Greg Loehr – Loehr Design
Sam specializes in the design and manufacture of custom, epoxy surfboards. As a resident of the Cocoa Beach/Melbourne Beach area, Sam has the necessary East Coast experience that has influenced his design inspiration for over 25 years. An accomplished waterman in his own right, his love of surfing has taken him from Florida’s ankle-high breaks to the notorious monsters of Hawaii. Sam brings his practical experiences to bear in his design process building unique, lightweight, high performance boards suitable for many levels of ability. www.resinresearch.net/
Shapers Alley: Brevard County | by Surfline.com
This feature article on Florida Surfboard Shapers can be found on by clicking here> Surfline.com <
Five years before Kesey and his Merry Pranksters embarked on their historical/hysterical trip of trips, swashbuckling surf rats Jack Murphy and Dick Catri dosed Brevard County, Florida, with their own new transcendental turn-on in 1959. While “Murph The Surf” would eventually gain infamy as an international jewel thief, Catri assumed his role as the “Godfather of East Coast Surfing” by spending the next five years embracing waveriding culture in its original birthplace, the Hawaiian Islands.
Catri returned to Central Florida to open Satellite Beach Surf Shop in 1964, Shagg’s Surf Shop in 1966 and Catri Surfboards in 1968 — in the process conceiving the most influential team of surfing talent ever assembled this side
Fast-forward 52 years from Catri and Murphy’s first fateful stop here, and anyone can see Brevard County is still that epicenter.
“It all starts in the water,” says Larry Pope, who is legendary not only for his surf photography, but for being the sanding backbone of the Eastern boardbuilding industry for nearly four decades (probably laying his foam-caked hands on more surfboards than any other living human). “All these guys were really good surfers, and we can surf year-round down here pretty consistently. It obviously wasn’t this giant Quiksilver/Billabong world we live in now,
These surf-slackers were no idiots, but rather the genetic byproduct of some of the most brilliant and well-conditioned engineers, technicians and astronauts in the world. The John F. Kennedy Space Center’s booming space program (and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s growing accommodation for missile defense testing) effectively superseded the agricultural-based economy, and Brevard’s population vaulted from 23,700 in 1950 to 91,900 by 1958 — just prior to Catri and Murph’s explosive touchdown. The Apollo program based out of Merritt Island spiked the population to 247,500 over the next decade.
Obviously many of those smart, adventurous people birthed smart, adventurous sons seeking to engineer better vehicles on which to navigate their own mysterious, aqueous nebula. But being such a naive culture, they first needed a rocket boost. Unsurprisingly, that boost came from California, and later, Hawaii.
After joining the Coast Guard in 1956, Santa Cruz surfer/boardbuilder Johnny Rice got stationed on the East Coast. Over the next eight years, Rice surfed and shaped boards from New Jersey to Florida. More west coasters would soon follow throughout the early ’60s — some fleeing arrest warrants, some simply en route to somewhere else.
“We were pretty clueless early on,” admits Pope. “It took Californians passing through here to teach the first-generation guys how to do what they did. Donnie Mulhern [legendary Californian transplant/ boardbuilder] taught me, and many others. Guys came here for different reasons — some honest, some illicit — and there was a bit of a mule train going through here at one point [laughs]. But businesses were built and the seeds were sewn. It started with two guys, which became eight, and then multiplied quite fast. Eventually, every surfer here wanted to make boards. Guys from Hawaii would even come through on their way to Europe and show us things. We didn’t have our own identity so we had to assume theirs.”
By the mid 1970s, internationally revered pros like Claude Codgen and Mike Tabeling had started their own labels (Sunshine Surfboards and Tabeling Surfboards, respectively), while other Golden Age surf stars were able to transcend the grueling, tedious life of making surfboards with successful forays into retail, contest promotion, marketing management and filmmaking. As far as exporting, Catri’s factory was the only real game in town until 1978 when Cocoa Beach brothers Ed and Jim Leasure took the knowledge, experience and contacts they had gained working under Catri and opened their own factory, transforming into what is today known as Quiet Flight Surfboards — one of the country’s largest surfboard manufacturers — every blade hand-shaped and glassed in their original Cocoa Beach factory.
“None of these guys started out shaping,” continues Pope. “They had to pay their dues, run the gauntlet of sanding and rubbing out and working their way up the chain. No one just stepped into an owner/operator position. They all had to go through the apprentice stage. But we didn’t have ideas of our own, so we had to get them from somewhere else. Greg Loehr and Jeff Crawford would come back from Hawaii with information they’d gotten over there, people they met over there would come back through Brevard with ideas… Even New Jersey guys like Grog [Greg Mesanko] would live here in the winter to tap into what we had,
Brevard County became the junction for the cutting-edge, linking the progressive think tanks of Hawaii and California with the limited, ignorant boardbuilding culture north of the Sunshine State. In other words, season after season this growing fraternity of Floridian surfer-shapers brought home what they learned in the Pacific, and gave the rest of the East Coast a convenient relay point.
But not all theories came from the outside; some were homegrown. A
Of course, at home, Greg’s reputation for innovation and endurance was without question. At one point he was the busiest “power shaper” for Pete Dooley’s Natural Art Surfboards. As the ASP World Tour, aerial surfing, and the thruster marked the early 1980s as the unofficial beginning of the sport’s postmodern era, Natural Art logos became emblematically synonymous with East Coast progression with Dooley and company’s legion of badass teamriders. Meanwhile, Sebastian Inlet spawn and aerial surfing pioneer Matt Kechele was test-driving his own shapes (and logos) on the ASP World Tour. Gathering steam to set the world afire, a prepubescent Kelly Slater started bagging ESA titles and magazine shots with Quiet Flight, and later, Kechele logos emblazoned on his day-glo boards. Starting Spectrum Surfboards in 1980, Craig Bobbitt was sponsoring his own share of stars-in-the-making, namely Gulf Coasters Cory
“Those were interesting times,” says Pensacola transplant Steve Forstall, who shaped for Spectrum in those early days and estimates they were building 4000 boards a year out of the factory on Tomahawk Drive in Indian Harbour Beach, which joins Satellite Beach, Indialantic and the Melbourne mainland. “I’ve still got the board I shaped for Cory [Lopez] when he was a grom, before concave bottoms and fin systems. I see it every day on the roof of my factory. I was just this kid from Pensacola who was willing to power it out because I wanted to live surfing and boardbuilding. Me and Joe Shriver would do 40 a week, which was good money in those days.”
And every single one of those surfers rode boards, at one time or another, built by one or more of the craftsmen mentioned here and in the frames that follow. Today, over 20 major surfboard producers call the Space Coast home.
As far as factories here,” says consummate shaper Ricky Carroll, “there’s Quiet Flight, then ours, R&D Surf, in Rockledge, which is two miles from Clay Lyles’, but most people know Tomahawk Drive as the center. You can go all the way back to when Dick Catri was building
And going, boldly, where no surfing community has gone before. It isn’t called the “Space Coast” for nothing.