Welcome to the 25th episode of our podcast.
This is the last episode of the third series, we will be back the 22nd of December with a new series full of surprises and amazing guests.
Today with us, from California, surfer and longboard tour director Devon Howard.
We discussed with him about surf, midlenght surfboards and much more!
You can find the episode on line on all major podcast platforms or read the transcribed version in the page of our website (while forgiving us of spelling mistakes or missing parts)
TTOS: Aloha Devon, welcome to the show, where are you today?
Hey, thanks for having me here. I am in California, between Santa Barbara and Ventura, I’m at the Channel Islands surfboards factory today where I spend a few days a week working.
TTOS: today we're going to talk about a lot of things, but the first question is…what is the most important thing in surfing?
Well, that's a good question, there's not one thing, but my own personal view is I think to keep surfing, at least for me personally, as something special and sacred there's so many things in our lives that are requiring our time and attention, you know, with technology, our jobs, we're always plugged in to like the movie, the matrix, you know, we're in the machine and a lot of noise, a lot of kind of chaos.
What I always enjoyed about surfing was you can go and turn those things off and I think that's why a lot of people like to go surfing with no crowd, which sounds kind of selfish, but the most important thing I learned is that for me, because I don't really do other things, like I don't really do yoga, I don't go hiking everything.
My free time is for surf, to be able to disconnect and have it be quiet, that's something I've learned, so when I go and I'm surfing with a big crowd, I just kind of turn them off. Sometimes people think the guy doesn't seem friendly or he's not smiling or he's not talking and it's because I think I'm older,I grew up in a time when you go out in surfing is not really the time for talking.
We can do that in the parking lot, we can do it at the pub, come to my house for a barbecue, I'll talk all day, I'll talk on a podcast, no problem, but when we're surfing a man, it would be so nice if we were all quiet, you know, meditate. I think that's what's important, it is a way to recharge and re-energize the body and the spirit and the soul.
In that space, it's like that moment of freedom that everyone of us need, because when we do those activities, you get in what's called “a state of flow” and a state of flow is when you are so engrossed in what you're doing.
And so in it, you're actually not thinking about it and you are detaching in a way, and you lose all sense of time now….that can be done through music arts, really anything….it's important to the human experience that you get that. I think that helps us live longer, healthier, happier lives.
TTOS: Let's talk start about surf boards, what your first surfboard?
When I was very little, I was riding the boogie board, like everybody, that was the introduction to the ocean and then my mom took us to her friend's house, his name was Floyd Smith and he was one of the founders of Gordon and Smith surfboards.
In his garage he had a bunch of soft boards, this is 1979/80 they looked like a Gerry Lopez style, single fin, but with the soft pop, my brother and myself got one for Christmas. I think I was seven years old or something, had that for a few years, but, unfortunately we don't have it anymore.Then the first real surfboards I got, I think I was in fifth grade, I don't know how old you are at that age 11 or something. And that was Tony staples was a tri-fin shortboard
TTOS: from these surfboards we go now to the mid-lengths surfboards that you're surfing, if I'm correct, for almost 20 years, why you like them so much?
Well, because I started on a short board and then when I'm 14, 15, I start riding a longboards. I stopped shortboarding and it was only longboarding for years, one day Donald Takayama who I was on the team, said “Hey, try one of these egg boards” it was a seven/six, and he just called it the DT egg.
He told me that , with this egg model, he was inspired by what Skip Frye was doing, he gave Skip Frye a lot of credit for the idea. Donald had a similar outline as Skip, but a different rail, it was more kind of forgiving, easy to ride. I rode that board and I thought “wow, this is cool” because there was a easier entry in the way you get in the wave, because it had low rocker. I felt very comfortable with that entry speed of paddling into the wave and I was already riding kind of more what you would call high-performance longboards than those days and so,on the tail that seven/six egg felt very familiar, just like the nine/two long boards I was riding, the turns were faster and more critical.
I figured, “wow, this is a nice complementary board” when the waves are head high and under the longboards, perfect, because I can nose ride, I can turn and then when it gets a bit bigger, well, way overhead and high to double overhead, you're not nose riding as much, of course you can nose ridebut this is not really the most practical…I think you're more forcing it. It's kind of survival like on the nose is crazy wave, but getting that less area of the nose now you're more focused on the middle and the back of the board. And you could do these bigger, faster, more critical turns…..it felt more like snowboarding to be honest and it was such a cool feeling of, you know, when you're in snowboard, you're doing a big carve and that is what really got my attention.
It was nothing new, those boards been around forever, but they were largely considered a board for kooks, you know, they called a fun board, which is a negative sort of connotation, usually used by kooks. That's how it was with these sort of boards, there's a big, big difference.
TTOS: I was thinking about the ag of Donald Takayama and there is one surfboard that I really like it's called Scorpion, but it is not at all like the egg you were describing….
Yeah, it's different….the scorpion was something Donald made in the late sixties, single fin… in fact, Joel Tudor found it up in the attic and brought it down. They looked at it, it was when they were shrinking the long, more shorter, shorter, below six feet, they got so short that it was almost kind of hard to ride. The scorpions, are not really an egg at all, you know, it's a kind of short board really ahead of its time, but it has a round nose as a pin tail. And what you'll find with these mid sized boards
I'll explain the difference very quickly because it's all confused : the egg is as a design that Skip Frye came up with when he was cutting down longboards to the middle size transition boards, which some people will say truly is what a mid length is more like an eight foot board.
Then the egg was rounded off nose and tail, and, from distance, it kind of looks like a stretched out design that was very popular through late sixties and early seventies. In fact, Gordon Smith with Skip Frye were kind of known as the ones making some of the best ones, but many famous shapers came out with similar designs, a lot of guys that were making these eggs then short boards came and twin fin came along.
The egg is very now underground, more like older guys ride them….
In the 1980s, backer Phil Becker made this board, I don't know who came up with the term, called a fun board.
What they did is, they took the old egg design and cross pollinated with a short board, you have kind of an egg outline, but then you take the rocker of the short board. The idea was that a beginner or a kook could catch a wave stand out, because of all the rocker, wouldn't dive under the wave, you know, they wouldn't purl the board, they could go down a closeout wave of Manhattan beach and ride. Many other brands started saying, “surfing's big,we want more people surfing, let's make these beginner boards and they began to symbolize the kook, but the underground guys were still riding a mix, like Joel Tudor, that allowed the midlenght to become popular again.
Mid-length is really a term that was brought back more or less by surf shops as a way to categorize all these different boards….it's not a short board, it's not a long board, it's a mid-lenght, the egg is a specific design within that mid-length sort of category.
TTOS: You were talking about Donald Takayama a great legend, but in your career, in your life, you met a lot of surfers … was there one that impressed you particularly and that you carry like a great memory of ?
Oh gosh. I mean, there's many, so that's hard to pick this one, but maybe Jock Sutherland is the one…for those who don't know, in 1970, he was voted in Surfer magazine as the best surfer in the world. He won the surfer poll kind of a big thing, popular. He was an infamous switch foot, he could ride both ways. He's from the North Shore, I got to meet him when I was a editor on Longboard magazine 20 some years ago.
He's someone I did an interview with and connected with him so much that we became really good friends and he has a really good mind, he's very creative and now he's 74 years old and I still stay in touch. We went surfing on the North Shore this last winter, and he's still charging, he is truly an inspiration to see someone his age has a sharp mind is healthy, surfing really well.
TTOS: let's talk about the WSL tour of longboard, how the journey has been so far?
Oh, it's been really good, we've done a couple of seasons, obviously COVID changed that, like everything in the world…we've been on pause. We actually ran an event just before COVID really hit in February of 2020, we were at Noosa, we had a nice event. The biggest news was Joel Tudor who kind of has stopped competing with that for 13, 14 years, kind of came out of retirement and won the event. I think that was pretty fun for some people to see and he's all excited, cause his son now is like a really good surfer. I think he kind of wants to encourage him and be involved. Few years ago the WSL was interested in revitalizing the longboard offering , before it was really focused on one event at the end of the year, the world title, world contest, you know, you'd have people regionally qualify and then go to this one event and what wasn't working for, some people was the style of surfing and it's, you know, it's a kind of an old sort of boring subject, but unfortunately there's two styles of longboarding.
There's high-performance longboarding and there's traditional onboarding, but the WSL, they wanted to change direction, they have been supporting mostly high-performance surfing, I think because the judges could easily understand judging high-performance longboarding while shortboard judges have a lot of challenges understanding traditional longboarding because there's a lot of nuance, a lot of subtlety with the foot movements and understanding style and flow and those sorts of things…
The WSL asked me then “Hey, could you help us revamp it?” That's what we did, long story short, we went and we looked at the criteria (actually the criteria was updated a year before I joined) and I helped find judges to understand that.
We worked a few events a year and very quickly there was a nice change, we saw a lot of surfers that were not interested in the WSL competing, people like Harrison Roach and Justin Quintal, and a few others who are mostly focused on Joel Tudors, duct tape events, which really celebrated the whole traditional longboard thing. So you know, ultimately I think the decision is driven by the people out there in the world….”what do they want to see?”
When you go on social media, you go on YouTube and you go wherever, what is getting the most views, comments, likes it's traditional longboard surfing and in the men and women, especially the women that are traditional longboards surfers….they have very large audience and following. I think that's very telling if anyone listening owns a business, if you have a product, you do market research, you don't want to make something that people aren't buying, you know, and, and when it comes to longboard, surfing, what they're buying, what are they enjoying? What are they responding to?
So far so good, we were getting a nice momentum, unfortunately COVID put a stop to that, however, we are going to resume the tour in September… we will have an event at the surf ranch. Mostly we're doing that again because we cant control the environment and we weren't sure a few months ago, what was the fate of this COVID thing…. California is very conservative in my opinion, way too far with this COVID regulations, but don't get me started with COVID stuff….
We agreed to do the ranch to make sure that we had a place we could control in case there were still issues then Malibu will come right after that… (this episode has been recorded before the 2021 win of the world title by Joel Tudor TTOS)
The world champion will be decided in both events Surf Ranch and Malibu.
TTOS: we are almost at the end of the interview, but before we go to the short Q/A session I have two questions : the best wave you ever surfed and your future projects…
I've been really lucky over the years to experience a lot of places, I don't think it will be a real surprise to any friends of mine that know me, but Jeffrey's bay in 2000, 2001, one of those years, I went to bay for about a month and everything became clear to me about what I love about surfing and why I like the style of boards. It was a fast wave, drop, inclined barrel, big turns….I could do that every day.
As far as future projects as I'd said, yeah, the WSL is getting noisy again, so it will be busy with that and I'm working a lot with Channel Island surfboards and, last year, we released a board called the CI mid, even though the board is really more of an egg. The CI Mid is more an egg, or even more specific a speed egg, because it's kind of a narrow racy egg, and that board has done extremely well. I mean, I can't even begin to ever imagine that it's done as well as it has, because it was just a fun project.
I've learned from writing these boards and let's marry those experiences with the wisdom of Al Merrick. we took one of Al Merrick's old outlines which was like from 1973 and then we married the rocker and the bottom of the rail of modern you know, Al Merrick design. It's awesome…that has spawned other ideas…. we're working on other models that will be coming out, you know, over the next few years, that's going to keep us very busy and I'm also been doing some work with Wayne Rich who's a very good longboard shaper, we're working on some special projects with him and then the other big project, will be my son being a dad…. I didn't have children obviously till very late in life, but I feel very lucky and you know, of all the things I've ever got to do work-wise friendships relationships. My wife is the best thing ever and, you know, second best as my son, because that's a result of that love and to have the opportunity to have the most kind of peer relationship with somebody, you know, it's just fresh human being and I'm sure I'm going to make mistakes and I'm going to screw it up, but every day I wake up, I think “how can I do this the best way possible?” It's a fresh start with, to have the most pure relationship you can have with somebody.
You know, it's a, it's a crazy world out there. There's a lot going on, but don't believe all the bs, just use your instincts, be true, be a good person, wake up every day, knowing that there's a lot of noise out there trying to manipulate us to think and do things, but just listen to what's inside you, connect with your community and your friends and stay healthy and don't get yeah, I just see a lot of our friends getting manipulated by media and technology and just to be careful, you know, ask yourself, why is this happening? Is this true? And, and listen to yourself and you can remain happy and nurture, you know, just nurture the relationships with your friends and family. I think that's the most important thing.
TTOS: I totally agree with you, in surfing, when you are in the ocean, you need to have your surfboard, shorts, maybe a leash, and that's it
Some people bring the phone out in the water! I was like, why would he do that? And then a little bit of advice…. if you're in the lineup and you're talking about real estate or how much things you have, or you hate your ex-wife… guess what? We don't care. We don't care.
TTOS: we're going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind. The best surfboard that you have ridden…
I know it's going to sound ridiculous and not believable, but the CI Mid looks seriously good and it might sound arrogant, but you look at the video of the board and that's the proof….it does everything I want. It's amazing, I get excited about it every day.
TTOS: Favorite shaper of all time.
Donald Takayama because he was like a father to me. I was riding his boards for over 20 years and unfortunately, rest in peace. He passed away in 2013 and I got a bit of lost after that
When I arrived here at Channel Islands, I've really connected a lot with Britt Merrick , he is a good guy, really interesting, very deep, very smart, very passionate about surfing. This doesn't replicate the relationship with Donald Takayama, but having this connection with Britt is really special. It's something I think all surfers should have. It's nice to go to a surf shop and, and support your surf shop and buy the board from there.
It's great. If you are in an area where there's a shape there and you can grow and have a relationship with him, that's really special. I encourage that.
TTOS: Personal question, your favorite song…
There's an album from miles Davis and it's called “a tribute to Jack Johnson”, nothing to do with Jack Johnson the musician, but Jack Johnson, the African-American boxer from a hundred years ago, he was this huge guy that could just beat up anybody and Miles Davis had an album to him. And I think the song is called “Right off” it's a 20 minutes song.
Check it out. It's amazing. It's a mix of jazz and rock and I think it was made in 1969 or 70...
TTOS: your favorite surf spot….
TTOS: Your favorite surfer of all time…
I'm going to go with Duke Kahanamoku.
I don't think he would be the same without George Freeth, for the super surf history nerds look up George Freeth and George was a little bit older than him, a lifeguard who was responsible for really helping bring along Duke Kahanamoku and get him to these surf exhibitions. It is pretty cool, there's an amazing history and the legacy of Duke Kahanamoku is so incredible, you just see the photos of him, he's just beautiful, in all ways, so inspiring.
TTOS: the last question is a little bit unusual. I would like to know your best relationship advice….
You know, a relationship is like a plant, you have to water it, it's very simple….if you don't water a plan, what happens to it is that she dies. Let's say, for example, with your significant other, if you're married or not with the person you are sharing romantic life, don't forget about the importance of touch. You know, there's a real emphasis on sex and sex is amazing, but there's a lot of sex in the beginning and, sometimes people kind of lose that over time in favor of watching movies, or they just get bored with each other.
Don’t forget about touch, in the morning when you're going to have coffee, sometimes just put your hand on their hand, that's all you gotta do….just that touch to keep reminding them that you're close. What happens is, sometimes, you get into maybe an argument disagreement or fight because people do that and it's normal, but don't allow a lot of space between you both. If you have a disagreement with something, solve it right away, don't go to bed angry…. if you go to bed angry, it's the beginning of the end, because now you're sleeping in another room, you're not touching and that makes the space between you becoming so big. It's almost like the grand canyon in America. You know, that giant canyon we have, it becomes so that you now are on the other side of the canyon.
And you will feel there's no way to get to that other person now because you allowed that space to go, go, go, go for years of neglect, not watering the plant. The biggest advice that I learned, because unfortunately I was married one time before and I made all the mistakes I could, is to find the right person, don't marry and deal with someone that has all those signals that I shouldn't be with that person…. listen to those “red flags” and don’t say “I'm going to fix that person”, you will not be able to.
If you can't find somebody that's not broken in, love them for who they are and be ready that you're signing up for what that is…..don't try to change as, when you try to change people, that creates fighting. When you find that perfect person, now make sure you water the plant, keep the touch.
If there's an argument or a disagreement, never yell, there's no need to yell or throw or get violent…. some people do that, that's crazy and, in some cultures, that's even acceptable. I think it's totally unacceptable and unnecessary, especially you're going to have children and you will have to be the best example of love and compassion and understanding in any disagreement you have, you should be able to solve it by talking like adults.
It sounds so silly that I'm saying any of these things, but when you get emotional and upset, it's easy to forget. Like, Hey, Hey, let's, if you've gone too far, you can do this thing. Like, Hey, can we just do a reset? Yeah, sorry. Let's, let's hit the button. Let's start over. What I meant to say is this and it's amazing how you can be with someone and really not have arguments and fights, you can have disagreements, but they are civil, you know, civil kind, thoughtful, loving, and growing.
You learn most of the time, I'm passionate because I made so many mistakes and I can see now very clearly those mistakes and I wish I could take them back, but I can't.