Friday, August 19, 2016
By Andrew Smith
Photos by Aaron Goulding (unless noted)
Photos by Aaron Goulding (unless noted)
It’s become cliche´ to be a surfer in San Diego. Every stretch of coast from Imperial Beach to the Orange County line seems to be home to droves of faceless buoys, bobbing silently in the sea. Each car seems to be carrying a surfboard on its roof while zinc-screened groms peer through the windows. And why not? San Diego is a remarkably fortunate zone from a surfer’s perspective. Moderate weather and water temperature couple with easy coastal access and the kind of surf infrastructure that make learning to surf convenient. Surf camps raise children to be surfers while their parents deal with their midlife crises by waxing up and hitting the waves.
But in the midst of the great crush of superficially stoked surf dabblers there are those who earn the right to be called true watermen. Scott “Channy” Chandler stands as a paradigm in this regard. He has been scuba certified since he was eleven. He holds the world record for catching a 170 pound mako shark off of a surfboard. He has competed with legends like Joey Buran and Mark Occhilupo. He is the only San Diego surfer seeded into the prestigious Jaws Invitational big wave event. He is a transcendent surfer.
“I’ve always been a stoked surfer, but I’ve also always had a hunger to push myself in new directions with my surfing.” says Chandler. In the mid eighties Scott Chandler embarked on a journey that would change the course of his life forever. Finding himself enthralled by the surfing life he made his way to Mecca, the North Shore of Oahu. While on the island enjoying the warm water and fantastic surf, Chandler learned to shape surfboards under iconic craftsmen Dick Brewer and Owl Chapman. He also challenged himself with waves that had real consequence, far different than those he found at home in San Diego. “Pipeline is where I really cut my big-wave teeth,” Chandler recalls. “I got to surf with Gerry Lop ez and all the big names but it was that spot that is the real star in my mind.” Hawaii is where he developed a taste for large waves and discovered his talent for riding the pacific beasts.
There is not a whisper of wind moving across the water where Chandler sits on his Jet Ski, ready to be towed into sixty foot waves at Cortez Bank. These treacherous and awe-inspiring mountains of water appear in the middle of the ocean some hundred miles off of the San Diego coastline. Here, powerful swells push onto submerged undersea mounts to produce the incredible waves Chandler has come to ride. Chandler remembers, “In the 80’s a fisherman told me about the waves at The Bank. I just thought there was no way he was right. It turns out there really are these amazing big waves in this surreal location. “ As his surf session plays out Scott finds himself exhilarated by the experience, while somehow finding calm at his center. It seems big-wave surfing brings Chandler to a point of understanding, almost ecstatic recognition of how fortunate he is to be at play with nature’s most amazing forces. “I’ve always felt excitement and fear with big waves. It’s that fear that draws me to it. It teaches me about my limits.” Chandler confides.
Scott Chandler is not all about big waves and jaw dropping feats. As an early adopter of the standup paddleboard phenomenon, Chandler has had the opportunity to explore the nuance and capabilities of the discipline. He has ridden standup boards in double overhead barrels in mainland Mexico and used them to cruise the mellow summer days in his local surf spots. Today, you will find his image displayed heavily in standup paddle publications of all kinds. “Some people don’t like the standup thing,” Chandler notes. “People don’t like change. I embrace it and look at it as a new exploration.”
Chandler uses his accumulated experience to create fantastic surfboards, standup paddleboards, kiteboards, and all manner of other watercraft. He also does stunt work, film work, and water safety at big wave surf events. Making his living as a surfer and surfboard shaper has brought him deep satisfaction personally. Now, Chandler is giving to others through his talents. Recently, Chandler participated in a fundraising endeavor to raise money supporting animal charities. Not surprising for a surfer who has won the Coronado Surfing Dog competition with his canine companion four years in a row. He is even teaching his pot-bellied pig to surf.
Scott Chandler demonstrates the most compelling aspects of what being a surfer can mean. He is physically healthy, emotionally grounded, and singularly devoted to interacting with nature at peak levels. He finds the joy grown from years of living a surfer’s life to both enrich him personally and benefit those around him. A committed father, Chandler shows that surfers can responsibly balance home responsibilities with the ever-present draw of the ocean. Amongst hoards of San Diego surf-clones, Scott Chandler has stood as an original for years. He will continue to stand as a unique individual as he extends his exploration of surfing performance.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
By Andrew Smith
Special people often come from special places.
There is a place that seems to exist in the common sub-consciousness of all surfers. A place we know by intuition and experience that exists in each coastal community. It is a place where perfection is not expected but is the fruition of daydreams and preparation joined. A place where each dazzling session is balanced with countless anonymous others. A place where the familiarity of coast, beach, reef and waves is matched by the comfortable glances from co-conspirators out to stoke their salty fire. Here is a trail to the quality known wave and another to that lonely back beach where a handful of average but empty waves can serve as an outlet, an escape. Here the young battlers find their niche alongside aged monks, settled in the sea both. This is a place of familiarity, of identity, of comfort and of conformity.
From these places come characters who slip into familiar roles. We know them at a glance. The competitive hopeful with tell-tale white board, sodden with the labels of surfing profiteers, walks the shore just as the wide-eyed novice ambles by. The yoga mom with her new board, all plumerias and poses, marches along the same path as the coffee dependent daily-dawn mysto-man. In our minds we are sure of the roles these characters fill. We have mapped the universe of beach, ocean, wave and rider.
But search with patience and persistence and you may come to find the exceptions. There are places where the rules are just a tad different. Yes, the facade seems familiar. But the fundamental understandings and actions of some surf zones are simply unique. From these unique places come unique people.
South San Diego’s Steve Pendarvis has been blessed with residence in one of these unique surf zones. His area boasts the rare combination of quality waves and managed crowds. Discipline and tradition have earned a measure of order among the reefs and beaches in his backyard.
As unusual as this is, the people of this area are even more remarkable. They are creative and experimental folks who feed their thirst for surf with equal parts progressive modernism and respect for traditions. The local surfers are inheritors of a radical heritage that requires experimentation and innovation in search of a complete surf experience. Steve Pendarvis came of age in this area and has developed his singular vision for surfing and design as a result.
Steve “Pendo” Pendarvis, now 57 years old, has been beach-side since he was a child. One of six siblings, Steve was born to a loving family who encouraged free days of fun and exploration on the shores of Ocean Beach, Steve’s natural rhythms have long been set to the tides. One of the first photographs of Steve shows him as a baby laying atop a Tom Blake styled kookbox paddleboard with his father proudly smiling alongside.
His friends, too, brought him to the shore. It was routine for troupe of neighborhood kids to find their way to the local beach where the beginnings of Steve’s surfing life took root. “My mom or another mom in the neighborhood would pick up the neighborhood kids, when we were just nine and ten years old, and drop us off at Ocean Beach with our surf mats.” Pendarvis recalls, “We would just try to run over the tourists and have terrible fun.”
Those early years of enthusiastic wave play evolved quite naturally into the thoughtful design and creation of surfcraft. Even in his pre-teenage years Pendarvis began to explore what could be done to maximize his fun on a wave. “I would build paipos and bellyboards from the time I was ten.” Pendo remembers, “It was just what I did, build things.” Steve found that the creation of surf craft suited him. He was both capable at designing and fabricating his visions.
Before long he had turned his home into a stoked surf-rat’s laboratory. “Between 1965 and ‘70 I made boards in my garage at home.” recalls Pendarvis, “Later I built a shed out back where we made our own boards and skateboards.” These formative days proved to be instrumental in allowing Pendarvis to emerge as the ingenious creator he is today. “That shed is where I first got together with guys like Stanley (Pleskunas), Ben Ferris, John Riddle and Stevie Lis. We would really dig into surf design in my shed and in their zones.” Steve remembers fondly.
During this same period Steve made his way to the local reefs, opening his world to more consistent, high quality test tracks for his sea machines. “My big brother kind of introduced me to the reefs.” Steve says, “He found a balsa longboard at a local reef and re-shaped it for me into a 7’-11. The moment I started surfing those waves it was all I could think about. I would ride my bike down to the beach after school, grab a board I had stashed in the bushes and hit the surf. I did it hundreds of times.”
Along with exposure to the waves came full membership in the local tribe of surfers- a position not easily gained and highly coveted even today. Among Pendarvis’ cohort of the time were legendary names and iconoclasts. Fish fountainhead Steve Lis carved his high-speed knee runs across the zone’s green walls. Fin guru Larry Gephart and surf innovator Stanley Pleskunas made the cove beaches and pristine reefs their territory. Rich “Toby” Pavel found his shaping muse beneath the sandstone cliffs while the enigmatic Bunker Spreckels called Azure Vista home as well.
Among all of these characters a shared passion was found. Each was seriously surf-stoked and each was seriously ready to challenge the norm in search of the best materials, design, and construction techniques to satisfy their thirst for surfing. “It was a special time, place and space that allowed for the perfect attitude for experimentation” recalls Steve Lis. A camaraderie emerged. Lis adds, “We drew inspiration from one another. We would torment each other, yes. But we would encourage each other endlessly.” Boards were ridden, altered on the beach and ridden again. Garages were operating rooms where surfboards were modified on a thoughtful whim in hopes of performance gains.
In the middle of all of this, the strand of surfboard design that would define Pendarvis’ career began to emerge. “It all came from Greenough.” Steve says, "We (Pendo, Stanley (Pleskunas), Scat (Steve Scatolini), Zigs (Rick Vorce) and others) started trying to make flexible boards you could stand up on. Some were right, and some were wrong,” Steve’s experimentation took consistent direction with Greenough inspired shells and other flex machines being made in succession. Progress was being made and Steve was enjoying testing his prototypes amid his beloved reefs and open-minded friends. “We were all a bunch of idealistic kids in the 60's.” remembers surf designer Stanley Pleskunas, “Our ideas on the importance of flex and the informational feedback a flexible board can offer a rider overlapped back then. We were inspired by Greenough and found our little zone a perfect place to continue our explorations.” Work continued in this way throughout the 1970’s and into the ‘80’s while Steve worked multiple jobs and attended school at UCSD.
During these years, Steve had the fortune of being formally introduced by a common surfing friend to his wife, Cher. The two had surfed the same waves since their teen years but had never really known each other until their introduction. They quickly realized that they shared a deep passion for surfing and the creative spirit of their locale. “Steve really blossomed when he met Cher.” Recalls San Diego Surf legend Skip Frye. Before long Steve and Cher were creating and surfing together. Indeed, even today Cher will paint Steve’s boards in comfortable, creative collaboration just as she did during those halcyon years.
Those happy days were not to last. Circumstances conspired to force Pendarvis’ hand towards a more lucrative but draining professional life. Steve had made his wages by working on surfboards for years but now he found himself putting his significant design and fabrication knowledge to work on large projects in San Onofre. For thirteen years his surfing time dwindled as did opportunities to continue his surfboard design work. "I was working a lot of hours. When I had a regular forty hour work-week it felt like a vacation." Pendo recalls, “I had to make boards on Christmas Day because I only had that time to spare.” By no means did Pendarvis’ excitement for board design wane. "During the times while working another job to make a living, my internal passions for board building still applied." He recalls. Steve felt an increasing desire to devote himself completely to surfboard design and construction. It was time for a change. He returned to the shaping bay and glassing room on a full-time basis.
The familiar routine of board building and work in surfboard glassing factories fit Pendarvis perfectly. The steady paycheck guaranteed stability while flexibility in his schedule allowed for pursuit of his design work and board tinkering. Steve reclaimed the mental space to once again expand the vision of what surfboards are and how they should function, just as Steve had been doing since his teenage years with his progressive friends on his local beaches.
In 1990 Pendarvis’ seminal innovation was developed. Born of experimental days on the shore in the 1960’s, Steve had long used cutaway channels to allow the tail of a board to flex and twist during turns, creating shorter turning radii and allowing for more nuanced application of force during turns. But this design had a flaw. “The cutaways would allow all of the energy built up in the flex of the tail to escape.” Pendarvis states, “Then a lightbulb went off and I closed the tail. I also developed a cantilevered tail section and the Pendoflex technology in the tail.” The solution was quickly put into play in a Pendo surfboard and sent to the testing grounds. It was an immediate success. “We were all trying flex tails at different points.” Remarks Steve Lis. “They worked really well but kind of inconsistently. Pendo stuck with it and has perfected it.” The design allowed all the advantages of Pendo’s past iterations but without the loss of energy through turns. Pendarvis describes the function of the board succinctly, “It’s the same distance from the bottom turn to an off-the-lip, but with the torque-tail you gain the feeling of speed and control within that curve.“ These “torque-tail” boards became the calling card of Pendarvis’ design work and his Pendoflex surfboard label, easily recognizable and sublimely functional.
The design elements that allow for Pendarvis’ boards’ variable flex are hidden under a plasticized material on the deck. It is an ingenious design that allows for both a fantastic functional result and an aesthetically pleasing finish. The torque tails themselves are created through a series of modulated volume changes in the tail of the board that allow for flex in multiple directions. Steve Pendarvis’ boards had achieved variable flex that was both functional and practical to create. Pleskunas says, “He has developed a concept about not only how the board and fin(s) should flex and move, but he has also invented the means to build and execute that vision.” Indeed, the boards function sublimely and are pleasing to the eye. They are also surprisingly durable despite the torsion applied to the tail of the boards. “The best flex tail boards for my surfing have been Pendo's boards.” Free surfing icon Dave Rastovich remarks, “They have just the right amount of flex and have lasted quite a few years without losing spring and liveliness, I think that is a huge accomplishment.”
The functionality of the torque-tails is an immense asset, but it is not the single element that makes Pendo’s designs successful. However innovative Pendarvis’ flex tails are, they are nothing when considered in isolation. Pendo combines proven curves and tuned volumes with custom fins that have been created for each particular board. “Steve's vision is common to very few designers who consider the board and fin(s) as an integrated unit.” Pleskunas states, “He has the knowledge and technical ability to execute his vision on a board-by-board basis.” Indeed, even the technology that allows for the flex patterns in the torque-tail boards is customized for the specific board, rider and wave for which it was made. Whether the board is a classic fish straight from Azure Vista or a modern shortboard crafted to handle Hawaiian juice each Pendoflex board is a truly custom machine.
Surfers of all kinds have raved about Pendarvis’ designs with unequivocal enthusiasm. The boards have found merit under the skilled feet of riders around the world. Notable figures such as David Rastovich, Gavin Beschen, Cyrus Sutton and Tyler Warren have enjoyed their unique feel. Rastovich states, “Steve is a subcultural surfing guru and has so much collected surfing knowledge to call on. I think I am a very lucky cat to have gotten a custom board.” Of course, local icons like Skip Frye and Steve Lis revel in the experience of riding a Pendo creation and have collaborated with Pendarvis on multiple occasions. A host of other surfers, primarily from the San Diego region, swear by Pendoflex boards.
Some might question whether Pendarvis’ unique design might be suited too narrowly for the waves of his beloved Azure VIsta, limiting the application of the design significantly. However, time and again those who have dared to use Pendo’s boards in waves of consequence have been satisfied. Gavin Beschen, a North Shore free surfer writes, ”The flex effect on the tail makes it really easy to engage the rail, producing very responsive turns even on double-overhead waves.” Further, the design is versatile enough to handle a range of heavy-water conditions. Underground charger Chapman Murphey recalls, “One south (swell) I took the red eye to Maui and scored Ma’alaea. The board loved the fastest wave in the world and was screaming through one race track after another. The flex in the tail contorts to the face of the wave in the tube and naturally accelerates the board through sections.” Murphey has recently taken to riding Pendoflex boards in enormous Mexican beachbreak barrels. “Pendo made me a 6’5”, 13 pound quad. I got to ride this board on a massive day in a draining Mexican beach break and I drove it through a twenty foot barrel. Steve’s Pendoflex worked again.”
The unique nature of Pendarvis’ “torque tail” technology seems to be an obvious entrance into the world of trademarks, proprietary rights, legal branding and the like. Steve, though, rejects these issues on all accounts, preferring to make his surf craft a homegrown affair. “My business, if you want to call it that, has always been about developing quality rather than quantity.” Pendarvis states. Long time friend Stanley Pleskunas adds, “In a world where most builders aspire to getting paid and gaining fame, Pendo has quietly put his passion to work. The result is a new and completely unique genre of wave riding craft. This is a rare accomplishment for an individual in any discipline.”
Simply, Pendarvis declines to follow the opportunistic trend of many experienced board builders. While many renowned shapers have transitioned to a primary role as businessman, putting the responsibility for design in the hands of others and relying heavily on computers for board fabrication, Pendarvis has remained devoted to the core of his work. “I don’t want to be sitting at a desk.” Pendo states with conviction, “I want to work on my craft.” Perhaps this is a significant shortcoming. Despite all of the accolades that his boards have received he still exists as a niche board-builder, fulfilling the fancy of those in the know rather than the masses. Pendarvis would not have it any other way.
Steve prefers to deal with his clients with personal care. “He is quite intuitive about the needs of the surfer.” Cher Pendarvis says, “Steve likes to talk with each customer carefully and consider all of the needs of their surfing.” The individual attention that Pendarvis gives to his customers allows him to construct boards that suit his clients’ needs ideally. “Since I build each board from start to finish and have the chance to really dial-in the volume, foil, fins and of course the flex characteristics, I can give my customers a great end product.” Steve says. Sure enough, each Pendoflex board is of the highest quality and is unique in its ride and appearance.
In a marketplace where surfboards are increasingly manufactured as another “sporting good” item, prosperity becomes difficult for the craftsman who works on one board at a time, for one customer at a time. “I make boards from A to Z.” Says Pendarvis, “I shape, paint, glass, sand, polish and make the fins for my boards. I’m working for five dollars an hour but I don’t even care because I’m passionate about the work I’m putting out.” Pendarvis’ loyal customers have kept the order book filled for Steve while word of mouth and grassroots Internet publicity have been consistently beneficial to his simple business. Proof that there are some surfers who appreciate the personal and functional work of Pendarvis is evidenced in his constant correspondence with interested parties from around the world. Still, there can be times of scarcity. Fortunately, the richness of his work is satisfying to Steve.
Even with the challenges of subsisting by creating surfboards, Steve Pendarvis finds avenues to continue the experimentation and innovation that began so many years ago. Pendarvis’ truck camper, a veteran Baja battler, holds two of the most unique surf craft ever created. They are black surfboards with solid cores that have been shaped, glassed and then “skinned” with one-and-a-half inches of industrial foam. This foam possesses remarkable flex memory and covers the entire exterior of the board. “My Black Labs are experiments in neutral rail.” explains Pendarvis, “They basically have one-and-a-half inches of jellyfish around the whole of the rail. It flexes to the wave face and recovers. You can actually see it subtly conforming to the face of the wave. It works unreal. I can turn wherever I want on the wave without resistance.” These prototypes are unheard of anywhere else in the surf world. Not surprising offspring from a mind that experimented with finless boards in 1977 and has made parabolic stringers out of fishing poles for over two decades.
The mind boggles as the future-primitive prototypess that are Pendo’s “Rubber Duckies” are revealed. The boards are squat little things with outlines that find the pretty place between a paipo and a fish. They have plasticized foam inlays that allow a modicum of flex similar to the Pendoflex boards that are Steve’s mainstay. Young surf stylist and artist Tyler Warren recalls after riding the Ducky, “The board flew down the line and gave a feeling of detachment. It had the ability to break the fins free with ease, mastering 360's in both directions. The board had just the right amount of hold and flex.” Balanced with the board’s innovative touch there is also a nod to the past. “The Duckies grew from a trip to Hawaii we took to visit some friends.” Recalls Cher, “We were inspired by some friends who were riding traditional paipo boards and also by Stevie Lis’ experience making and riding paipos as a youngster, which later inspired his first fish kneeboards. We thought it might work to combine some of the characteristics of the fish and paipos.”
Pendo uses the designs of the past to inform his current work. Pendarvis has owned and worked on a wide variety of historic boards, mostly of San Diego origin. They have been Steve’s research library and he studies them doggedly. “I love to study surfboards. I’ll go up to the Surfing Heritage Foundation and just stare and consider the boards. Cher has to pull me away from them.” Pendarvis says as he runs his hands over a 1940’s era Bob Simmons board.
The Simmons board, a true rarity, has been entrusted to Pendarvis in hopes of a miraculous rehabilitation. The old soldier is showing its age as well as its maker’s genius. It is missing glass and chunks of wood. It has no fin and nearly no nose. Yet the board’s owner has trusted Steve Pendarvis to bring it back to life. The earnestness and sincerity of Pendarvis are in no doubt. He is trusted with confidence by all those who know him. “Pendo is a good guy and a trusted friend.” States Skip Frye. Steve Lis echoes this sentiment, “He is so creative, genuine and hard-working.” It might be said that his diligent commitment to hard work is the single greatest asset in Pendarvis’ possession. Stanley Pleskunas states, “The overarching element that has allowed Steve's success is his outstanding work ethic. If Pendo is not surfing he is building. If he is not building he is designing. If he is not doing one of these things he is on his way to go get them done.”
Pendarvis’ trustworthiness and all-around quality of character are matched in volume by his never-ending stoke. Everywhere he goes he brings a smile and a story. Steve has never attempted to master the surfer’s apathetic stare or non-plussed affect. He is energized by surfing and all its paraphernalia in a contagious manner. “Pendo is classic! He is always full of positive energy and stoke.” Tyler Warren relates. It is difficult to be around Pendarvis and not be stoked about surfing yourself.
But there are some who might question Steve. He is unusual. He is innovative. He strikes an unconventional countenance with his full mustache, long-socks and semi-opaque glasses. He carries a reputation as a mild eccentric. But his idiosyncrasies are both endearing and descriptive of a man consumed with passion for his work. “Steve Pendarvis hasn't changed since the first time I laid eyes on him.” Pleskunas states, “Pendo's enthusiasm for what could be, is as vibrant now as when we were kids.” “He’s a real live-wire.” Frye adds, “He’s like a mad scientist”
On the whole, those who know Steve celebrate his unique character, and not just his chronological contemporaries. Josh Hall, a skilled and traditionally grounded young surfboard shaper from San Diego remarks, “I have a lot of respect for Pendo. He is always doing far-out stuff and making it work. He even restored one of my favorite fish.” Cyrus Sutton, surfing’s new-media golden-boy, revels in Pendarvis’ vision and creativity. “I identify with him and admire his work. I’m interested in people who follow their personal inspiration to connect with surfing and the ocean regardless of outside influence or possible financial gain. Pendo has gone down that rabbit hole as far as anyone and he has made some fantastic creations.”
An industrial building in central San Diego has housed Steve Pendarvis’ surfboard building space for nearly twenty years.. There, he dedicates himself to being a full-time board builder- the only sensible choice for a man who has been building boards without pause from the time he was ten-years old. He exclusively devotes his time to design work, board building and testing his crafts in the water. “It gives me freedom and a chance to invest in building the best boards possible.” Remarks Pendo.
Steve Pendarvis’ life trajectory developed through years along the shores of his unique surf zone. Indeed, Steve credits his environs with channeling his talents so particularly. “It was just the fortune of having the time and space to surf our brains out and experiment.” Pendarvis says, “I had those guys who were a little older than me to work with and play off of and it made a big difference.” The creative spirits with whom Steve matured and the access to his prized surf locale was a profound gift to Pendarvis’ creative process- a process that continues to look into the future.
Steve and Cher Pendarvis’ home sits minutes from the treasured shores of their inspiration. The living room of their quaint California bungalow is populated by several surfboards- each named and placed in a position of honor as though they were as likely to breathe as anyone who might ride them. The walls are hung with pictures of beloved friends and beloved shores. There are frames with the smiling couple standing together, boards underarm, clearly connected by a common passion. Pendarvis’ work spaces have been filled with a treasure-trove of surf totems. They have been host to representative boards from all throughout surfing’s history. Amongst the Lis/Pendarvis collaboration boards and the classic Skip Frye fish awaiting repair one might find boards from every decade of California surfing. Pendo has touched each decade with his own hand, crafting boards of vision and fearless innovation from one year to the next. Today he continues on this path, creating remarkably modern designs that are informed by the past and inspired by his years of surfing and creating in his unique way.
The Pendarvis Experience
By Rich Pavel
Steve Pendarvis is an individual within a community of individuals.
My impressions grow from knowing the Brythonic Celtic clan of the Pendarvis family of creatives from which Steve hails. His brother Larry was a pioneer of the "Back to the land” movement up in Oregon. Joyce- a super-cool, sweet and principled mom. Sister Patrice has made a very fine reputation for herself and lives as an artist on the same sacred outer-island where my surfshop “The Greenroom” was founded in 1970. One of my favorite early boards was one he built for Patty.
I remember so many things about the household. The heady and hilarious wrestling bouts on the backyard lawn amongst the lads between laminations and followed by hot coats. It was the era of backyard soul, homegrown and anti-establishment. Non-commercial boards were the only type allowed in the lineup. Boards were started at dusk and were then surfed at dawn in your trusted "Surf & Sea" wetsuit- your suit still cold, wet and sandy from the prior evening’s session. Having the creation of your board inseminated with the DNA drawn from that week’s running ground swell was all that mattered. You lived for total involvement. Acetone, catalyst, resin fumes and dust wafted through the air out back. Music cranked on vinyl spinning to accompany the open and often revolving door policy on the way in. Always an impressive cast of talent hanging out.
Some of the early peak memories were like bonfire epics burning around week long orgies of "Wibbulator" flex-board building, applications and installations. Anybody from Billy Greta or the Biehls to Mike McDonald and the Pleskunas' or the ever gifted Rick "Ziggy" Vorce were likely luminaries found within the applied science compound/bohemian think-tank of the Pendarvis family property. It was a little like when I was living in Montecito and going over for visits at the Greenough Estate. Anything and everything was on. No limits as to what could be explored, felt and thought.
I still enjoy and respect the whole family from the top right on down to the last sibling. When you really get Steve going he's more fun than a barrel of monkeys. Creative, fun to watch surf, good natured more often than not, industrious as well as intuitive, smart and solution oriented. His wife Cher is an absolute peach! The Greenroom sends him as much work as we can. Long live the Pendo-flex!
PendoFrye: Steve Pendarvis
Skip Frye’s planer whirs and then rests. Board A1000 is completed. It is his one-thousandth board at his current shaping shop. The board is an elegant craft of some length, carved from a foam blank of unfortunate material integrity. The foam is irregular in density with a dangerous consistency warranting a bit of concern about potential durability. No matter. The board is glassed with a golden glow and sent to hunt.
A sunny afternoon at Rincon greets Skip as he enters the water on the board. He is there to celebrate fifty years of surfing. Stoked as ever, his first wave takes him the length of the point. He finds his muse- all glide and regal positioning.
Months later the verdict is in. The foam has failed and A1000 may be lost. Skip has an idea, “Hey Pendo, what do you think about Pendo-izing the board?” Before long the dear friends are hitched to the idea. The dialogue moves quickly as a plan takes shape. Pendo will resurrect Skip’s big board and Skip will reciprocate by shaping Steve and his wife Cher a board of their own. They themselves have been surfing for almost five decades and will certainly appreciate a new Frye gem to add to their quiver.
Steve Pendarvis evaluates the patient. The foam is virtually a powder. The board will have to be rebuilt and then given the magical Pendo treatment- dynamic flex the goal. Foam is removed, stringers planed down and new foam added. Customized Pendoflex alterations are integrated into the boards now structurally sound midsection and tail. A gorgeous black foam inlay is installed over the old problem areas. Skip’s iconic logo is etched onto the new foam. A1000 is whole again.
Skip and the Pendarvis’ gather together for the board’s presentation. They share so much; a love for the ocean and a common Christian faith are fundamental. Pendo explains the challenges with the rehabilitation of the board. Skip smiles and marvels at Pendo’s ingenious work. Cher snaps a few photos and joins in, sharing the stoke. The swell is up. It is time for the board to head to the test track.
“It rides better than it ever did!” Skip grins, “Steve brought it back to life!” A few sessions confirm the result. The board has been enhanced and transformed. it is stunning to view and its flex properties are perfect for Skip. “It’s got a lot of life to it. You have to be aware of your movements because the board is just alive under your feet.” He nods his head and runs his hand over the new deck of the board. “Fine work, just great.”
A Matter of Attitude: Steve Pendarvis
A dusty trail shows layers of footprints, evidence of barefoot surfers trekking to an escape. They have left behind their daily lives to descend in search of a moment of inspiration among the green lines sent from the horizon to crash upon sacred reefs at the base of walls of sandstone. The surfers file by in near silence, expressions of anticipation grace their faces.
“Woo! I got mine!” The silence falls. From atop the cliff Pendo’s voice rings out, giddy joy fills the morning’s void. He holds his hand up. A long black cylinder unfurls to reveal an unlikely wave craft. Steve Pendarvis has brought his surf mat out to play. The surfers in the water, including two other surf mat riders, smile.
In moments he is kicking out through the water, bouncing atop his inflatable mat and grinning. He strokes past the inside, greeting familiar faces while watching waves roll across the reef. It is his home. It is his playground.
Pendarvis spins and kicks into a right-reeler. Zipping along the reef’s edge, he dips his hand into the wave’s face, sliding sideways and stalling in the critical cavern. He exits and continues on, mustache dripping, a smile on his face. “Hey, nice to see another mat rider out here.” He says, “Great mat waves for sure.”
Sets upon sets and rides upon slides, Pendo puts his mat through its paces with clear pleasure. “Let’s go!” he shouts and two mats drop into one peeler. The mats weave and race, riders finding trim lines and speed bursts as their peculiar vehicles flex, conforming to the face of the wave. They bump into each other. Smiles. They crash in the whitewater ingloriously. Smiles.
“They are just stoke machines!” Pendo exclaims. Mats have been a consistent diversion for Pendarvis since his youth, when he would use them as tourist target-agents on summer days. Later Steve would transform storm condition surf into a playground, hurling him self over the edge of hideous mounds for the thrill of it. On a mat the consequences weigh not so heavily while the joy of the ride remains fantastic.
Of course there is a common thread. Greenough flex-spoons, Pleskunas shells, Pendarvis torque tails, and mats- guess the common ingredient. “Ever since I saw Greenough on his flexspoon (kneeboards) my friends and I have been playing with flex.” Pendarvis remarks. “The mats are just the ultimate example of that. They can bend into any part of the wave. The mats inspire some of my ideas for boards.”
In the last few years Pendo’s mat riding has staked claim to a growing portion of his water time. “During the summer I’m probably about seventy-five percent on my mat. Even during the winter I’m on it a lot- it’s always with me when I go to the beach.” With a quiver of a half-dozen mats, courtesy of mad mat-genius Paul Gross, it seems clear that mat surfing is not just a diversionary sideshow to Pendarvis’ main act. The man is mat obsessed.
A mat rider is not on the vanguard of cool. He is not idolized or admired. He is not granted an ounce of leeway in the lineup. He is not the photographer’s subject. In fact, most of the time a mat rider is not particularly compelling to watch. A mat rider is not interested in any of these things. A mat rider is stoked. Steve Pendarvis is stoked.
2010, all rights reserved
Expanding the Field:
In the connection sector with Skip Frye
Along one wall of Skip Frye’s shaping shop hangs a variety of visual delights for the cultured surfer. In a glance, images of the renowned surf stylist sliding with signature poise on manicured swells are revealed. There are pictured scenes of surf personalities from the inception of Skip’s surfing life, some fifty years ago, to the present day. Plaques and newspaper clippings, old magazine photos and advertisements fill the wall. Scattered elsewhere are various images of Skip’s logo and trademark- his wings- classic, dignified, emblematic of a surfer’s surfer and a shaper’s shaper.
The shaping room itself is filled with the sounds of a craftsman’s tools. Skip’s handsaw falls in syncopated overhand strokes- practiced, perfected, almost meditative. The whir of a trusted Skil 100 echoes through the space, hard at work tuning another perfectly sculpted craft to the delight of its creator. Soon a sleek, low-rockered surfboard begins to emerge from the foam. The curves blend in a prism of arcs each pleasing to the eye and intuitively correct. The shaping room’s black walls and side lighting reveal a craft born of a master’s touch and impeccably suited for its purpose.
In the shaping room Frye meticulously works the rails of an eleven-foot board. His eyes never leave the blank. His hands, practiced and worn, nimbly manipulate the sandpaper. The board has a beautifully tapered outline. Its wide point is just north of center stretching forward to an elegantly pointed nose. The opposite end of the craft echoes this phrasing with a pintail. The rails follow classic San Diego curves, classic Frye ellipses. The imagination fills with possible sensations offered by this magnificent surfcraft. Would the tail hold in the hollow section of that favorite reef? With the low rocker could the ride be extended all the way to the inside?
San Diego is a surf town with a rich legacy of niche design offshoots, tribal provincialism, and open-minded surfers. Boards hung from piers, Wolfe’s Wind an’ Sea wannabe-ism, Simmons’ machines, and Tudor’s longboard resurrection act come to mind. It is not surprising that for nearly two decades there has been a particular San Diego design undercurrent that has largely escaped notice by the greater surf world. These are designs built for local waves and local conditions. They cater to those inclined to think about waves as lateral canvases for long, fluid lines. These boards offer entrance to a realm of poised surfing and stylish but not ostentatious display. These boards are the pelican’s glide and the dolphin in submerged trim. These boards are the state of the art and the legacy of Skip Frye.
Strictly speaking these big boards, also commonly known as gliders and section connectors, tend to adhere to an honored set of design characteristics. They tend to be over ten feet long with the largest stretching upwards of twelve feet. They have a section of very low rocker covering much of the middle of the board with a bit of kick fore and aft. Though lengthy, the nose and tail widths remain moderate, with a pointed nose coupled with a bit of roll in the front bottom contour to facilitate ease of paddle and to cut through water turbulence. The tail usually appears as a pin or a large swallow, the first offering more hold in critical surf, the second providing added width for paddling and for robust wave harvesting. Fin setups vary from singles to two-plus-ones to trifins (Skip and his friend and protégé in shaping, Josh Hall, have dabbled in riding these boards with only two side fins). Bottom contours often feature a moderate single into double concave running out of the tail of the board, further adding to the recipe mixed for speed and glide.
Though Skip Frye is undeniably the fountain from which this design strand flows, he credits the work of his forefathers in the craft for leading him towards the creation of the glider genre. “The pintail came from (Joe) Quigg, who influenced (Phil) Edwards,” Frye says. “Edwards influenced me in the 60’s. His take was all about speed. He used to say he wanted to make boards like a javelin. Quigg made the pintail to get across and fit in the hollow sections at Rincon. I also learned about Bob Simmons’ boards. They’re all really straight- the straighter the faster. Then I saw where Quigg and (Matt) Kivlin diverged from Simmons. They wanted some maneuverability and Simmons exclusively wanted speed. Over the course of a couple of months I thought about it and put it together. I went to Simmons’ minimum tailblock rule of ten inches then added in elements of Quigg and others.”
The first of the big boards emerged from Frye’s shaping room in March of 1990 as the perpetually stoked Frye was dealing with a rare period of ambivalence about surfing. “It was the early nineties, I was tired of the same old shapes.” Lengths grew and the refinements were made. Before long the remarkable new design would catapult Frye into a freshness of spirit. “Nothing has ever held my attention and stoked me as much as those first three years in the early nineties with the big boards,” Skip remembers. “For three years that’s all I’d ride, eleven to twelve footers.”
The lengthy, graceful aesthetic of these boards is echoed in their offered surf experience. Lines are drawn in composed swoops across multiple sections of a wave. Bottom turns are extended through arcs that accelerate the surfer into fast, beautiful trim. “Trim is the essence of the surfing experience,” reflects Skip. “It’s where I feel the speed and flow of the wave- it’s just the sensation and the glide and the speed of it.”
The focus on trim demanded by the big boards requires a unique approach from the surfer. “You’ve got to have a controlled, casual style to function with these boards.” Frye says. Free-thinking surfer, writer, and stylist, Derek Hynd allowed a glimpse of the composed grace required by the boards in Andrew Kidman’s tremendous surf films, “Litmus” and “Glass Love”. In the films, Hynd paints a perfect glider canvas on South Africa’s famed right-point, Jeffrey’s Bay. The boards he rides in the clips, a 9’9” Brewer circa 1986 and Rich Pavel’s 11’4” iteration of Frye’s Fish-Simmons design, showcase Hynd’s inspired surfing. Positioning, poise, trim, and section-connecting glides mark the clip, giving a visual touchpoint for understanding the ride of a Frye-style big board. Glider surfing teaches that waves have length and must be watched carefully, anticipated and then engaged with careful positioning. “I think I ride tighter on a big board,” Frye posits. “On a little board you can outmaneuver yourself. You’re so into up and down, back and forth that you lose the flow of the wave. With a big board positioning is important, as is the way you set up the wave.”
Beyond the ride itself, gliders offer expanded access to surfing arenas. The ease of paddling and the ability to glide for maximum distance on a wave allows the surfer to view the whole of a surfing area as fair game. “Surfing the big boards expands your whole realm,” Skip reflects. “The first time I took one out I had two breaks in my command at all times. I was going all the way to the beach and completing my rides. Now if I see a set coming down from one break to the next I’ll run over to the next break and grab a wave then catch another wave of the set at the other break.” These multiple surf spot sessions have grown into a new way of thinking about time in the water for Skip. “I do a lot of cross-country sessions. Six breaks is a normal venture for me. I’ve done up to fourteen breaks. It has helped me to get to know more breaks and lets me really appreciate being in the water.”
Gliders also provide an escape hatch from often overcrowded surf zones. Artist and filmmaker Thomas Campbell, who has featured Skip Frye’s big boards in his surf films and boasts a well-surfed quiver of Frye longships states, “The boards have amazing paddling range. I can get to places where not too many people are surfing and enjoy myself.” In crowd-impacted zones the boards open doors to waves that would otherwise be distasteful. “I can access flat and fast waves that are unsurfable on other equipment. They give you a propulsion and facility that no other boards can.”
There are those who would offer criticism of the big boards’ performance and general applicability in daily surf life. The howl is that the boards are too limited in scope, too focused on lateral surfing elements. San Diego veteran shaper Larry “Larmo” Mabile has crafted many Frye-style gliders and readily admits, “The length of the rail is an asset and a detriment. It’s sometimes difficult to break trim. It will force you to think ahead. It slows you down to think about positioning. Even where you take off changes and becomes a thoughtful exercise.” Chris Christenson, whose big board model dubbed “The Glider” pushed the term into common use, has compared surfing a Frye to using a low-tolerance golf club; If you get it just right it feels amazing, if you’re off by just a bit things go wrong quickly.
Perhaps these criticisms have merit, but they also summon a central question in surfboard design thought: must a design be versatile and accessible, or can designs be validated by being excellently suited to a specific type of surfing and in their potential to evoke unique surfing sensations? Hynd shares the following thoughts when asked this question as it applies to criticisms of section connectors, "Ridden the way Skip appreciates it there are no shortcomings in the design… Skip builds subtle curves and wings depending on a surfer's needs and the predominant wave in mind. I was at Malibu last summer in the crowd. I thought one surfer stood out. She wasn't a notably skilled surfer in going up and down, indeed, to some she would have looked like a kook, but the way she held crouched poise from go to whoa, even in the pull out, seemed ideal treatment for the board she was riding. She wasn't on a Skip but the concept was similar. The way she offered less right there was perfect.” Simply, gliders are boards made as specific tools for a specific purpose and when ridden accordingly the experience can be quite rewarding. Josh Hall summarizes nicely, “They fit the quiver like any board, and do so in a beautiful way.”
In the specificity of their application lingers a clue as to why big boards’ geographical range in the surf world is relatively small. Though recent years have seen an uptake of the design in places as far as Japan and as near as Santa Cruz, San Diego County is the homeland of the design and it remains a rarity to find a proper glider in waters outside of its borders. In an era when another of Skip Frye’s most recognizable models, the keel-fin fish ala Stevie Lis, has found wide global acceptance, it seems strange that his elegant gliders have largely remained anchored in their homeport. Perhaps this is a model case of specific boards being made for specific waves. Larry Mabile confirms, “San Diego County is unique in southern California. The waves break farther out and they’re more walls with length, but softer.” Skip echoes this sentiment, “All of the spots I surf are so expanded, with long paddles and long rides.”
Perhaps the geographical inertia of the design can be attributed to other causes. Mabile states. “Any area where you go and ride them people will catch on, especially if they share (San Diego’s) kind of waves. Really it comes down to what the mafia of surfing wants to be groovy and happening. There are certain entities that want to keep certain trends in vogue. If you look around, though, the reality of surfing is happening on lots of different types of boards.”
Whether there is a concerted agenda among surf media or business to marginalize niche designs such as gliders is debatable. However, It is certainly difficult to compellingly capture the drama of the design in photography, perhaps limiting its appeal as communicated via surf media. Jon Pabalan, a stylish San Diego big board pilot reflects, “I have yet to see an adequate and artistic representation of the act of ‘gliding’, one that captures the swooping movement of the bottom turn, for example, or one that is not cropped in such a way that the wave recedes into the background in favor of the surfer. To be sure, it's a delicate and tricky aesthetic to properly capture.”
Without media exposure, the manner in which glider surfing is disseminated differs from that of other designs. Surfers approach Frye-style section connectors because of direct experience with the boards or influence from surfers already in the know. “Watching Skip surf is what caught my eye and started me on the gliders.” Christenson states.
Enthusiasm about the design begins with Skip Frye and is carried forward as has been done since the inception of surfboard building. “I don’t especially spread the big boards to other shapers intentionally,” Frye states. “Josh (Hall) and others showed an interest and I was happy to share. You know, we’re all reflections of one another. I’m a reflection of Brewer and Hynson and Lopez and Edwards and Carson and Farrelly. It just goes on and on.”
Glider building is demanding work and the design enjoys limited market appeal, making it a labor of love for the shapers who create them. Thus, there are few shapers who have taken up the challenge of blending the long, elegant lines required in the creation of big boards. “It’s pretty niche in terms of guys who are making these boards,” Larry Mabile shares. “Proportions are kind of hard because you’re working with a really long outline.” Still, the enthusiasm for the design among these shapers is evident. “I love them at Scorpion Bay, second point. It’s the dream board for that wave.” Mabile gushes.
Notably, San Diegans Josh Hall, Larry “Larmo” Mabile, and Chris Christenson have found successful application of their craft in the design. Shapers have used the model set by Skip and added their own interpretive touches to the boards. “Josh is about as close as anyone has come to replicating the design, while still putting his own spin on it.” Skip confides.
Today, Skip’s enthusiasm for building and riding section connectors remains strong. In early 2010 he undertook to create his twelve-hundredth board in his current workspace. Fittingly he chose to sculpt a twelve-foot, three stringer beauty from a blank that had been specially made by Jim “The Genius” Phillips. On any fair surfing day Frye can be found covering expanses of water on his remarkable big boards. His experimentation with the design continues. The relaxed rockers are beginning to tighten a touch and fin play is a daily diversion.
Frye’s body of work stretches on through over a half-century of consistent surfing and handcrafting of exquisite surfboards. Where others have parlayed past surfing prestige into marketable lines of boards and clothing, largely forsaking surfing as a personal pursuit, Frye has maintained his focus on surfing and building boards. “He never turned his back on his style of shaping and surfing,” Mabile asserts. “All of his contemporaries truly quit for a long time…but he never quit. Even to this day never has he had someone else shape a board for him. Every Frye you get he actually shaped. It’s super rare nowadays.” Frye’s longstanding commitment to his craft and to his own surfing lend importance to the fact that he has spent so much time developing his big boards. The design is imbued with the knowledge of years spent working in a dedicated manner on a unique design strand.
After nearly two decades of obscurity, the big boards remain an underground phenomenon intended for specific types of waves and a specific style of surfing. They are difficult boards to surf well and garner almost no media attention. For the shaper they carry little promise of financial gain. Still, they continue to find a home under the feet of enthusiastic men and women. Still, they grace waves of length with elegance. Now, after so many years following a life of surfing and shaping predicated on speed, glide, and flow, Frye continues to turn his attention towards this, his most niche design. He offers a simple reason for this choice, “For me personally, the big boards are where I get the most pleasure.”