Friday, August 31, 2007

Got something bitchin'

It's been a pretty lackluster summer for surf here on the California coast; the dry spell gave me enough idle time to realize the board shack in the backyard was a total mess. Take a peek, there's thousands of dollars worth of gear stacked on the floor or on saw horses just gathering land dings.

So I went out and got something bitchin': custom made metal surfboard racks. Check these babies out, they're freestanding, fully welded, steel racks. I'm able to get almost all of my boards into them including two paddleboards and a crazy hollow, all wood surfboard made entirely of Home Depot items and cast off redwood fencing (this board is worthy of its own blog).

Tom Huber, the owner of Metal Trends, specializes in custom fabrication. He does a ton of work for local surf shops and would be more then happy to fabricate any type of surfboard rack that you can dream up. In my situation, I didn't want to bother with lagging the racks to a cinder block wall so I had him make the racks freestanding and extra deep to hold paddleboards. I've got Tom's card stashed away somewhere- check back and I'll post contact information and more pictures of Tom's work.

Also: Can anybody identify the guy laminated to the blue 7'0" leaning on the back wall?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

There's no surf there- how can it be fun?

Lopez Lake was a great place to set up our paddle surf base camp. The lake's campground is huge. There are 354 campsites which range from primitive tent only sites to full hookup RV pads.

One of the best things about the campground was the distance between sites. In California many campgrounds look like a Wal-Mart parking lot, you're packed in like a New Dehli streetcar. We were camped in a section called Bandtail (I suggest sites 2 - 7), the sites were comfortably distant from each other under leafy shade trees. Other sites in the campground may be closer together but in Bandtail, we were far enough apart that I was sure our nightly Deadwood double feature wasn't going to add any "color" to the neighbor kid's vocabulary.

Speaking of kids and families, this would be an excellent family vacation. There are tons of things to do other then paddling. Kids could fish, swim (there's a dedicated swim area with a lifeguard on duty) or spend half the day at the lake's waterslide park. Additionally, there's plenty of hiking and wildlife walking around to keep all but the most No-Friend-O, I mean Nintendo, addicted kid amused.

You'll have to get up early to paddle Lake Lopez; in the summer time it gets windy enough by the afternoon to make paddling a "Laird" activity. Get up early, though, and you've got the lake to yourself. We only paddled a couple of the arms of the lake, there is much more to explore.

It's really amazing the distances that can be easily covered with these boards. Most appealing to me is the tranquility of the activity. The only noise is the lapping of the water on the board and the dipping of the paddle, it's quiet enough to easily slip up on cool birds and other creatures.

The campground is close to the coast, it's a twenty minute ride from your campsite to the sand of Pismo State Beach. One morning I paddled an arm of the lake, had a ridiculous breakfast in the BreadBox (that's what I call my trailer), took a nap and finished off the day with a nice paddle from the Pismo Pier to the headlands to the north. A great day of paddling. Oh yeah, five minutes down the road from the campground is the tasting room for Talley Vineyards; wasn't a bad year for the cabernet.

There really is a special magic to this type of paddling. Flat water fitness and exploration paddling are going to be huge growth areas for this sport. It's almost too fun to be a work out and yet the fitness benefits are huge- this thing is going to catch on anywhere there is water- watch out Minnesota!

Lopez Lake Campground:

Also: Drive into San Luis Obispo (20 minutes from campground) and have a Pulled Pork Sandwhich at Mo's BBQ ( imagine savory barbecued pork covered with coleslaw on a perfect roll- it's killing me even thinking about it!

And: Check out William Randolph Hearst Memorial State Beach (approximately an hour and a half from campground) for an afternoon paddle- an absolutely beautiful spot.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Lost the Contest: But had fun anyway.

I'm taking a break from finishing the San Luis Obispo piece. I just found out that I lost my first creative writing contest. Global Surf Industries' contest asked surfers to explain in five hundred words, "Why surfing makes my life better". Here's my response, I call it "Misery":

The swap meet guy took my money and gave me two things: a key and a lament, "Lo siento, amigo".

Inside, it smelled like Cheetos, farts and beef jerky. Everything behind the driver's seat was gone. The Mexican had replaced it with gold shag carpet, a battalion of fleas and the nasty fluff of some long dead Chihuahua. The windows were spray painted black. None of them opened. We named her "Misery".

The tranny was sketchy, it popped out of fourth gear. A bent coat hanger fastened to the passenger's seat and looped around the gear shift solved that problem. When the wire broke, Ralph redefined the meaning of "manual" transmission by holding it in gear for five hundred Baja miles. The VW ate gas and oil at the same rate and the starter jammed so often there was a hammer taped to it to whack it free. The fuel gauge was consistent, it always said "Full". There were no wipers and only one headlight but there was a hole in the floor with a funnel and tube. And that was a plus because we weren't stopping until we hit Scorpion Bay.

At Guerrero Negro an empty beer bottle flying out of an approaching truck detonated the passenger side windscreen like a frickin' grenade. On the East road in, Ralph blew a front tire on someone's cast off fender. A drunken llantero fixed it for twenty bucks, eight beers and five precious hours of daylight. Deep into the cervezas, I drank ice melt in the cooler thinking it looked nice and cold; I was right about the cold. We hit the point at 2 am. Ralph slept in the dirt. I squatted in Misery like some disgusting circus freak, my knees jittering as I hovered over two plastic garbage bags simultaneously blowing from both ends. Mercifully, only the fleas stuck around for my grand finale.

But, ask me what I really remember and I'll tell you this: I remember an empty Baja point firing like an overripe habanero, I recall laughing endlessly with a life-long friend and I'll never forget my first bad ass, Baja rig.

Surfing makes your life better- it eases the Misery.

I don't know, maybe a little too dark for the prompt; what do you think? I had fun writing the piece, it reminded me of some fun times. I think most of us have been there.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Getting Out of Town: Up the coast to San Luis Obispo

Every so often I feel the need to get on the road and live out of my travel trailer. This is probably the result of building forts out of cardboard or making tree houses or digging tunnels into embankments; it's an undeniable urge to nestle in. I like shacking up in that aluminum shoe box.

Luckily, my wife Kathy feels the same way- and now that we've got the paddleboards, our trips up the coast have become thematic: paddle every thing that is do-able. Each body of water that dots the map is a possible adventure; why not poach it?

It was early on Sunday morning when we hooked the trailer up to the truck and pulled out of Imperial Beach. Our Westie, Lilly, snoozed in her crate on the back seat while I eased the rig (you get to call it a "rig" when you're pulling something) up the Silver Strand, over the Coronado Bridge and onto I5 heading north.

The trailer's propane fridge was fired up and loaded with Pacificos, bratwursts and bacon. The green astroturf was rolled and stowed- the only thing we were missing were the pink flamingos and the Pinto on cinderblocks out front. We were off to Lopez Lake, our homebase for the next five days.

Top Photo: Center of Operations at Lopez Lake Campground.
Bottom Photo: Turkey's are smarter then we think- safely cruising the campground in gangs of 5 to 10 birds protected from a 12 gauge reality check. Lilly, amused by the bird's cockiness.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On the road: Central California and Cabo- Let me catch my breath.

Been on the road. In the last couple of weeks I've wandered through Central California and scouted out some coastal runs near Cabo San Lucas. That's a lot of traveling for a guy who gets excited by a twenty minute drive up the coast to La Jolla Shores. I've got pieces in the works for those trips but right now I'm beat. Give me a chance to catch my breath and I'll get those stories up soon. Here's a photo of my girl paddling in the Lake Lopez thule zone.

Stu's Stand Up Routine: There's been a reasonable amount of interest in the Stu Kenson article- particularly the board he calls the Alligator. So here's a couple more photos of the thing. It's 11'6" by 29", a really forgiving board that paddles responsively and surfs beautifully. This is a board that would suit the first steps of a beginner yet still satisfy an expert paddler/surfer. I don't think anyone will outgrow this board in three months of use- there's just too much performance built into it.

The Alligator: Don't get bit! By the way, the color matched tape on the paddle was pure coincidence- really.

Stu Kenson: Yep- he builds them and he surfs them. In and early at the Imperial Beach Pier.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

You can't have them... easily.

Nobody is making stand up boards like Stu Kenson.

I've done my homework on this and no one else is wrapping full custom, EPS handshapes with carbon fiber and epoxy resin. This is not only decadent, given the square footage we're talking about, it's crazy. Which is perfectly fine because according to Stu, its the only way to do it right. And to Stu Kenson, getting it right is important.

We all deserve boards made this way. Strong, light and resonant, carbon fiber is magical stuff. Boards made with it don't break down like conventional fiberglass boards, they retain their "memory"- they stay "alive". Come to my beach and you'll see proof of these qualities, we've been prone surfing Stu's carbon boards for years- they're unreal.

But now we have a real problem; Stu's been stand up surfing and he's hatching some boards that look pretty damn good. It's just that you can't have them... easily. And, believe me, if you crave perfection, you'll want one of these boards. Here's a couple of the bumps in the road to satisfaction:

1. A Material Problem: Take a look at the roll of carbon fiber that Stu's holding in the photo above, the price tag on that roll is six thousand dollars. Setting aside the prohibitive cost of the stuff, it's extremely difficult to locate cloth of the dimensions required for laminating stand up boards. Our boards are wide, strangely wide. Strangely wide means "special order". Special order means cross all fingers and toes and maybe you'll have the carbon next week. Or the week after.... (repeat).

Second Material Problem: The paint job. Stu tells me that not only does the spray look good, it plays a structural role. The paint is baked on automotive paint, the stuff is tough and the idea is that it forms a second protective layer on the board. The guys that do this are hot rod paint artists. Artists require time; see where this is going?

2. Workmanship: In Stu's words "These boards have to be perfect". Each set of hands that moves the board to completion has to be on-board with this ideal or the board building process comes to a halt, which in the world of a perfectionist- isn't necessarily a bad thing.

3. Stu Kenson: The man is self-limiting. Stu is one third master shaper (forty years behind the planer), one third materials mad scientist (if you think EPS wrapped in carbon fiber is the terminus of his ideas- wait 'til you see what's coming next) and one third just plain surfboard design weirdo. Want a beak nosed, single wing, swallow tail, five fin wrapped in tin foil? No problem, and if Stu makes it, you'll surf better because of it (For the record: wait 'til you see the "Beaver's return"... you'll want one, I do.). Stu's also the shaper behind the Kane Garden tag, designing and producing the label's highly refined fish. Eclectic San Diegans love his boards, to the point where an extra set of arms just might bring him to dead even with the demands of his day job. Tough to mow throw a full day's stack of orders and then start on a ten foot paddle board even if it is what you'd rather be cutting.

Where does that leave us?

Can you have one of Stu's creations? Undoubtedly. But like all good things it will require patience and a well developed appreciation for delayed gratification. After all, this is a board for those of us who appreciate an idea perfectly executed. A board done right.

Contact: Stu Kenson at

Friday, August 10, 2007

Coming Soon: Boards that you want... but can't have!

This is Stu Kenson. In his hand is a 5'8" epoxy fish made of EPS foam with a vacuum bag lamination of carbon fiber and epoxy resin; basically indestructible. Now blow this board up to, say, 11'0" repeat the exotic layup, throw in a high end hot rod spray job and what have you got? A board that you want- but can't have. Check back for the full story!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Northern Baja Paddle Surfing: It's just going to get better!

Note: Like the lyric from the song, "Letter from Hawaii" by the Surf Punks: "The names of the spots have been changed to protect the locals". I'm a big believer in adventure- so get out from behind that keyboard and go do it for yourself! And, I've dropped enough clues for you to figure out where I'm talking about anyway- if you think you know, email me at

There's a couple of spots I've always wanted to surf in Northern Baja- one in particular has been completely walled in. The place has become a gringo fortress and unless you've got the know how to get in, you'll never get the chance to see the perfect little right hand point that's locked inside. And that sucks.

So I decided to do something about it. On short notice I was able to round up two good friends, three stand up boards and a cooler full of beer for a southbound paddle surf invasion. It'd be a stealth mission and like Lieutenant Colonel Kilgore, we were "taking the point".

Thirty minutes past the border put us at our launching spot. I paid my five dollar parking fee and pulled onto a dirt cliff overlooking a mushy right point . The small waves at "Mush Point" looked fun but I knew that somewhere to the north there was a wave that was arguably one of the top three points in the Northern Baja border region; I'll call it the Jewel. So we set off paddling north- not knowing how far we had to go or what the kind of welcome we could expect once we arrived.

The paddle turned out to be an easy 20 minute run up the coast. At the time, there were rumors of a southern hemisphere south swell heading our way, unfortunately the swell was turning out to be a phantom. We made due with small one to two foot waves. But, boy was the potential obvious on that paddle up the coast. I think that with a solid ground swell there'd be at least four or five fun paddle surf spots between Mush Point and the Jewel.

There were three other surfers in the water at the Jewel- the set up was pretty darn sweet- even though the waves were small, they broke pretty flawlessly across a rock shelf. The spot's main event is definitely the clean right but on this particular day, there was a really fun left breaking just north of the main take off spot. As we paddled up the three surfers were definitely not outgoing but they weren't hostile either- it was just a cool reception. I'm always amused by the attitude of gringos in the water at Mexican breaks- I pretty much laugh off any hint of localism by any gringo (expat or tourist) in Mexican waters, their fantasy of possession in a country in which they themselves are foreign is, to me, openly funny. I do, however, respect the claim of Mexican locals for their spots- their country, their spot, nothing more to be said really.

The right was good but since the surfers were on it first, I just passed it by for the overlooked left breaking unmolested in clear, 70 degree water. It was a poach-fest! The three of us paddled and surfed in a continuous cycle of fun. The theme of these stories is becoming repetitive: paddle up on SUB, grab overlooked, vacant wave, surf with just your friends, wonder how this can be happening... repeat.

To be certain, the surf was very small. I am dying to see what that little stretch of rock reef and point will look like with even just a four foot swell- it can really only get better. Additionally, we had just scratched the surface of paddlesurfing in this area- there are many other name spots in the region that host fun waves and their associated non-spots. Undoubtedly, I'll be back for another shot at the Jewel- are you in?

Coming Soon: Poaching in Northern Baja

Just got back from a great day of paddle surfing in Mexico. The walls are coming down for some spots just over the border... check back for the full story.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Hot in the Water: NuiMoana Paddleboards and some news

"I just want to build boards that I can get barrelled out of my brain on..." Does this sound like a guy who thinks that the performance realm of the SUB is limited to the nose ride?

Shaper Allan Cheateaux ( wants to make boards that push the limits of paddleboard performance. The guy's a fixture at San Onofre and the plus is this: he'll let you hop on any of his boards. Definitely check them out.

In the works: I finagled another day of freedom (marriage is all about negotiations) and I'm going to be surfing some private spots in Northern Baja tomorrow- check back and you'll see the results.

Coming Up: Mike P. at is going to be putting on a paddlesurfing contest in late September. I'm going to enter it because it sounds really fun- check it out at his site.

And: The 3rd annual Dempsey Holder surf contest, put on by wildCoast ( will be featuring a stand up surf division this year- contact me if you're interested, I'm in charge of that division- the contest is usually in mid-October.

And: Seems there's some Stamps Surfboards fans out there so here's another photo (below, photo: Elva De Jarnett) of the man on his latest creation the green wave poaching machine. By the way, check out the clean foil on that board- I likey! Check 'em out at

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Stepping Down to 10'0

Wednesday ended up being a great day to run up the coast; there was still a little bump in the water, I had an open ended agenda and a full tank of gas to burn.

Leaving home by 5 am, I was able to pull into San Onofre, surf for three and a half hours, eat a ridiculous, million calorie breakfast (try Tommy's in San Clemente. My standard order? A chocolate and peanut butter malt with corned beef hash and eggs- I eat) and still make it to Tim Stamps' shop in Huntington by 1 pm. As if that weren't enough, we were also able to squeeze in a two hour session just before dark at the Seal Beach Jetty- obviously it was a full day.

If you've never been able to tuck into a corner of a shaping bay and watched a surfboard crawl out of a block of foam, you need to fire up your networking skills. Make calls, do lunches; whatever it takes to figure out a way to get yourself into one of those blue rooms, you'll never look at your surfboard the same again.

I got my chance that Wednesday- I was able to hang out, ask all the stupid questions and learn as much as possible from a guy who's obviously logged thousands of hours shaping boards. Tim's been involved in all phases of surfboard manufacturing since he was a twelve year old apprentice at the Harbour shop in Seal Beach- so when he talks about surfboard design, I listen (and when you don't know anything it's easy to shut your mouth and pay attention).

It was funny, then, when Tim pulled out the board that he thought I'd like (it's the yellow board with the black quickblade deck pad on it), I took one look at it and totally disagreed with him. I told him that I'd ridden some ten footers and that in general I kind of preferred the stability, glide and paddleability of the larger (11'6" to 12') stand up boards. Tim's a tactful guy and in his easy manner said, "I really think this is the one you'll like, it's got all that twelve footer pushed into ten feet". So basically, the stage was set- the boards loaded into the trucks and off to the Seal Beach Jetty we went.

I have to say that I was intrigued by the width of the 10'0, most smaller boards that I'd ridden up to that point had been proportionally reduced in width as well as length. Tim had kept a lot of width in the board and the thing had a fat tail- think J-lo not Gwyneth. Who knows maybe the guy's right- there was only one thing left to do.

Well, you knew this was coming: It only took me one wave to know that I will be ordering one of those boards for myself. And, Mitchell, if you're reading this, you know which wave I'm talking about. But, I'm getting ahead of myself, let me first set the stage.

The conditions were technically difficult: we paddled out through the warm water river which was running out to sea against the swell and wind chop creating short interval cross chop- to add to that, the wind was blowing 15 to 20 miles directly on shore (guys were flying 11 and 12m kites outside of us). The surf was knee to maybe waist high and not pretty- some lefts had a little push and some make-able sections but it was otherwise pretty weak.

Tim, Mitchell (a Seal Beach local getting into the "dark side") and I paddled straight into the teeth of that wind. I was really impressed with the paddleability of that board. The board paddled very well. And the thing was stable even for a bigger guy like me- I didn't fall until I had gotten out into the surf and was paddling through waves to the outside. Most boards of this size have been a handful for me when their width is dropped into the 28" and below range. The board was as comfortable to paddle as my 11'11" Big Red- I was liking the thing more and more.

The surf was pretty poor that day, but for what was there and how the board performed, I was blown away. The board didn't have the "point and shoot" feel of the 10'10" Big Blue, this is not necessarily a walk the nose, drop knee cut back type of ride. On The Wave, I dropped into a doubling up waist high left, cranked off the bottom, power banked into the oncoming wall and repeated that drop and pump for about twenty yards ending right in front of the rocks of the jetty. Talk about making something out of nothing! The board felt light, fast and loose- which was odd to me because it was rigged with a 9.5" single fin- and I didn't think single fin boards could feel like that.

Here's my conclusion: If you're thinking about moving down in size from the board you started on, get yourself to a shaper who's made a few boards and has the experience to know how to build a board that's customized to your shape, size and weight. For me, some of the production boards in the 10'0" range are too narrow- the board Tim's built here seems to be just perfectly proportioned for its size. It's for this reason that I know that there will always be a place for the full custom, hand shaped, paddle board- one size definitely can't fit all, especially if you're eating million calorie breakfasts like me.

I can tell you with 100% certainty, one of these boards is in my future- check one out if you get the chance!

Contact Tim Stamps through his website:

Also: You may have noticed the flowered stand up board (top right photo)- that's a custom stand up board for Tim's wife Linda who's become a paddling junkie too! Go Linda!

And: Tim's glassing a green stand up board (top left photo) that is a refinement of the yellow board I liked so much- who knows I may be driving back up to Tim's shop soon to test another board. Bummer.

Finally: Maui shaper Jimmy Lewis will be here in San Diego at Cardiff Reef with some of his new boards Friday, August 3rd- go check 'em out!

Check Back: Tim Stamps full custom Stand Up Boards

I know what I want in a 10'0": it's yellow, hand made and will change the way you surf a stand up board. Check back for a full review of the best board I've been on this summer.