your first surf session?
Hall: I started surfing toward the end of 8th grade and beginning of high school. Kind of late by today’s standards. Growing up, my family was always at the beach. We'd go to south Carlsbad every summer for two weeks from when I was born until now, so I was always in the water. My grandfather boogied almost until he was 80! And my half brother was a big surfer, but being ten years older we weren't real close when I was young so it was up to my friends and I to get it going on our own.
Patch: When and where did you decided to get into shaping?
Hall: Once I got the full addiction of surfing, I knew I wanted to build boards. More as a way of being able to stay in surfing and surf forever. I grew up surfing on Felspar St. in Pacific Beach, right next to the Crystal Pier. There was always a heavy group of older locals that were all in the board building business--Joe Roper, Bird Huffman, Larry Mabile, Hank Warner, Glenn Horn. All those guys checked the pier every day so being around them was a huge influence on me. And of course, everyone’s hero Skip Frye had Harry’s Surf Shop with his wife Donna and great friend Hank right there, a half block from the sand.
Patch: How did your relationship with Skip Frye develop?
Hall: Well surfing Felspar everyday, you'd see Skip in the mornings cleaning up trash around the cul-de-sac and then you'd see him later surfing. But it really started when I was 18-19 and ordered my first board from him.
Patch: Is the role of a mentor critical in producing good surfers and shapers?
Hall: Absolutely. Skip has taught me everything I know about both surfing and shaping–weather, tides, swell directions, periods, everything to do with waves. And of course over the last ten years, he has bequeathed to me a lot of his design theory and his evolution as a shaper/surfer.
It is critical to spend time paying dues, working from the ground floor up, starting at sweeping and packing, then maybe to fins, then maybe other glassing things.
Too many people nowadays just pop up and go, "I'm a shaper," and they might not even surf. It takes time, and lots and lots of practice. I am just really fortunate to have started with the right person to follow. It is important to ride the boards your are building and watch boards be built. That helps build your overall design knowledge every day. I just happened to be (and still) learning from someone who has 50 years of experience.
Patch: You and Skip seem to represent San Diego and California's forgotten art of style and soul. Do you see the need for style once again being recognized or has it been lost with the rise in more technical and aerial surfing maneuvers?
Hall: I think style is important, for sure. For me, hanging around those older guys when I was a grommet, it was for sure all about style. They could pick out any surfer in the line-up from their style, from the pier to the point. As much as big industry seems to be taking over, in my opinion, there’s a HUGE movement of individuals right now, whether surfers or shapers or both, creating their own identities and I think its a far better picture of what’s really going on right now.
Patch: With the rise of machine-produced surfboards and mass production in China, you've made a commitment to creating handcrafted surfboards. Do you regret becoming a shaper? Is it still really possible to make a living as a shaper anymore in the U.S.?
Hall: I don't regret at all becoming a shaper. Surfing and shaping has given me everything I have. Now some shapers have been able to turn it in to a bigger-than-hobby business, which is possible still, but for me it’s all so I can surf.
These days I think it is really important that your shaper be a good surfer. You are going to want to be able to talk to them about certain waves or how you'd like to surf, and the guys that just design on the computer might not be able to fulfill what your looking for. Now don't get me wrong, the machine is another tool, and has a place in the business, its just different from my philosophy for why I shape.
Patch: What is it that you love most about creating surfboards?
Hall: Well, without getting too romantic about it all, you take this fairly crude foam core and literally sculpt it with various tools by hand in to this visually pleasing foil, that is actually beyond super functional in a really inconsistent medium. And the phone calls you get from a customer right after that first session on a new board. The stoke in their voice is extremely satisfying.
Patch: What kind of shapes do you see working the best in San Diego and Southern California?
Hall: Well, I’m a fish guy. In the various lengths, forms and fins set up, a fish can be the most versatile shape in the universe. My other creed is that everyone in San Diego should own an 8-foot egg. It’s the panacea of surfing. A short board for a long boarder and a long board for a short boarder!
Patch: In your role as the President of the Pacific Beach Surf Club you've helped to continue the club's role in coastal stewardship and giving back. Why is it important for surfers to take responsibility for safeguarding the beaches we use?
Hall: Well first off the ocean is the biggest resource we have in the entire world, and if we continue to treat it the way we have been IT WONT BE HERE for future generations. So part of the goal of the club is to help further along that thought.
We need to do everything we can to help keep it clean. We do about four annual beach cleanups a year and donate to organizations who are able to do more with it than just our little club in PB. Raising awareness is something I learned from Donna and Skip back in the Harry’s days.
Patch: You have spent a lot of time in Spain, studying and now surfing and shaping. How did your interest in Spain develop and what is it about northern Spain that has you spending so much time there?
Hall: Well I got a degree in Spanish Literature from SDSU in 2003, and lived in Salamanca, Spain for one year during my undergrad. The love for Spain first came about because my best friend and my former Coronado High School Spanish teacher Smoky Bayless took a group of us kids to Spain. That trip changed my whole life.
Besides many other reasons (friends, family, food, wine, surf, culture) the Basque Region is where the majority of the Spanish and French surf industry lives. So that’s why I stay there so often. My friend Peta has a factory in Irun that I shape at and then the boards get glassed in Soustons, France.
Patch: You also spend a lot of quality time off the grid in deep Baja. How does the wildness of surfing in Baja contribute to your evolution as a shaper and surfer?
Hall: Baja brings to me a peace of mind. It is paradise down there. As far as shaping goes, depending on the swell and spot, you can have more actual time surfing on a wave in one trip then you do here for an entire season. That alone is worth gold for R&D purposes.
Patch: Anything else you want to add?
Hall: I’ve only been able to get here with the help of a whole heap of different people and so for that I am humbled and appreciative. I just hope that I am but a small reflection of all those influences. Slide the glide!