Habitat – Channel Islands Surfboards

Don't judge a book by its cover.

From the outside, Channel Islands' manufacturing shop looks a lot more like a place where wood is kiln-dried or where frozen cheese is boxed than one of surfing's holiest of places. But don't let appearances fool you. Inside this nondescript warehouse a stone's throw from the ocean in downtown Santa Barbara, modern surfing was literally carved from a blank. Since 1971, Al Merrick, his family, and his employees have been reinventing the surfboard in the shaping bays, loft spaces, and maze-like hallways that fill the shell of the building. In the three-plus decades since Al had it built, the interior of the structure has been constantly modified with hammer and nail to accommodate the demand for his surfboards.

During those 32 years, so many Channel Islands boards have moved through the building, the company has flat-out lost count. I asked Channel Islands' Scott Anderson to take a guess at the number of boards they've produced since opening the shop, and he simply replied, “I have no idea.” He did mention that they produce between twenty and 75 boards per day (spring being the busiest season), so I went ahead and did some fuzzy math: Let's say Channel Islands averaged 50 boards per day, 260 days per year–at that rate, after 32 years, they'd be near 400,000. That's including all the boards Kelly, Lisa, and Tom were standing on when they won their world titles … plural.

As you tour the plant, you walk by piles of freshly shaped boards for Kelly, Andy Irons, Dane Reynolds, and Taylor Knox bundled together loosely with masking tape. On the walls is the collected history of Al's dynasty. Phone numbers, shaping notes, poems, drawings of experimental rocker concepts, and old photos litter the walls like quickly jotted reminders in the margins of an old history text–the secrets of the thruster readily available to anyone who can decipher the doodles. I laugh to myself when I imagine what most shapers would give to have free reign in this place for just an hour.–Joel Patterson

Location: Santa Barbara, California

Date opened: 1971

Square footage: 6,500 (approx.)

Shaping bays: 6

Employees: 8 full-time, 6 contractors

Board production: 20 to 75 per day

Total boards produced since opening: unknown

Worst feature: leaky roof

Best feature: 32 years of shaping history