Thursday, July 2, 2009

Owl! Pig!

Here is a history lesson for you from Last Wave Originals.

Owl Surfboards was one of the more obscure names from the early '60s because distribution was restricted mostly to the Central Coast of California. In 1962, Jeff White and Brian Bradley opened the first Owl retail shop and manufacturing facility in Summerland, California, a small town just south of Santa Barbara. Originally called White Owl Surfboards, the name was changed to Owl in 1963. Asked how he came up with the name, Jeff simply recalls, "It could've had something to do with the cigars--I'm not sure. "I just remember sitting around trying to think of a good name for a surfboard company, and White Owl came to mind."

The pair started out with Brian doing most of the shaping and Jeff glassing, blowing blanks and some shaping. Yes, these guys made their own molds and were blowing their own blanks--just a year after "Grubby" Clark started Clark Foam in 1961. Tom Rolan and Tom Hale also shaped Owl surfboards in the '60s.

In 1965, Jeff and Brian shifted the focus of their business more toward retail, and began opening stores under the name Surf'n Wear. Brian left the business in 1967, and Jeff continued to oversee the retail locations as well as the production of Owl surfboards. 1967 was a pivotal year for surfboard design; so much so that Bob McTavish--a key figure in launching the shortboard revolution--said "three-quarters of the development of the shortboard" happened in '67. To continue promoting longboards during this very transitional time, Jeff White sold basic production boards for $95 (the going price was about $125) and called them "Poor Boys." The name fit--my older brother actually bought one in 1967; at the time, he was 15 years old and had saved just enough money cutting lawns. Of course, within six months, we had stripped the glass from his ding-free 9'8" Poor Boy and re-shaped it into an 8'6" pintail in our garage. Isn't that what we were supposed to do to a perfectly good longboard in those days?

In the '70s, well-known local shapers Mark Andreini and Bruce Fowler shaped boards for the Owl name, and Phil Becker actually shaped some 20-30 longboards during this time period. Becker, who shaped for Velzy, Jacobs and Rick Surfboards before starting Becker Surfboards in 1980, is said to be one of just two full-time shapers to produce longboards during the entire decade of the '70s. Still actively shaping today, he may well be the most prolific shaper the industry has ever known.

Surfboards bearing the Owl name continue to be built today. Mark Andreini has been shaping them for the past three years. Recently, he has been making solid redwood replicas from timbers he purchased when an old water tower was dismantled in nearby San Luis Obispo. Roger Nance, Jeff's long-time partner in Owl Surfboards and owner of the Beach House surf shop in Santa Barbara, oversees the operation.


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