When Jed Noll talks about growing up with his dad, Greg Noll, it's not loaded with the ostentation that might come with being raised by a surfing legend and big-wave pioneer.
Jed was brought up in Crescent City, California-- removed from the epicenters of surf culture-- where Greg worked as a commercial fisherman to support the family. "I had no concept whatsoever of any of his accomplishments," says Jed. "He was just dad." Whether or not Greg shared any surf lore with Jed at a young age, a love of the ocean runs strong in the family genes.
By his late teens, Jed had taken a strong interest in shaping surfboards. It didn't require stories of his dad's sojourns to Oahu's North Shore or knowledge of the surfboard shaping empire that he built, beginning in 1951. In fact, like most teenagers, Jed had an easier time learning from anyone but dad. "When you're 18 years old it's tough to believe that what he's saying is right. It was much easier to learn to shape boards from other people."
Jed moved to Santa Cruz and began shaping boards professionally. Upon honing his craft, however, he went back to work with his dad. Together Jed and Greg have revived Noll Surfboards. The family business, which is now based in San Clemente, builds everything from classic, period specific surfboards from solid redwood, all the way up to modern shortboards-- and literally every type of surf craft that's existed in between.
Jed took some time out from working as "the elbow grease" in the family partnership to talk about Noll Surfboards' past, present, and future:
What's the story behind your dad's decision to stop building boards for so many years?
Throughout the late 60's dad was doing 250 boards every week out of his shop in Hermosa Beach. It was a 20,000-square-foot factory. And at that point he pulled the plug and didn't like the way the industry was going. The shortboard revolution had just started. And it was a whole other wave that he was going to have to adapt to. He had already been in it for about 20 years. And they'd already gone from redwood to foam and longboards to shortboards. He was just over it. So he spent about 15 years as a commercial fisherman.
What are some of the challenges associated with building solid wood surfboards?
With the wood boards we have to remember that all of them-- before 1950-- were made by individuals, so no two boards are identical. So we've tried to pick out boards that we think were good boards from that time period. But a guy down the street could have a different example from the same year and it's going to surf completely different. Some people come into the shop and say "This isn't what it looked like."
But the thing is, if you get nine guys who made boards from that time, you're going to get nine different boards. That's how they evolved. Every one of those guys was a craftsman and made boards based on their own style, ability and comprehension of the craft.
What's the reaction when people come to check the boards out at the shop?
It's really cool to see people's reaction to all of this stuff in one place. They're very curious about the how and why of everything. It's a part of our history, which is important to me.
There are things that I've taken from old designs and been able to apply to modern surfboards, not in extreme cases. But there are concepts that, when you can understand the evolution of the surfboard from the last 100 years, and when you see that evolution and understand it, I can take them and apply them to my shaping.
What's the attraction to these surfboards for you and the customer?
Sometimes we work with redwood that's 2,000 years old. To be able to work with a material like that and turn it into something that you can hope will be around for generations is a great feeling. It's preserved, and 100 years later it will be in the same form
In terms of the wood boards, even though they are dimensionally correct and totally surfable, the majority of them are going up on the wall. The price range can be anywhere from $6,000 to $20,000. At this point sometimes it has to do with what the wifey likes and the remodeling of the house. One of the wood boards we did went for $40,000 at an auction. That was the most expensive board that we've done.
Do you ride the older, period specific surfboards?
They ride awesome. It's like wiping the slate clean and relearning how to surf. It allows you to end up in places on the wave where you might not go. [On modern surfboards] you have all this control.
On the old boards you don't change directions that often so you've got to learn to be able to trim and stall and speed up without changing directions. We all take that for granted these days because when you get on the flat of the wave [on modern boards] you can do a big roundhouse or use your fins and rail for acceleration. With these other boards you've got to create your own kind of flow, which sounds mystical and trippy, but it's true. You've got to conform to the board, not the other way around.
Does your dad ever talk about his winters on the North Shore?
He's got some really funny stories that I've heard so many times. He talks about the first time they rode Sunset Beach and the first time they took off on waves like Sunset and fell straight on their asses because they didn't have the control and the equipment wasn't right. It's great listening to him talk about piling into the car and driving through and seeing the North Shore spread out in front of him for the first time.
I think that's one of my favorite things to think about, being able to go over to the North Shore-- this was only 50 years ago--you could have had those waves to yourself. That sounds like an amazing time of life.
World Tour surfers have been enjoying an extended respite from competition due to the early season cancelation of the Jeffreys Bay contest. As a result, there is more than a two month gap between stops on the South Pacific leg of the tour. After excellent waves at the Fiji Pro, many surfers stuck around the island for the continued onslaught of swell at Cloudbreak. Meanwhile, others opted to find waves near home. For surfers on the east coast of Australia, this has meant enjoying the best winter in recent memory, as the many right points have enjoyed the convergence of excellent sandbars and consistent swell.
Taj Burrow, however, is not one to be outshone by his fellow World Tour competitors. Perhaps not wanting to show up to Tahiti in August without his fair share of quality waves, he recently went on a quick trip-- by land and air-- to find waves with friends. The swell that battered his home stretch of coast on the southwest corner of Australia presented itself perfectly groomed as it moved north and organized. Burrow enjoyed some playful offshore beachbreak and hollow slabs more characteristic of the surf in West Oz-- giving him an opportunity to prepare for the next event at Teahupoo. Although, it's likely that contest points and heat scores were the last thing on his mind during this jaunt upcoast.
In sudden fashion, it was announced Thursday, June 21, that June Mountain Ski Area in Mammoth, California would close immediately. The news was delivered just as the mountain should have been opening for its summer season.
The consequences of the resort industry's reliance on nature have been felt heavily this year. After one of the worst recorded seasons of snowfall last winter, skier visits declined by 30 percent at Mammoth Mountain. As a result, 75 full-time employees were laid off in the spring.
June Lake's new county supervisor said to the Mammoth Times that the closure was a "complete surprise," adding, "This is going to be absolutely devastating to the whole community."
June has long been one of California skiing's best kept secrets. Purchased in 1986 by Mammoth Mountain Ski Area, the company originally planned to expand the operation at June by "building new facilities, extending new runs to June Lake Village, and fostering additional developed ski areas," the company said in a press release that explains how those plans "were never realized and June Mountain has, in turn, suffered from an identity crisis that has...stifled its ability to achieve its full potential."
The impact on the economy in Mammoth, which is still recovering from a poor ski season, could be severe. "A lot of people are going to be out of work," said Connie Black to the Mammoth Times. Black, the owner of June Lake's Double Eagle Resort and Spa, is one of many business owners who rely on the mountain remaining open.
For now, June is slated for closure through winter 2012-2013, with no plans to re-open. Rusty Gregory, the CEO of Mammouth Mountain Ski Area, said, "June has operated at an annual deficit each year since its purchase in 1986." While the resort is closed, Gregory and Mammoth hope to explore options for making the sister mountain more financially generative.
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A 31-year-old man from Toronto, Canada, managed to summit Mount Kilimanjaro on Monday, June 18, relying only on his arms to propel him forward.
Spencer West lost both of his legs at age 5 due to a congenital disorder, but that didn't prevent him from climbing Africa's tallest mountain at an impressive pace. In just seven days, West made it from his base camp at 6,552 feet to the summit of Kilimanjaro, which stands 19,340 feet above sea level.
On some occasions, where the terrain would not permit West to climb on his hands, he used a custom wheelchair with mountain-bike style treads on the tires. However, for the majority of his journey, he moved along on his hands, with only a pair of gloves protecting him from the harsh terrain.
The final days before arriving at the summit were difficult, as West encountered below freezing temperatures, altitude sickness, and a barren landscape. When reflecting on the accomplishment of reaching the summit, he wrote on his blog, "After seven grueling days of relentless climbing, after 20,000 feet of our blood, sweat and tears (and, let's face it, vomit) we had actually made it. We were at the top. The summit sign seemed almost like a mirage."
West, an author and motivational speaker, documented the entire journey on his blog entitled, Redefine Possible. During the seven days from base camp to the summit, West posted a short recap of each day hiking with his friends David Johnson and Alex Meers.
The trek, which West described as "grueling" and "frigid," is part of his larger mission to inspire others to redefine what's possible in their lives. The achievement has left a measurable impact on many, as West reported raising more than $500,000 in donations supporting his adventure, the proceeds of which will be given to Free the Children, an organization that seeks to help empower and educate kids globally.
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As if you actually needed another reason to go surfing, the California State Assembly passed a resolution, June 18, that officially recognizes International Surfing Day in California. And everywhere else it's still unofficially just as much a surfer's holiday. Unfortunately, the resolution does not make June 20 a state holiday or grant you permission to skip work.
The assemblymember behind the resolution, Das Williams, is an avid surfer from Santa Barbara, who learned to surf with his father as a kid. "I'd wake up, go surfing to start the day, take my shower at the beach showers," Williams commented to the Surfrider Foundation. "At that time in my life is when I began to see the beach and our beautiful coastline as the great equalizer in the community - we can all enjoy it."
The symbolic show of support for coastal recreation comes amid the pending closure of 70 state parks on July 1, which are a part of massive state budget cuts. Some parks (as many as 16) may be saved from the closure list by non-profit groups. Other parks, some along the coast that are home to good surf, such as Moss Landing, remain slated for closure. And while recent news of the resolution might be an encouraging sign, the timing is bittersweet.