This story begins ten years ago in the year 2000. My transition from Northern California to San Diego, specifically Pacific Beach, specifically one block up from a great surfing beach, was complete. The beach is called Tourmaline Surfing Park, and it was the first officially designated surf park in California. No swimmers or bodysurfers, and no Boogie boarders, either.
The important part of this story is that I surf at Tourmaline, and there is a monument at the park to the great local surfers from Pacific Beach, and on the top of the monument is a photograph of the most famous local surfer who made the big time, which of course is Skip Frye. And this is a Skip Frye story.
Back in early 2000, when I was just learning how to surf, Skip had a surf shop called Harry’s right on the beach, just down from Crystal Pier. That building was soon to be torn down and replaced by the Tower23 Hotel, which was a sad thing for Pacific Beach surfers. (However, the hotel has a great bar, which Skip’s shop did not.) The point of this is that back in 2000, I had a chance to get Skip to make me a custom surfboard with my name on it. I went into his shop, and he showed me a board or two. But I didn’t know who this guy was, selling boards in a shop about to be torn down. So I bought a board from a real surf shop, South Coast Surf Shop, which was across the street. I bought a very good and well-known surfboard, a machine-shaped CR3, number 104285. The total cost, $550 out the door.
Well, since then, I have regretted that decision. Once Harry’s was gone, easy access to Skip, a very private guy, was limited. I’d see him down at the Tourmaline parking lot or out on the waves. Maybe once every couple of years I’d say, “Hey, Skip, any chance you’d make me a board?” with a slightly plaintive voice. “No, I’m not making boards much these days” was the usual reply.
One of the most important things about surfing is looking cool. By now, you’ve probably picked up that surfing on a Skip Frye–shaped surfboard at Tourmaline is pretty cool. It doesn’t make you a good surfer, but the locals know that at least you’re on a great board, and a valuable one at that. You probably won’t drop in on someone taking off on a wave and risk damage to the board. That makes you safe to surf around.
Since I did not have a surfboard made for me by Skip Frye but I sure did want to look cool surfing at Tourmaline, and since, if truth be told, I’m not the best surfer, I just had to buy myself a used Skip Frye surfboard. That wasn’t easy in itself. Let’s just say it takes a lot of time on craigslist and a lot of cash, and then, sure enough, you’ll have an old, beat-up Skippy to surf on. I finally persuaded a local to part with one of his for only $800. After Roper’s (the local surfboard repair shop) fixed it up for $200, it surfed quite well. I’d been using that 9ʹ6˝ Eagle model for five years as my main board. While it was great fun, the problem was that it was a bit too short for my favorite surf break, which is Old Man’s Reef out at Tourmaline. To get into those big waves early, you need a very long board. Over the years, I decided a 10ʹ2˝ Eagle would be what I wanted, if Skip ever offered to make me a board.
Because, after all, that is the secret. I asked everyone with a Skippy how they got him to make it, and the answer was always cryptic. That’s because you have to get Skip to want to make you a board. And how do you go about doing that?
Rumor has it that if you have an old Skippy and mention to Skip that you are surfing on one of his boards, he will say, “Okay, but is your name on it?” When Skip makes you a board, he expects you to keep it, surf it, and not sell it or put it on the wall. This is not about money, it’s about the Aloha Spirit. A Skip Frye board, when he makes it for you, is a valuable object. If you were to sell a brand-new Skippy that had never been in the water, you could get three or four (or more) times what you paid for it. But if Skip ever found out, you could forget him ever shaping you another.
As I mentioned, I had a chance ten years ago and I blew it. About five years ago, for my 50th birthday, I had another local shaper make me a board. It was a beautiful board, burnt orange with black and brown squiggles. At 10ʹ4˝, it certainly was long enough to get into a wave. I told the shaper to put on all the bells and whistles, and he did.
Unfortunately, that made the board way too heavy for a little guy like me. It was so heavy I could barely carry it up and down the steep hill to the beach (I walk there from my house), and when I was riding it, it was so big it didn’t even know I was there. I sold it a year later. It’s still floating around on craigslist. For someone (else), it’s the perfect board. Someone about 6ʹ4˝, and 290 pounds.
The big push started last year. My consulting business was slow, which allowed me to surf between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m., which is when Skip is usually out there. When surfing with Skip, always show respect. What that means is, you don’t drop in on Skip or paddle over to where he is, and you don’t make eye contact. Actually, that last one isn’t true. Skip is a very nice person and is always making eye contact and smiling.