In the surfing world, specifically the surfboard manufacturing industry, there are a slew of icons who’ve maneuvered themselves front and center. Names of the players and their companies, similar to fashion designers, splayed across products, which often focus more on apparel and accessories. But there are others diligently working, seemingly behind the scenes, expending less of their energy on marketing and self-promotion and more of it on innovations in design and taking their craft to the next level.
One of these innovators is Joe Blair, who has casually evolved from old skool days as the first haole Beach Boy in Waikiki to being a young whipper-snapper building boards in the late ’60s alongside such pioneers as Simon Anderson, Xanadu, and Dick Brewer to today becoming a shaping legend (listed in Big Wednesday / tow-in heroes the Willis Brothers‘ “Surfboard Shapers Hall of Fame“) and a creative force in high performance epoxy designs and the exploding stand-up paddleboard industry. Luckily we were able to steal away a moment of his time to meet Joe Blair…..
A long while ago, possibly before you were born, Joe had already been wave riding and shaping surfboards. That was 40 years ago – but he’s not that old, he simply had an early start. Speaking with him you’d think he was a local boy, but Joe was born in Coco Beach, Florida. How’d he end up spending so much time in Hawai’i? We’ll let him explain…
Joe: “I spent the summers in Waikiki when I was a sophomore and junior in high school. Then, after I got out of high school, I moved to Oahu and lived in town and worked for George Downing, which was a very lucky thing in my life because George Downing was known as the biggest best wave rider in the entire place. I fixed dings at first and then he let me become beach boy and I was one of the first haole beach boys there in ’68.”
One reason Joe was accepted by the locals is because he happened to live with George Watanabe and Richard Mazuta, two local boys who took him under their wing. During a time when being a little too white, walking behind the hotels at night, let’s say, could easily get a guy clobbered Hawai’i 5-0 style, Joe never had a problem. As a matter of fact, Joe fit right in. Well, he also had the advantage of understanding island style. Thanks to a dad who worked for Pan American Airlines, he was able to travel extensively and live in places like Puerto Rico and Barbados.
Joe: “Even though I have blond hair and blue eyes… I never ever got in beefs … because on the islands, it’s kind of a vibe thing with people. And if you treat them like they’re your brother, you are their brother. But if you’re an arrogant fellow with attitude, and you go there with an arrogant attitude, then you get beat up the second day you’re there. I find that the Hawaiian Islands are a spiritual chain of islands but a lot of haoles that go there don’t really see that….plus, I speak pidgin real good lik’dat.”
You can sense the sentimentality in his voice, almost a yearning to be back to a place that had offered so much and shaped the course of his future. So, besides some serious drive (mix in a dash of good fortune and location, location, location), how does one go from beach boy to the exclusive realm of respected board shaper?
“I have a great story on that,” Joe’s youth is showing as he explains. “What happened was I was going to have my boards built in Hawaii but it cost more. So I had a board made for me in Florida. Well, when I got to the islands the board worked so badly. When the waves were head high, it just spun out; it rode terrible. I knew exactly how to shape boards because I was a craftsman but you had to be somebody to shape a board back then. So what happened was, a guy broke his board in half and gave it to me so I went and [re]shaped this board, made it racier, and took it out on this really good day. There was this one spot where the waves were huge but there were Kona winds and it was terrible, so I went around the island to this other spot and it was five feet overhead, lined up for eighty yards, perfect barrels and my board worked killer. It worked so good and looked so good that people were ordering boards from me. Then a friend of mine who was dating my sister, his parents passed away so he inherited some money … so within three weeks, we had a factory going down there; taking beat-up old, broken boards and stripping them and then redoing the rocker and reshaping them and making up-to-date boards out of them … and that’s how it started. I knew how to shape and then he met Brewer -Brewer made him some boards- and BOOM, I started making tons of Brewer boards and I was Brewer’s main shaper for about twelve years.”
He didn’t stop there though, as his evolution in board making also included working with Simon Anderson who invented the thruster, and Xanadu, a Brazilian who set the trend for how surfboards look to this day.
Joe: “That was the final topping that I’d needed because [before then] we were into flat deck, boxy rail boards and he [Xanadu] was thinning the nose and tail and doming the deck and making small rails….”
With a combination of the best elements of the pioneers of the modern surfboard, Joe Blair steadily made his transition from protégé to master. One can only imagine the excitement at the time, when surfers were moving from slower boards with more limitations to something more dynamic.
Joe: “It was exciting because at that point there were only twin and single fins and the industry was very boring then. Everybody was riding the same stuff and we weren’t going anywhere whatsoever. And then when Simon Anderson came in [he] called it a thruster because the three fin gave you so much more punch outta your turns and your board didn’t spin out, because at Pipeline, a single fin’s kinda dangerous ’cause it won’t stay on the face of the wave. (Read more about the history of the three fin and thruster here.) And Simon’s board… 85% of the guys were better surfers than him. He was a big guy and rode backside, but he won a couple of contests in Australia and then won the Pipeline Masters, a very important event, and people still didn’t stand up and pay attention to it. Then [Gary McNabb] from California who did Nectar Surfboards rode one and realized the potential. Then all of a sudden… It’s unfortunate that Simon didn’t patent it because he could have made a fortune. But he really changed the surfing world with the three fin.
Like any industry, even the youthful and progressive world of surfing, people get bogged down and become slow to change their ways. Being involved in it for so long, Joe has an awareness of the trepidation to evolve.
Joe: “The trouble with the shaping industry, you can take each shaper and he’s stuck in a particular year and he doesn’t want to get out of that year and they get a bit egotistical because everyone’s getting boards from them and so shapers really don’t progress that well because of their closed-mindedness. Like, a lot of guys couldn’t ride the three fin because it was a tail rider and everybody was an up-front surfer because of the single fin. So, [it took McNabb to start producing the thruster] and that’s when people started riding it. I mean, look what it is now: everything is a three fin.
But for me, I got into the four fin, which is huge now. Well, I was a heavier guy and turned hard and surfed hard so the single fin would spin out and the twin fin would definitely spin out and I saw a guy in San Diego who had the four fin. So I started building four fins back before the three fin came because they worked really well. I’ve been building the four fins for many, many years now … and now, it’s just huge. Everybody’s going four fin crazy but it took them 25 years to come back [to it]. So you can see how backwards the designers are in the industry of shaping. It’s only been a few that were innovative that evolved this thing and kept it up and going. Otherwise,” Joe adds with a snicker, “we’d still be riding long boards with those huge fins stuck on the tail.”
Considering the wealth or knowledge and experience, Joe has every right to be opinionated, and he doesn’t stop with himself. Did Joe get stuck in any era?
“Yeah, the same thing happened to me, “Joe admits. “I started making four fins for small wave boards and some of the long board guys. But for the guns and everything, the three fin is so good – it seemed to have a little bit more punch than the four fin, so I went with the three fin thing and only four years ago did I come back around to realize that guns and semi-guns and fun boards are way more maneuverable as a four fin. I got stuck in that rut of the three fin, which is a great board. It’s just that with the four fin you can put a faster bottom on the quad and with the fin set up, if you move them up a little bit and are put on properly, it’s faster and more maneuverable than the three fin.”
“If these things were so great, what was the reason the four fin had all but disappeared?”
Joe: “Because the trouble with these guys who are old fashioned is that they never learned to move the fins up. They had that one fin stuck way on the tail and that’s not advantageous to foot turning.”
“Besides making the thing real stiff – that’s what I worry about. As a girl of a smaller stature, 5’5″ and 110 pounds, sometimes it hard to find the right board when I feel most boards are designed with men in mind. So I asked him, can a four fin be advantageous for me?”
Joe: “This is an important thing to put in. The quad-fin has such a bigger range of putting different sized fins in because as we all look different; some people like big fins for a lotta punch, other people like medium, and others like small fins because they’re real loose and a little bit slidey. So the four fin has a huger range of fin sizes you can put in to fit your style of surfing. But for you, for instance, the quad’s nice because it turns so easy and you’re light and you need something that turns easier because you’re lighter. A hot surfer can ride anything but a beginner or intermediate surfer really needs an up-to-date board with the fins moved up and a really good shape to help them surf better.”
I want to assure him, “I’m a hot girl… by the way.”
“I mean on the surfboard”, I reiterate. “I try to ride all kinds of boards. I’ve had a few friends who were shapers, so they’d shape me all kinds of boards, one a 5’7″ fish and I’d be whining ‘This is too small for me. I can’t ride this.’ And then, my boyfriend at 6″ and 180 pounds grabs the board and just kills it. Then tosses the board back to me and I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ And I can’t say anything more about the board being too small. After that I was just determined to make any board work for me. I realized that you have to be flexible.”
Pins rule. Squares drool.
Joe: “You can ride anything even if the shape isn’t that good. But the fishes are Flintstone shaped. You’ll have to go on my website. My rocket fish has a round pin. Everything I make does. Matter of fact, it says “Pins rule. Squares drool.”
“I’ve transitioned in the past year and a half to round pin, so I understand. Except for my fish, which was a little wide-tailed, but I love the round pin.”
Joe: “The idea of having a wider, shorter board is great but you can’t have that big wide slalom with the straight line and hard edges.”
These days Blair is making a name for himself with innovations in another almost obsolete style, the stand-up paddleboards.
Joe: The stuff I’m doing on my stand-ups nobody else is doing. My concaves, nobody else is doing that. And my outlines with the round pin and the fins moved way up… I have concave in the nose. I have double barrel – maybe 5% of the shapers are making those. And now, I foresee the stand-up thing going quite short because the windsurfers, they have these really shortboards that you can stand up on and haul up an 8’0″ sail, which is huge. So the windsurfers have been ahead of the surfers for a long time in their designs. That’s what helped me so much in my designs. I learned about concave [from them] back in the early ’80s -which made the boards faster- and I also learned to move my fins up and put soft rails on boards; something that was a big help and [which shapers] still do not do.
I’d noticed that the boards for windsurfing were getting a lot smaller and when I look at the paddleboards, again, being a small female, those things are huge! I have pretty good balance; can bust a headstand on my 5’7″. So I’m thinking I don’t need so much board. And I’m really light and don’t need it so thick that I can’t even hold it in my hands [transcriber comment: "this all sounds real kinky!"] And even those big guys sometimes, when the days are really big, I see them and they can’t even hold onto their boards because they’re so huge -11, 12 feet- and they’re dealing with the paddle. So, I ask him, “Let’s say we’re evolutionary and I’m going to get the smallest paddleboard so far ever designed. I’m a smaller female, not the 200+ pound Hawaiian you see paddleboarding. What would you make for me?”
Stand-up paddleboarding has four times the exercise level that surfing has because you’re consistently moving. And 80% of the exercise is keeping your balance on the board.
Joe: You’d be surprised at how small of a stand up you could use. I just built myself an 8’8″ and I’m 200 pounds. It might be smaller but I’m just now experimenting with really short stand-ups.
“So the compensation would be a little bit in the width and the thickness that keeps you steadier as you’re standing up and paddling?”
Joe: “Yeah. Everybody thought they had to be long, which is dumb shaper thinking. Width is what keeps your balance. So your length can go really short as long as you have a little bit of width so it’s stable. You could probably be on an 8’2″, 28.5 inches wide and four inches thick and it’d be perfect for you.”
Joe: “We’ll get you all hooked up here.”
“I’d love it, it looks like an awesome sport. From the time I saw Laird cruising many years ago at Point Dune in Malibu, it looked fun. And it seems a great recreational option when there are no waves, just cruising around…” (editor’s note: After surfing Hanalei Bay for a month this winter, with up to 30 paddleboarders out at any given time, I do have strong opinions about the sport. And as a shortboarder I must make it clear that, even though I would like to experience stand-up, I feel giving even more power to people who have limited regard for others trying to enjoy surfing the break at the same time, makes my opinion of Paddleboards slightly, negatively skewed. Ultimately I wish, unless it’s just tiny, that SUP’ers, similar to windsurfers, could stay in their own area, away from regular surfers…and that goes especially for those who can not maintain control/hold onto their gear when the big sets rolls in. amen. thnx for letting me vent
<Blair discussing his paddleboards>
Joe: “That’s why I live here. We’ve got six killer reefs rights here and Cardiff Reef, in particular, it can be waist high, which is the smallest it ever gets, and you can still get 65 yard long ride. Stand-up paddle boarding actually has four times the exercise level that surfing has, because you’re consistently moving. And 80% of the exercise is keeping your balance on the board. Only 20% is the paddling.”
“So you’re building core muscles!”
Joe: “Every muscle in your body was meant to keep your balance. And the ocean’s moving so much all the time; the ground swells, the little side chops and the wind chops. You’ve got three types of things happening at the same time so you’ve got to be consistently staying loose and feeling that. You’ll see when you try it. You’re gonna be doing some Hail Mary’s, swinging the paddle around and fall or not fall – all these crazy torque positions at first. What I find so unique about the stand-up paddle board thing is, by using every muscle in your entire body to keep you balanced, there’s almost no other exercise you can do that’s like it. That’s why I first got into it. Originally I was thinking, ‘I don’t like long boards. This is ridiculous – big old boat with a paddle.’ But then after I did it and realized the high exercise level that it has… plus you can go out on these little days and have a ball. It’s like the catamaran effect. If you go to Waikiki, you’ll see the catamaran will catch a wave and it’s rolling and it will go for, like, 200 yards on a little roller and keep going. Well, that’s kind of like a stand-up. …And the stand-up paddle thing is going to be sweet revenge on these goddamned long boarders. Super sweet revenge.” (note: that said, Joe makes some of the sweetest nose-riders and high performance longboards around!)
“Why? Wouldn’t the longboarders be the ones transitioning to paddleboard?”
Joe: Yeah, some of them will… but I find the surfing industry -I mean the people that surf and the designers- they’re kinda retarded. I don’t know if it’s water on the brain or whatever it is but, you’ve got longboarders – they’re not gonna ride a shortboard, a stupid shortboard, so they’re all stuck there. And the shortboarders, they don’t want a longboard – and I can understand that because a shortboard is a Ferrari. A longboard is a Model T Ford truck. I call longboards “drag queens.” The reason I talk people out of longboards and put them on these special wide, thick eggs, round pin quads is because longboards will ruin your childhood. Because if you get used to all that paddle power and you try to ride something that’s more high performance, you’re not gonna catch any waves.
The reason I talk people out of longboards … is because longboards will ruin your childhood.
Sure, he’s talking “childhood” in an esoteric sense – like you lose your youthful drive and aptitude. As fun as longboards can be on a small, slow day, there’s a reason why “old” guys/gals end up on them. Frankly, I find longboards more work: strapping it onto the car, lugging it down to the beach, lugging it back up, dealing with them in rough swells…. Like many shortboarders, I love ‘em on a small day and appreciate the way longboards work my muscles differently -making going back to a shortboard feel more snappy. But typically, at some point in the session, I get antsy and wish I was riding something with more spunk.
Joe: “Well, here’s the simple thing too. Longboards don’t have any rocker, so they pearl real easy. They’ll pearl even as you’re trying to take off on the rolling part. Then, secondly, all the shapers put the fins too far on the tail, so they’re really stiff. Third, since they have all that flat, low rocker, that’s why a longboard is slow, it doesn’t get up and zip around like an egg. Even an egg has more nose kick – an egg flies faster than a frickin’ longboard or a high performance longboard or even a little semi-gun.”
“With all the varying shapes you’ve seen come and go, surely you’ve seen some strange things. I can pick one, for example, that drives me crazy: the double-nosed board. You don’t see it very often but every now and again someone will break it out because they picked it up really cheap in the used rack at a surf shop. What are some of the designs that never made any sense conceptually or maybe they made sense in terms of water-dynamics but they just didn’t take?”
Joe: “You mean a good shape or a bad shape?”
“Let’s talk about the bad ones first.”
Joe: “Of course, the worst ones were the old longboards that had round bottoms with that huge fin stuck at the tail. That was a complete backwards boat principle. Boats had better bottoms back then than those things; thy were terrible. Anything that shapers will shape with a round bottom on it, like some of the stand-ups, they’re terrible like that. If you take a spoon and you hold it against a faucet really lightly in your fingers on the round side, it’ll suck it out of your hand – there’s tons of drag. But turn it around on the concave side, and you’ll see how it just skims real quickly and it won’t drag it out of your fingers. That’s a good way to show how rounds suck and are slow, flats are fast and concaves are even faster. There have been some people who’ve made some really weird boards. Who’s that guy who made that weird board? Walden. It had two ends the same. It was really freaky looking. There have been some people who’ve made some really freaky shit.”
MERRICK & SLATER
<Blair at work>
Joe: “Out of all the people that make boards, I would say that those three: Dick Brewer, Simon Anderson and Xanadu. But who has really stepped up to the plate in the last six years, who took all the ideas and put them together and made it killer was Al Merrick. Matter of fact, Merrick had too much tail rocker in his board and, each year, he dropped it an eighth of an inch ’til he finally dropped a half inch out of his tail rocker and now he has a fast bottom that works really good. And of all the boards that are made, if you look at a K board – a Kelly Slater board – well, his is the best. He has a little more nose kick so you can get really critical and won’t catch. He’s got a faster bottom so it bombs faster and a little bit of V in the tail to loosen it up. When I went in there a year and a half ago and looked at one of Kelly Slater’s, I compared his with the other Merrick’s, and it’s amazing that Slater made those guys put that into his boards instead of just doing a stock Merrick.”
Slater’s boards are a little bit better than Curren’s boards were 10 years ago when he was at his peak. So that’s why Slater’s surfing better than Curren, because he has a better board.
“And that was actually my next question, the surfers who’ve worked with shapers to help them evolve their boards.”
Joe: “Well, if it weren’t for Curren…. Merrick was just a terrible California shaper at first; an older guy shaping crummy boards. Well, Tom Curren came along and they looked at everybody’s boards and put a package together…. And Curren was so good he could’ve ridden anything and ripped on it. But, see, Slater’s boards are a little bit better than Curren’s boards were 10 years ago when he was at his peak. So that’s why Slater’s surfing better than Curren, if you equal them out, because his board shapes are better.”
Joe: “They would’ve been equal. Because, if you look in an interview, even Slater says that Curren really never hit his peak. He was a fantastic surfer, I looked up to him, and if he’d had better equipment and possibly a little more drive… See, that’s the [other] thing. Slater knows the contest circuit and plays the game. Curren didn’t dig that whole thing. He was just like his dad; he was a recluse. When I’ve got people coming up to me and going, ‘You’re Joe Blair! Wow!’ I get embarrassed a little bit. I’m not a glory hound like a lot of these guys who get really arrogant.”
“I can see where some of the surfers are into the limelight, can handle the limelight, even get amped by all of that. While some really do just want to surf for themselves ultimately. But, getting back to the original question, what surfers have you enjoyed working with over the years.”
Joe: “Well, I have not been fortunate enough to have a Kelly Slater or Curren but I’ve got a whole array of really good surfers that ride my boards and I’ve gotten incredible feedback. And I’ve been shaping the ‘Merrick-style’ board for many, many years. Like the concaves and all that, I was using concaves way before Merrick ever did. I don’t want to sound like Mr. Know-it-all – thing is I take the best of everything from everywhere, and put it together. I’m better just making statements about general information about surfing and surfboard design. Statements like: The best surfboard is a happy medium of everything you’ve ever learned. I’d like to write a book called ‘The Bible of Surf Board Design.’ That’s kinda arrogant. But like fin placement, for Merrick – this is a classic example – he makes the best boards in the world, hands down, but from seven footers on up, he doesn’t put his fins on right. He’s got them too far back on the tail.
“And why is that?”
Joe: Well, because a lot of his pro riders are out in Bali and the Mentawai’s surfing these frickin’ insane frickin’ waves. And they’re these red hot guys riding small boards in bigger waves; so that picture fits. But when you’re talking about your average surfers riding your average surf, that’s when you’ve got to move the fins up so the boards are maneuverable. And that’s what he hasn’t figured out yet. He’s so at the top of the food chain with the pros, making boards for all the killer stuff. You know, because Slater rides frickin’ twelve foot pipeline on a 6’8″. That wouldn’t even float my Willie, a little 6’8″. I mean, think about it: these boards go to the Gulf Coast, East Coast, California, some mushy stuff in the islands. But then again, you know all the chippy boards? All the little chippies? 85% of them are all really good boards now. They’ve got it down. The only thing that makes the Merricks better is because all the blanks that are out are really funky now and they don’t have that Merrick rocker that has the speed spot between your feet; that has the arc between your feet. And you can’t take a standard blank and shape a Merrick board right now; it’s completely impossible. You’d have to have the whole bottom completely re-glued up to that style.”
“Meaning his original Clark foam blank shapes; he’s still able to get those?”
Joe: “He had to have his blanks specially glued up to fit that magic rocker that he’s got. He used the Rusty blanks but he had to completely redesign the bottom. You know, where the Rusty blanks have flats where there are supposed to be curves and curves where they’re supposed to be flats – they’re completely ass backwards. If I were to show you a Rusty bottom and a Merrick bottom, you’d go ‘Oh my god! Now I see what you’re talking about! That makes perfectly good sense. Wow, now I see why this board has got the magic punch and Rusty is still has that wanky thing to it. That arc between your feet. It makes you turn quick but you have no acceleration in your turns.”
EPOXY, CHINA & THE FACTORY BOARDS
“So how come pros, for the most part, don’t like epoxy? I don’t see them surfing contests with epoxys. And personally, the epoxy’s I’ve used seemed too buoyant for me. I couldn’t even feel myself in the water – I felt instead like I was skimming across the top of it. I couldn’t dig my rails; couldn’t get my turns sharp. And I don’t know if it was just too thick for me, I’m too light, or if I need a thinner epoxy or if epoxy is evolving… Can you tell me a little bit about that – from the pros to the regular Joes, Joe?”
Joe: “A lot of guys are saying that, they’re too light, they’re kinda buoyant, they don’t have that same feel that an ultralight Clark foam board had. See, what I’m doing so well with is the XTRs (click to read the difference between them and other foam blanks). They’re not quite as light but they’re still lighter than a Clark foam one, and they lay-up the same way and have the same action as the ultralight. I’m really happy to be involved with these guys. You know, I was really well-known in the industry, ’cause I made tons of Brewers, Lightening Bolts, Surfboards Hawai’i. At one time, all the major shops in Hawai’i had my boards in there. What I’m doing so well with now is stand-ups and the round pin quads – nobody makes round pin quads, especially for older, heavier guys. So that’s why I’m kickin’ it right now, my business is doing super now. While the industry, this is the worst it’s ever been. All the boards from overseas are putting everybody out of business. ‘Cause all of us guys from California and Florida, we actually supplied the entire industry with boards. Now you’ve got thousands of employees overseas making a thousand boards a week flooding the market, and I’m almost hoping that they’re going to put themselves out of business this winter, ’cause they just make too many. Surfboards are not toilet paper, it’s a limited market.”
“You’re talking about Costco and so on?”
“Actually, Costco is nothing compared to the Cobra Factory and a couple of other Chinese factories that have literally swamped all the shops. And they give shops 120 days. So if you open up a brand new shop, you don’t have to pay for your boards for 120 days. For example, Burton bought Merrick for 6 mil, so what happens is now they’ve got all this money, now they’re able to give stores 120 days – when before you would have to pay for those boards. So, what, you’re going to have all these shapers everywhere trying to go up against that – but they don’t have even close to that working capital. Lucky I’ve got other things going on, but most shapers are poor because it takes so long to make boards, you can’t make any money doing manual labor.”
“What happened was, when Clark shut down and gas prices went up, we were directly affected by the gas prices. All of our prices went up so ridiculously, so here boards manufactured in the United States, they’re all expensive now. All the boards coming from China, they’re cheap. We went up, they came in and their prices went down.”
“So is there a difference in their quality? I imagine there will always be a place for custom board shapers, because people want something specific and you have a shaper who creates a board exactly suited to their needs. But can you survive off of a custom board market?”
“Well, the trouble is you need to make X amount of dollars just to live. So if all these shapers are cut down to just doing custom orders here and there, they’re going to have to go out looking for another job. They’ll be able to make boards but not enough to sustain life. This winter will be a real tell-tale sign of what happens.”
“And you’re thinking what exactly?”
“Well, the surfboard industry, you’ll have a bull market every three years where no one can make enough. Then you’ll have average years of average sales. And then, every seven or eight years, the surfboard industry falls flat on its face. I think Grubby Clark saw the writing on the wall, ’cause I know the industry well, and that September it shut down, the whole thing shut down, nobody buying nothing. Clark Foam closed down by December, so I think he saw his numbers plummet. Plus he was really pissed off… what happened was, all of his friends he grew up with they went and took a Clark Foam blank, they shaped it and glassed it, sent it overseas, and had it mass-produced to flood this entire industry. He was real pissed off about that. That’s why, think about it, who in the world has a killer business going that completely monopolizes the entire industry and then he just goes and shuts down one day – he did it ’cause he was pissed off. Fuck everybody. And then all the articles, talking about epoxy boards being state of the art, with full page spreads showing their construction… what did that make Clark Foam look like, some old archaic Flinstone way of making boards.”
“Well, there were the environmental issues. People were saying old school is environmentally unfriendly, and now we’re looking for eco-friendly, and they were trying to tout epoxy as being that…”
“Yup, and that’s such bullshit. Like there’s people making bamboo boards and stuff, but they still use toxic chemicals. That whole thing ‘environmentally friendly’, they’re idiots, epoxy is more toxic for the people that work with it than resin is. And you’re still using styrofoam, which when thrown in a dump the stuff never decomposes. Clark Foam decomposes better than styrofoam!”
“So do you think there’s going to be a more environmentally friendly surfboard eventually, someday down the road?”
“Well, the only way is if you make resin out of sugar or something, and then cover it with bamboo, but you’re still going to have to use styrofoam inside. You can’t make something plastic and then say you are environmentally friendly. What’s it called, an oxymoron.”
“Well, like you said sugars…they’re using corn starch to make compostable forks and spoons and “plastic” bags… I’m sure some laid-off NASA scientist could come up with something. You said it yourself, every so many years there’s a revolutionary episode in the surfboard industry, maybe it could happen.”
[long pause, before he's interrupted and our interview comes to an end. I have to ask him one last questions though...]
“Well, it’s trying to make the best riding board you possibly can, so people can enjoy the sport. My rails are different, my bottoms are different, my fin placement is different, so when you add each one of those things up it really starts to make a difference in your surfing – it’s really noticeable. What inspires me is when people buy my board and call me back and tell me they’ve never surfed as good ever.”
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Today Joe lives on the mainland in Solano Beach, a place he chose to live for a specific reason: “It’s like the closest thing I could find to Hawaii.” You’ll still find him cruising the North Shore in winter though. Catch him out in the water, enjoy his words o’ surfing wisdom. To check out his huge range of Blair boards (surf, kite, tow-in, paddleboards…) go to his site jblairsurf.com or call direct 858/755-6629. Or, if you’re on the Big Island, find a small sampling at Orchidland Surf.
Mahalos to Kerin Morataya (transcription) for her greatly appreciated assistance on this piece…oh, and of course Joe, for making the time to speak with us (still look forward to giving your SUP boards a try…!)