Aired on 2020, Jul 20th  in Podcast / Surf shop owners

Interview with Bird Huffman

Aloha everyone, I start once again thanking the thousands of you that are now following us, it is an incredible journey and I would like to thank you for your feedback and your kind words of appreciation!

Today we start a new "category" of our podcast, called "Surf Shop Owners".

We couldn't start with somebody better than Bird Huffman, owner of the legendary surf shop "Bird's Surf Shed" located in San Diego, California.

I'm sure you remember it by its iconic look.

Let's discover together Bird's amazing stories and much more!

You can find us in all the major podcasting platforms (Spotify, I Tunes, You Tube...), but, if you want to read the interview, have a look below, but forgive us of spelling mistakes!

TTOS: Hello Bird and welcome to the show, where are you today?

Right now, I'm sitting right in my surf shop, about an hour away from opening it up. …you can probably hear the phone ringing….they already want to talk to me.

That's really good. It's good to be back open. We just opened three days ago and it's been very, very, very busy. The first three days of reopening after the shutdown 

TTOS: How is it going over there during these days? People can go to the beach can go to surf? 

It's going better now, the Government finally let people go back to the beach and they started surfing about two, three weeks ago. 

Now you have to be careful where you surf because, you know, you have to mind the rules, the social distancing, as best as you can.

They just let people go back to the beach, I think maybe yesterday or the day before. And they just let me open up as I mentioned, three days ago, so…. I'm moving along slowly.

TTOS:  I think it is a positive thing see stores progressively reopening and people go back to life, with all the precautions needed, of course…. 

I’m positive about it, I think that we will learn a lot by the mistakes that were made and we will learn a lot about what we needed to know and I think things will be better in the future actually.

So yeah, let's get on with life.

TTOS: Today we'll talk about surfboards, surf, The Shed and much more, but the first question that I have for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing? 

That's simple….the most important thing in surfing is what I have based my whole life upon. 

That is the surfboard.

It's the Genesis of everything that has become about and all that from the time, the first person, whoever that may be Polynesian, African, whoever, I don't know… 

From the time they stepped on a item, a board, literally, probably a board to go surfing the world, the whole world. as we know, has changed. 

If you think about it from that one moment, when that one person stepped on that piece of most likely wood the world's change. That's a pretty significant thing.

TTOS: I think innovations that have been done across the years. And it's still is still possible to innovate in surfing in your opinion?

Oh yes! I see it every day here in the Shed, I have here some surfboards from the 1920s, but also I'm working currently with people that are so futuristic, that are dealing with aerospace materials as well as designs that will change surfing, as we know it, even more.

Especially in the fins department, I think surfboard fins are very, very overlooked.

The more people understand about how they act on a surfboard and the more they're willing to try that, I think that it will be one of the next things that will really, really advance people's surfing…..and it doesn't cost a lot of money.

Surfboards, you know, they can be six, seven, $800 over here and you can buy different sets of fins for far less than that, but these can make the surfboard you already own ride completely differently. 

TTOS:  In your opinion, is there nowadays a young shaper, a new shaper, that deserves to be quoted, talking about innovation?

Well, I think the most innovative person that I've ever dealt with in surfing, to be honest with you literally, and he's not young and he's somewhat well-known would be Daniel Thompson, AKA “Tomo”.

Obviously, people know about his designs, but really the stuff that he's done has been revolutionary. 

I think that the formulas that he works on, surfing with his soul and people's mind as well. 

I mean, it's like a hands-on approach, but if you can interject some theory behind that and some science behind that still keeping the soul, I think that's where the innovation is going to really come from.

TTOS:  Do you remember your first surfboard?

I do remember the first board I ever had was a one that my brother made in woodshop. It was a pipe-o, a little wooden, like a skim board kind of thing with a fin on the bottom. 

That was the first board I ever owned myself after my brother got his first real surfboard

TTOS: and you still have that one?

Unfortunately no, I let that rot. 

It was laying around my family home for so many years and it was just sitting outside in the woods. It just rotted into the dust.

TTOS: It's the destiny of almost all the first surfboards of the people that I interviewed. Very few of them there were able to keep the first ever surfboard. It's good that maybe find a new place, a new home or just get lost….

The interesting thing is that I have about 1200 surfboards in in my personal possession and probably 30, 40 times people have come into my shop and they have found their first surfboard. 

My thing here, my Shed credo is that, if somebody comes in and they find their first surfboard or for that matter, if they come in and they find any board that was theirs and they can prove it was theirs, they can have it because I feel that the surfboard is so connected to the person that it is not a matter of the money whatsoever.

That person, if they want it, can have that surfboard back and, you know, hanging it on their wall or hopefully go surf it or maybe let their kids surf it…. it's so satisfying

TTOS: Congratulations…..I didn't know about that. 

That's okay.

A friend of mine came in and she found her first surfboard was a Lightning Bolt hanging on the wall. 

I go: “how do you know that what your telling me is true? How can you prove it to me? I'm not going to tell you you're a liar, but you know, it's been 30 years since you've seen this board”. 

And she goes: “Oh, well, when I first got it, I put a sticker on the bottom of it, a little, little lightning bolt, Hawaiian sticker on the bottom of it.”

I took it down from the wall. I dust it off and there was the sticker. Amazing stories happen here.

TTOS: You have 1,200 surfboards as you said, but if you have to pick one as the most representative of your collection or the one that has a very special meaning, which one would it be?

I have a board …. the most important to me, very interesting story, kind of sad, but uplifting. 

I have a Caster. There was a local shaper named Bill Caster, who was my mentor, my partner, my friend, who passed away in his early forties from a cancer, but he was a brilliant, brilliant shaper.

He made me a balsa wood board and he got about 80% finished with it before he got too ill to complete the board. ….

So I had his brother-in-law Hank Warner who was another local legend surfer that shaped for GNS and for Hot Buttered surfboards I had him finish it up and then I had it, the board completed. So that board personally means more to me than any other board that I have.

TTOS: Thank you for sharing….

Your shop is an iconic place for all the surfers, surf aficionados in the world, do you remember the day you first opened and would you had ever imagined to be where you are today? 

I really haven't…. 

Once again, there are a lot of interesting stories about here….

I started working at surf shops when I was 12 and I'm 63 years old now for however long, that is 51 years. 

All I've ever done is worked at surf shops, about 10 years ago, when I started this shop, after I left a partnership that I was involved with, I wanted to go back to my roots of surfing

That was based upon surfboards…. I looked at all the boards at that time, I had 800, 900 and I figured, there's a reason that God let me gather all these boards. 

I need to put these out there and I'm going to do it. 

It was based upon literally a prayer in a hope that people would appreciate it because my location is far in-land….I'm in an industrial area, I'm not right on the coastline, I'm not at the beach, I'm about three miles from the ocean….so if you want to come here, you have to find me. 

Never in my wildest imagination, would I have expected it to be as popular and more importantly, as necessary as it has become. 

TTOS: You are iconic, you know….

I'm not…. surfing is iconic. 

I'm just like the small little dust, the piece of sand on the beach, because it takes everybody. 

People have this idea, they walk in here and they want to pat me on the back and how great I am, whatever I never, ever have looked at it that way, because so many people have helped me get to where I am now in, since all my friends that are shapers or builders, my friends who come in and drop off boards and customers, they come in to support me. 

I might have the key to the door, but the shop is really the people shop.

TTOS: I like the way you're saying, because people are at the center of everything, you know, and if you can give back to them or make their experience something memorable…definitely they will always come back or they will consider you as a reference in their life, maybe, you know, they will, they will talk about you with their sons, their kids, and, and it generates a different relationship than just a surf shop.

Absolutely. I mean, after 51 years of working, selling surfboards, designing surf boards, working within the surf industry, I have grandfathers bringing in kids in, you know, so I'm talking, you know, two or three generations of people. 

It's very, very satisfying to see people that want to come in and learn whatever they want to learn, that's truthful about surf surfing. 

One of the main goals here is that they get authenticity. I won't talk about something unless I am 95% sure that what I'm speaking about is correct. 

If there is somebody posing me a question about something I don't know about, I tell them, I don't know, I'll go try to find out. 

I love digging, you know, if they ask about a certain brand or a shaper, I'll go look and try to find the answer for them and get it to them. 

I don't like just to work off of hearsay. If somebody says that somebody says that somebody says……

I don't say, you know, I have to hear it from the person, or I have to hear it from somebody who's directly involved with that person before I will speak of it.

TTOS: I think it's great. You know, like if you know, you're not, if you don't know, or you will just inform yourself,

You have to be authentic, you gotta keep it real.

TTOS: In the last 10 years from the opening of the shop, you have definitely seen amazing,crazy, funny, special stories. What is your favorite one?

Oh man. I'm not even sure I can answer that question. 

Well, in general, what's been meaningful for me,it's an ongoing story… 

Is the fact that so many surfers now embrace all types of surfing. 

You got to ride a shortboard or you got to ride a hard-board, whatever you ride when it gets down to surf, you know…. 

I mean, if you want to ride an inflatable raft, a boogie board, you want a body surf or you want to ride a hand plane….That's all surfing!

 That's, to me personally, that's all good. 

I might not appreciate some of the types of surfing as much as other people, I'm pretty fundamental on what I like, but bottom line is…. riding a wave is a way of enjoyment and watching people that have evolved in the surfing, especially the younger generation coming in and taking the old boards out, rediscovering from the old….incorporating that into the new, that has been probably one of the most amazing things that I've witnessed.

TTOS: Do you think that surf improved vs the past or regressed?

It's absolutely the best it's ever been, the wealth of knowledge out there is great. 

The availability of being able to reach back to the past…as a lot of times in surfing,  ideas have come along and they were really good ideas, but then another idea would become more popular and people would forget about that last idea they had.

Now people can go back on history, they can take a fish and then they can work on that fish design and modify it. 

They can go back to an old, heavy longboard work off of the principles and the fun things of a long board. And then, you know, add things to it that maybe are a little bit more modern or just enjoy that board for what it is. 

For this reason, I would say, it is evolving by going back in history, you look back, you have to know where you've been to move forward. 

I think it's just getting better every day.

TTOS: I agree with you

Even waves pools! You know what I mean?

Even now some guys hate wave pools and I'm all like: “ you know, open your mind, let people surf where they can surf……just because you can't live by an ocean or maybe you don't want to…. don't brag on somebody, just let people do their thing.

TTOS: I agree with you…in fact,  I actually had the interview two days ago with Tom Carroll and was telling me that in 1983, 84, when he won the world title, one of the stops of the world title championship, was a wave pool somewhere in America. I don't remember the State and he was remembering that experience as something special…

I think it was…. Pennsylvania. So weird spot….

TTOS: looking back. What was your greatest achievement?

Just lasting for so long, being involved in something for over half a century and to still be stoked on it, you know, to not burn out on it, to wake up every morning and feel blessed to be able to come to work after 51 years of doing it, that's a pretty good at achievement, to be able to bring my family into it. 

And ultimately in a nutshell, probably my greatest achievement is turning on thousands and thousands of people to good surfboard.

TTOS: And if you had to define the secret of your success, if you want to call it that way, as much I heard you today is sincerity and openness to people. …Is that something else?

Absolutely, you know, be as honest as you can be.

God is number one in my life,he's always helped me and it's a lot easier when you've got him as a guideline to follow through.

But you know, you want to be truthful with people and you want to treat people better than you expect to get treated yourself. 

You know, some people go, “okay, treat me. I treat you”… for me It's always “treat them better”, always give them something more, make them feel that much more special because we're all special. 

And we need to have that. 

I don't care if it's somebody has never surfed before, or I don't care if it's our friend, Tom Carroll that you mentioned before, coming in the door….. everybody likes to be patted on the back and I always try to assure that people walk out feeling good. 

TTOS: It's the human part of the business that makes the difference at the end….

It's a beautiful part. 

TTOS: Look at today, we are separated because of the virus, but the small little things, the human touch is the one that makes a difference in the world, right?

Oh bro, you nailed it. The human touch…. that that's exactly what it is. 

You know, isn't that funny that right now, when we cannot physically touch people, like we used to,  the human touch of you and I speaking, the communication, a hand-wave or a look across the street to somebody….. we're have actually become more human because of this pandemic. 

TTOS: Tell us about your future plans. what's next…..?

Well, during the downtime, I've got together with my son-in-law Ben and my good professional photographer buddy, Chris Park. 

We finally started shooting all of my surfboards and, so far, we've shot 450 of them.

He shot them all professionally and I'm going to start a new online site where I can post all the boards and their background.

At the same time, I've got probably 30,000 magazines…I'm gonna incorporate those onto a site. 

I plan on building a little bit of an educational historical site with a little bit of a e-commerce, you know, back into it. 

If people want to buy the old magazines, we can sell them and some of the boards I show will be for sale. The majority of the website will be for informational use. 

Every day I get emails or people call me up wanting to know the histories of a board they found in the trash or the garage or their dashboard….

This will be the platform where I can communicate with them and where that knowledge can go to a wider audience. 

That's my next goal and I see that taking me out to the end of my life, you know, that will never end.

TTOS: I think it's a great project, in effect, in a certain way, in a much smaller way, of course, the podcast at the beginning, it was created to put together the biggest surf collectors in the world, because I think out there, there are a lot of people that collect surfboards. 

Some of them have hundreds, thousands, some of them, have only ten, but those ten are of an unique provenance or best quality. 

I think we need to find a way to share these surfboard out there, not just to please ourselves, but like as a responsibility because every surfboard represents the story of a shaper, the story of a surfer that may have asked to write in pencil, something important, you know, on the stringer on the surfboard. 

I think more, we are able to, to share and to let people know about shapers and surfers and the eras, I think, more we can achieve a greater goal to create a legacy that is going to be there forever. 

You absolutely get it…. 100%. 

What you just spoke is my whole life right there. 

We have a duty, I feel to be able to do that, you know, and you have the ability now through your podcast, maybe through my site, through the various different ways….

The only thing I've added that is I'm asking people to document it correctly. 

If you're going to put the information out, please, please do your best to put the proper information out so that we can keep a clean history and a clean story of surfing. 

Let's stay away from politics of any sort of about that. Let's stick to the basis of what the whole story is about. It's real simple. The surfboard in the story of the surfboard can tell.

TTOS: We are going to finish our interview today with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind…  

The best surfboard that you ever ridden

The best surfboard that I have ever ridden is a board made by Daniel Thompson, AKA Tomo. 

It was the first surfboard that he ever built for me. 

It's a board called “Death Star”, very unusual board. 

It is something at the time I got it, I was 55…. that was about eight years ago.

Never in my life, I would think to be riding a five-foot/six surfboard at that time… the board has a chop nose. 

If you know, Daniel Thompson shape, you can find it…. It looks like, a Vader, you know, the Vader model or the Vanguard model, but it's a little different, 

I mean, that surfboard let me do things that late in my life that I never thought I'd be able to do.

TTOS:  best shaper of all time…. 

In my opinion, would be probably my friend Bill Caster, he was just exquisite at what he did.

He was he was as simple as…. “he was innovative through perfection”. 

He didn't jump on different trends, he would take something that worked well and always made sure that he made it work better….very, very fine on his journey. 

He just had a natural gift, most shapers have that, you know, I mean, you can shape 20,000 surfboards and still not be a good shaper in my opinion…. I know guys that have shaped a couple hundred boards and they've got that gift and those boards don't look as good as a polished board, but they're going to ride better. 

TTOS:  Favorite song

My favorite song probably would be the shouting the soundtrack for “The good, the bad and the ugly”. I'm a big Western fan. 

I like the movie, towards the end,  there's a song called “Ecstasy a goal”….it's extremely rousing song.

TTOS: Your favorite surf spot…..

My favorite surf spot is Tavarua, Restaurant …. I've been there 27, 28 times. And that whole Island is fantastic.

That wave at restaurants is, is the ultimate for me.

TTOS: the best surfer or full time.

The best surfer of all time is the person who's having the most fun in the water. 

TTOS: That's a safe answer…'ve been playing safe with me today. J

Yes, sir, but it's true. I mean, whoever has the most fun that's who's having there they're the best. 

TTOS: The last question is a little bit unusual, but we ask to everybody and has nothing to do with surf…we want to know your best relationship advice. 

That's a simple one. Just be truthful, like we spoke about…. just be straight, honest with people to have a relationship. 

It's all about communication and honesty and it's not that hard to do. 

If you think about it, it's a lot easier to be truthful and there's nothing to run away from, if you're not truthful, then you're constantly running. 

You're constantly looking over your shoulders, you're constantly worried about your untruths coming back to haunt you. Being truthful and being sincere that's a guarantee for a good relationship in anything you do in life. 

Recorded in May 2020

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