Welcome to the 6th episode of the third series of our podcast.
First of all we would like to thank you for following us episode after episode, we now reached over 16.000 listeners …. It is AMAZING!
Today with us, from California, the legendary Don Hansen.
We discussed with him about his iconic shop, surfboard shaping and other very interesting stories!
You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms (Itunes, YouTube, Spotify, Amazon, ..) or read it here on our website!
TTOS: Aloha Mr. Hansen, welcome to the show, where are you today?
I’m in my office in Encinitas, California, where I come everyday to escape from people and everything, you know, all kinds of things.
TTOS: Today we’re going to talk a lot about the history of shop, but also your history and your future projects. The first question that I have for you today is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
The most important thing in surfing I believe is the exercise. It gives a lot to people in this pandemic. My God, the people are flocking to the beach and so a lot of the surf business has been unbelievable since the pandemic started. So I think the fact that it just gives people a chance to get outdoors and learn a new sport. They love it.
TTOS: In effect you’re not the first one that tells me that, especially in California, there’s been like boom of requests of surfboards and people are going more to the beach and that’s amazing….
It is amazing, we’ve managed to escape the downside of all this pandemic and our business has been fabulous the last five months.
TTOS: on the other side, speaking with people in Europe that they are looking to receive and shape surfboards from California, they all saying it’s very hard to get surfboards nowadays from US because whatever is being produced over there it’s been sold in the local market. That’s amazing to see the glass half full.I’m very happy for you
Well, we consider ourselves very lucky to have been sort of skipped over by this pandemic somehow, even though it’s been a terrible situation, I think they’ve culturally, got it a little bit more under control and they’ve had….
TTOS: Let’s talk about you as a surfer, I’m very interested about your first surfboard, do you still have it by chance?
Well, I think the first surfboard I had was back in 1957 and the first surf board I actually bought, I went up to Dale Velzy store in San Clemente and I bought a used surfboard from him and I couldn’t figure out why Dale insisted on carrying it up to my car. Well, I let him carry it out to my car and when I got back down to the beach and Encinitas, we figured out and weighed about a hundred pounds. It wasn’t the best surfboard I ever had, but that was the first board I ever actually bought and surfed. The first surf board I actually ordered for myself was from, was from Pat Curren (the father of Tom Curren) one of the founders of the whole sport…..
TTOS: I learned that he was still shaping surfboards, but, maybe five years ago he stopped doing that, he is definitely great legend. do you still have those surfboards?
Oh no, I don’t. I wish I did. I’d give anything to spill on the one that I have a nice picture of it with me standing beside a Chevrolet suburban way back in the late fifties. I have a picture of it and actually I bought a balsa wood blank here about three years ago and had a shaper shaped me a copy of the board. So I do have a copy of the first surf board that was ever made for me.
TTOS: That’s amazing, you know, I guess that time, but even more now, you know Velzy or even Pat Curren where institution in the world of surfboard and shaping….
You had an amazing career and very long, is there a moment that you would define like a defining moment for it?
First of all, I can tell you a little bit about my career; I hitchhiked out here in south from South Dakota in probably 1956 and started surfing immediately because that’s what I’d come out here for. I’d seen surfboard movies since in South Dakota and I decided that something I had to do. One of the defining moments from me for me was the fact that I had seen, probably, a Bruce Brown movie in South Dakota in 1956 and I came out here and started to surf.
I borrowed $1,500 from a guy who I’d gotten to be friends with on the beach, I was a lifeguard in Del Mar California for a while and he loaned me $1,500 to go into business and that was another defining moment I had, without that loan, I probably would have never gotten into business and there might never have been Hansen surfboards or Ocean Pacific because I was one of the four guys that started Ocean Pacific (brand).
Another defining moment was when I went to work for Jack O’Neill in Santa Cruz where I didn’t even know how to shape at the time, although I wanted to learn. I was in the army at Fort Ord at the time, so I got to know him through surfing and then he finally said, look, it I’ll give you 10 blanks and you can train yourself out of shape. That’s pretty much what I did, he gave me some tips and then I started shaping these blanks, by the time I got through the tenth one, I had probably trained myself to shape.
TTOS: Rightfully you were talking about Jack O’Neill a legendary surfer and icon, what is your favorite memory of Jack?
My favorite memory of Jack was always, when the surf was big in Santa Cruz, watching him trying to go out onto the point at Steamer Lane, it was a little bit dangerous because sometimes a wave would come in and wash over this point made of rocks and the guys would get washed back into the rocks. We used to go down by the pier to paddle out and he went out that easy or the hardest way. My favorite memory is that he was always out in the big surf. He never stayed on the beach, he was always out there. It was a tour adventure, he was he was one of these guys that thought outside of the norm, you know, I think he was picked up by the coast guard when he got into a hot air balloon, he was picked up by the coast guard four or five times out in the ocean ….
TTOS: And maybe, the coast guards became his best friends, right?
Oh,yes! they became his best friends, one of the most touching moments of his funeral, I was on the O’Neill catamaran at the time for his funeral, about four years ago in Santa Cruz, was when this big, huge coast guard helicopter came over and dipped its rotors or wings, whatever you want to call it and rock back and forth in honor of Jack. I thought that was fabulous….
TTOS: Wow, fantastic, it proves that he was more than just a person, he left something behind for people to remember him forever and I think he fully deserves that.
Let’s talk about your iconic store in Encinitas, San Diego, it was 1951 when it was open, right?
Well, let me think now I think we’re celebrating our 60th year in business this year, I started shaping for myself after I worked for O’Neil, I went to Hawaii and lived there almost a year and shape surfboards over there, so I didn’t open my first store here in Encinitas until 1962 or 1963….it’s long time anyway.
TTOS: In all this time you met a lot of people among the surfers and personalities of the surf world, was there a meeting that was particularly meaningful for you?
Well, I think one of the most meaningful meetings for me was actually when I came back from Hawaii, I had a wife and two children and Hap Jacobs paid for my way back to the mainland and asked me if I would go to work for him, I did that for a while.
Another meeting that was really meaningful to me was when I first met Hobie, he hired me and I went to work for him and then, I had told him at the time that I was going to eventually open my own store and he said, “yeah, that’s fine”, but, fter the first summer I worked for him, he fired me and he and then about five or six years later, I had the pleasure of selling him a small portion of the stock as I owned Ocean Pacific, the clothing company. He and I really became good friends, we traveled together and went skiing together and stuff, but I always told him “you fired me once”. He denied that lol!
We always had a good laugh about that, meeting him was a very defining moment for me, he was one of my good friends….
I’ve also had some defining moments with Greg Noll who I love. He’s an amazing guy, we all kidding him about, he is still riding that one wave he got on it at Makaha or Pipeline years ago, he’s still riding that wave…..
TTOS: I had the opportunity to interview him for the podcast, it was very interesting for me. I was very humbled that the found the time for me and I asked him how were you training that time? He told me “young man, you know, that time we were just like surfing all day long, maybe time for just a peanut butter sandwich and then going back and chasing waves”. I found it like amazing how things change, you know? from that time to today, but he is still “Da Bull” right?
Yeah. Right. I have a picture of him hanging here in my office that I’m looking at right now, but his back to the picture taker and looking at Big Wave at pipeline. I think that was taken on the day he got that infamous ride there….it would have been probably in about 1960/1 that’s the year I spent in Hawaii
I got there early that year and met a lot of the guys that I became friends with over the years……
TTOS: I started this interview asking you, what was the most important thing in surfing, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in shaping?
Well, the most important thing in shaping thing is that the guy who shapes has surfed at least some waves. I don’t think the shaper has to be a real famous surfer or a guy who’s a real good surfer actually. But it has to be able to surf. I think the really the most important thing is that he’s a good craftsman because all of the nuances in surfboards or changes in surfboards that have happened over the years, most of them have come from somebody who’s been a real good craftsman.
TTOS: Definitely. You need to understand, you know, it’s just more than just taking a blank and make something out of it, right?
Yeah, they have to sort of understand the sport and then you can narrow it down even further by saying he probably should understand the type of surfer is shaping the board for, whether he’s a big wave rider or a small nose rider or something.
TTOS: We just talked briefly about the creation of the surf shop…that is a key landmark in Encinitas in San Diego for so many years. What is the key of the success of this store?
Well, the key is fabulous employees, and I think I’ve been asked a lot of times what I think my key contribution is and I always say it’s because I was always smart enough to hire people smarter than me, and then keep them working for me. I have about five employees have worked for me for over 48 or 40 years.
TTOS: That means a lot definitely, because they become part of family,
They become part of your family, that’s for sure. I just came back from a week in and skiing in big sky Montana where I live half the year, with Ken, my manager of 30 years now he’s my store manager, even though my three kids really run the store. Now Heidi and Joshua and Christian, they actually run the company….I’ve sort of retired a little or partly yeah.
TTOS: You give time to them to brings forward that tradition of the family…As you said, if you have so many employees that are spending their life with you, it means that it’s amazing to, to work for you and for your family.
Yes, that’s true. And if you don’t have someone who could run the company, eventually it’ll just kind of fade from the scene. Our company has grown most years, I’ve my kids in charge because they know more what’s going on than I do anymore.
TTOS: They are more following the trends and what is cool, it’s understandable, right?
Yeah, the retail industry and surfboard building industry changed completely in the last 10 years….
TTOS: even if I believe, retail is all about customers…
Yeah. It’s all about the customer, our whole philosophy, is based on three main things…. we always worried about customer service, customer service and customer service. My dad used to tell me was the customer is always right. And I’ve lived by that all these years. And it certainly worked for us.
It’s always been very gratifying to me to have a grandfather coming in and say his first surfboard was bought from me and now his grandson is with him and he was going to buy one. We have people working here that we’ve had three or four generations of their family working for us now, which is also very gratifying.
TTOS: A lot of people are saying that you are a legend, do you consider yourself one?
I do not consider myself a legend of anything. I think my wife thinks I’m a legend….
TTOS: That’s a good starting point, right?
I don’t consider myself a legend, even though it’s flattering that they would think that.
TTOS: you said that you’re partially retired, but you come everyday to the store and your kids are running the store today. What’s the next project that Don Hansen is working on?
Well, what we’re working on now is making sure that our company lasts another generation or two. I mean, it’s hard for an operation like ours to survive, without public financing and to last for three or four generations. We’re on our way for that.
My kids have insisted that I write a book about me coming out of South Dakota, hitchhiking to California and getting into the surfboard business and the fact that I ended up doing all kinds of things. I was on a skydiving team, won the national championships two years in a row and tandem surfing in 1967. That’s all in this book I’ve written. it’ll be out sometimes in the spring…..
TTOS: We’re gonna 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 ever ridden…
A Hansen surfboard!
TTOS: Your favorite shaper…
My favorite shaper was the name of a guy who worked for me 40 years ago. His name was Buzzard T Smally, and his real name was Fred Small, but I always called him Buzzard T and he was my favorite and probably the best shaper I ever had worked for me.
TTOS: personal question, your favorite song?
I don’t have a favorite, I’ve got lots of favorites, I love country Western
TTOS: Favorite surf spot…
My favorite surf spot in Hawaii was Sunset Beach, but here in Encinitas, it’s Swami.
TTOS: Favorite surfer of all time
Phil Edwards. I always thought he was the best surfer in the world. Even though he was shoved the longboard generation, it had so much talent. It could have been one of the best in the world and the short board generation also,
TTOS: the last question is a little bit unusual…..we would like to know your best relationship advice.
My best relationship advice is you have to keep in contact with people to maintain a relationship by phone or personally or whatever and to really treat everybody with respect, no matter how low they are on the totem pole and what they’re doing, you have to treat them with respect and listen to them. I think maybe the best advice I can give people is to do more listening than talking.