San Diego, California. Possibly the most surfer-populated city in America (the world?). From the Dirty South Sloughs to neo-hippy retro soul daddy Swampi’s to jarhead and jalopy beachbreaks in O’side there are waves and characters giving definition to my surfing home. True story:
A kid, Michael Miller, grows up surfing the sand bottomed beauties of Sebastian inlet and New Smyrna in Florida. He lives a block or two from the beach. He hops on a plane for a surf vacation to San Diego on an open-ended ticket. He now owns his own glass shop, surfboard label and can build a pristine hand shaped board from start to finish. Yes, it’s hard to leave San Diego.
“I had $125 and needed to come up with my rent money so I started hunting for jobs on my skateboard.” Michael remembers. After no luck finding work, his roommate who worked for Ding Repair impresario and San Diego surfing icon, Joe Roper, got Michael’s foot into Roper’s shop and his hands onto surfboards. “I started cleaning the shop and then moved on to working with the boards. I was able to get my hands into everything there: laminating, sanding, airbrushing… all of that stuff enabled me to be a start to finish guy.” Michael is a humble, soft spoken guy who has developed into a shaper and glasser of real talent. “I can do everything at show room level. This is what I’m most proud of.”
I stumbled upon Michael Miller’s shop after seeing a nice shape of his under the arm of a local Pacific Beach surfer. I became curious and asked around. I found his shop occupying the former Chris Christenson surfboards factory, adjacent to Skip Frye’s shaping room and just down the street from Roper’s place. He bought the shop from Christenson after CC moved up to San Marcos.
Christenson provided Michael with an opportunity to become a true board builder. He began working part time for Christenson and eventually moved into a position of more responsibility. “Working full time I did all of the resin work. He had a sander at that time to do the sanding and polishing. Then the sander quit and for a short time I did everything start to finish for him until he got a sander for me to train.” Many of those pristine Christenson fish, logs, and gliders you see around are at least partially the work of Michael Miller. It wasn’t long before Michael began to shape boards for Chris as well. “Eventually I started shaping for Chris too. He went on a trip to Hawaii and asked me to shape a fish for him while he was gone. When he got back he liked the fish I shaped. Then I started shaping for him when he got busy and when he went out of town. By this time I was basically a swiss army knife for him to use at will. I could do anything in the production process at top quality.” Christenson mentored Michael, helping him to fine tune his shaping skills and develop his own unique style. About Chris, “Christenson has been my biggest influence in shaping. He is my favorite shaper.”
In addition, Michael has had the opportunity to glass boards by some of the best local shapers. Skip Frye’s boards often find their way through Miller’s shop as do Ron Jones’, Joe Baugess’, and Josh Hall’s shapes. The shop itself is a small operation with enough room for Michael, his brother David who does quality airbrush and resin work, sander Dennis and craftsman Larry Crow. “I have a pretty small shop so I cannot do large numbers. Instead I focus on quality more than numbers”
Michael Miller Surfboards is a product of a surfer who likes to surf all kinds of boards. The kaleidoscope of experience created by this kind of surfing enables Michael to shape all types of boards. “I really like to shape all types of boards. Shaping is fun…I like to mix it up.” The lines on his shapes are clean and balanced, tending towards the classic San Diego fish-egg-log aesthetic. Though progressive shortboards pass through the shop doors regularly.
In the next few years Michael would like to grow the scope and scale of his surfboard label. He has the experience, mentorship and skill to pull it off. The quality of his product is certainly not an issue of concern. If he follows the paths of his role models he should be okay. “(I admire) Christenson for being able to shape anything and his business sense, Joe Roper for (giving me the opportunity to) learn the basics of surfboard construction, and Skip Frye for never giving in to the machine and always treating everyone fair and honest. I want to be like Skip when I’m older. Have a good following and surf everyday that I want to.”
About five years ago I saw a guy across the street throwing an old single fin in really good shape into the dumpster at his apartment. I asked if I could have it. It turned out to be one of Joe Roper’s Big Rock boards under the Matrix label. I gave it to Joe. He was stoked. I’m stoked to know Joe gave Michael a chance to become a fine craftsman and stoked surfer committed to handshaped surfboards. I guess there really is such a thing as San Diego Surfer Karma.