Upon entering Exhibition Hall at the Del Mar Fairgrounds for the Sacred Craft Consumer Surf Expo, I ran into San Diego surfing pioneers Jack “Woody” Ekstrom of Leucadia and Carl Knox of Carlsbad.
Both are regular attendees of the Sacred Craft that is under way this weekend (and continues from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday). Expo organizer Scott Bass estimates about 3,500 will attend the two-day event.
I was a friend of and have written about big-wave , an old surfing buddy of Woody and Carl.
“I surfed with Dempsey back in 1954,” said Knox.
Woody’s brother Carl (the brothers grew up down the street from Windansea in La Jolla), an innovative surfboard designer, was honored at the Expo in a Tribute to the Masters Shape-off.
The developer of the off-kilter asymmetrical surfboard design, Ekstrom selected esteemed shapers such as Matt Biolos, Tim Bessell, Ryan Burch, George Gall, Wayne Rich and Daniel Thomson to compete for a $1,000 prize by shaping their own asymmetrical surfboard blanks.
The final products will be judged by Rusty Preisendorfer, Stanley Pleskunas and Carl himself.
“It is like judging art,” Ekstrom said. “These guys are like sculptors.”
I joined Kevin Stuckey of Imperial Beach and his son Kevin Jr. to observe George Gall of Point Loma’s Plus One Surfboards fine-tune his asymmetrical design in the see-through shaping bay complimented by its own mini-grandstand.
“He’s also my shaper,” Stuckey said.
With more than 150 booths representing surfboard shapers, surf artists and blank companies, Sacred Craft is all about the surfboard.
The economic downturn combined with the threat of mass-manufactured boards in China and Taiwan has made it harder than ever to make a living selling handcrafted surfboards.
But no one makes surfboards expecting to make money.
Coronado’s was hawking his innovative inCide foam blank with a carbon fiber core.
“I just want to help make surfboards better and better,” Mann said. “We haven’t even scratched the surface of what is possible.”
“For me, the Sacred Craft is a great event,” said Mann. “It gets users and manufacturers face to face.”
“Handcrafted surfboards are a niche market,” said Joe Virgilio of Plus One. “Sacred Craft brings the community together.”
For the average surfer, Sacred Craft provides an opportunity to catch a glimpse of surfing legends past and present.
Surfing ambassador and Hall of Famer Rob Machado was on hand watching a glassing demonstration.
Big-wave charger Greg Long autographed posters for a long line of admirers. Mickey Munoz, surfing’s version of Forrest Gump, signed copies of his new book, “No Bad Waves,” at the Patagonia Booth.
And 1960s surfing stylist John Peck wandered in while I was leaving.
A very popular part of the expo was the Collective Surfboard and Memorabilia Appraisals, a surfing version of the PBS program Antique Roadshow.
I found Dave Lopez and his teenage son Loukas there waiting to have a couple of 1970s-era single fins evaluated.
Dave was admiring a 1976 7’8” mint condition Gerry Lopez Lightning Bolt rounded pintail gun that was on exhibition.
“That is such a nice board,” said Lopez who spent years cutting his teeth on Oahu’s North Shore.
Thomas Meyerhoffer, an innovative and award winning designer originally from Sweden and now based in Half Moon Bay, had his uniquely shaped surfboards on display.
“I make about 1,000 units a year,” said Meyerhoffer of his longboards that have a widepoint further back than traditional surfboards.
“That allows it to feel like a shortboard,” Meyerhoffer said.
The Swedish designer ultimately doesn’t need to make surfboards. “Shaping boards allows me to get to do what I love,” he said.
Serge Dedina is the executive director of the WiLDCOAST and the author of Wild Sea: Eco-Wars and Surf Stories from the Coast of the Californias.