Aired on 2020, Jul 13th  in Podcast / Surfboards collectors

Interview with Ken Lewis

Aloha Everyone and welcome to the 12th episode of The Temple of Surf The Podcast.

I would like to thank all of you for following us and for your amazing and constructive feedback!

Today with us Ken Lewis, surfboard collector from San Diego, California Let's discover more about him, his amazing Skip Frye collection and much more!

You can follow us on YouTube, Spotify, iTunes and all major podcast platforms, if you want to read the interview, please read below, but forgive us for the mistakes cause it is system- transcribed.

TTOS: Hi Ken and welcome to the show, where are you today?

San Diego, California, where it's just starting to get sunny and a little warmer. So that's nice. 

TTOS: How's it going in this time of coronavirus? 

It's weird, man…. I'll tell you…

At first, we were not allowed to surf for about a month and a half… that's like the one thing that we kind of had like “all right, if I can't work, at least I could go surfing”

And then when that wasn't available, it just was like staying at home for two months. 

It was really rough, you know, people were starting to get a little eggy and people are online on Instagram complaining about everything. It's kind of been a weird two months. 

TTOS: Today we're going to talk about surf,surfboards, your story, I guess is a very fascinating story…. but the first question that I have for you today is…. what is the most important thing, in your opinion, in surfing? 

For me it's always been served the surfboard itself, which is to me, encompasses surfboard builders, you know, we can't do our passion without the shapers, the sanders, the hot coders, the fin guy, you know, to me, it's all about surfboard, craftsmanship and everything kind of falls under that pyramid.

A lot of people will think it's the surfboard industry with clothing because there's a lot of money in it, but that's not surfing to me…..that's the surf industry and that's something totally different 

To me, It's the surfboard that’s my perspective 

I had to get away from surfing for a time, I got into skateboards and had a skate shop and I didn't surf for a bunch of years and to come back into surfing and realizing how much I loved riding waves. 

I love surfboards, I love the people who made them, had nothing to do with the clothing companies or the jobs I had in the industry. 

it was about riding waves, and so for me, it's all about the surfboard and I hold in a high regard, the people who build them.

TTOS: You had a skateboard shop for a while…and it was pretty famous right?

Yeah, we did pretty good there for a minute. Like I, I worked in surf shops from about 87 until about 95. And then in 1995, I started working in my friend skate shop after I'd come back from a trip to Fiji and I really liked it. 

I'm like, you know what? 

The vibe was different….the skateboard guys were just a whole different type of person than the surf guys. 

I really liked skateboarding. It was really like all inclusive. It was very ethnic diverse…. It didn't matter if you're rich or poor white or black….everyone skated. 

Skateboarders were all cool with each other where I felt surfing was a little different. 

You know, I grew up here in San Diego, some groups were elite and some weren’t , you know, there's a lot of vibes.

There was a weird time at that time, at that moment. 

I really enjoyed skateboarding and I kind of transitioned out of surf and just had my skate shop for about seven years and I loved it. 

It was just a lot of fun…..It was kind of getting back to just the stuff that it was just….happiness. 

We built a skate park here in town. We had some cool stuff happening and just, it was a nice break from surfing for me. 

TTOS: You were saying that surfing at that time was like divided by groups it is  still like that in San Diego today? 

Not as much. Nah….

Back then, especially the eighties and then into the nineties, there was still a lot of localism, a lot of like, what part of town you were from you would surf there, but if you would go out of it, you really had to know people. 

I was lucky. I worked in the surf shop with Bird, so I knew people from all groups, like from all parts of San Diego…I could kind of dip in and out, but there was still vibes and there was still like some people who liked the localism…

At the time it was like: “people were better than, or less than”….it wasn't like all inclusive. 

Now you can ride any board you want, you can kind surf any beach you want, no one is going to fight you. No one is going to tell you to leave. 

There's still an underlying localism at some spots, but at that time you had to really put on your game face and kind of be the asshole and catch your waves, invite people out….it just was a whole different vibe.

I grew to really dislike that a lot, but now it's kind of nice where you can paddle out pretty much anywhere. 

If you show respect you get respect, there's still going to be a couple of people that are chippy, but it's, it's a lot different now than it used to be. 

Back then. It used to be …. yelling and telling people to leave or getting yelled at …..

Now it's more like if you see someone struggling and they get in your way, you can paddle up to them and be like, “Hey man, okay, maybe this isn't the spot for you….here's a different way to do it.” 

I think people are a little more calm, in their way of explaining is “maybe you shouldn't be here because of safety reasons” ….not “you're not from here. Leave!”

I think now it's a little more peacy and you know….you can't really get away with aggressive stuff…which is good, because I think that was an ugly part of surfing for a long time. 

TTOS: What was the first surfboard that you ever had or ever bought?

I had a couple of boards I borrowed from my friends, then my parents went and buy the first surfboard for me at “Select surf shop”, they bought a little six, four Hank Warner in like 1983.

It was too small for me, the whole bit. 

The first one I bought was a used one, I was in ninth grade, my first board that they had gotten me, was getting beat up. 

There was this guy, he was in a band…. I thought he was pretty cool, he had a used board that was from the “Surf Club” surf shop in Pacific Beach shaped by Mike Ballmay. 

And it was six, two and a half the rainbow rails….I bought it for 150 bucks, cause I thought the guy was cool. 

I had that board for a year and a half, I surfed until it was so soft on the deck and leaking water…had tape on it.

One day I came biking around the corner carrying my surfboard under my arm….there was a right sidewalk, curb cut, a pole and it got caught on the pole. I snapped the nose off. 

A week later after I tried surfing with the broken nose, it was not possible, we just burned it in the fire pit. 

TTOS: Tell us about your surfboard collection…you have a fantastic collection of Skip Fyre surfboards… how does your collection look like?

Growing up here and again, I think I mentioned earlier, I worked for Bird Huffman. 

Before he ever had the Shed, he had a shop called “wind and sea beach & surf”…it was a little surf shop in Pacific beach. 

He had it pretty much that collection you see now on his roof, that was all stashed upstairs in this loft area. 

As a kid growing up, you know, with my little six too…to go up there and look at all these surfboards from every era….trip out on them…what were these twin fins? Or these fishes? 

I didn't know what they were….at the time, like it was like every board was like an education and Bird would tell us everything about them. 

Next door, Skip Frye was shaping surfboard, he had a little shaping area just next Bird shop.

And as a kid, like kind of breaking out of that normal…there was Tom Curren and Mark Occhilupo ripping stuff. …I wanted to like learn about those other boards…. we would try a egg, or a twin fin

Just to see all those boards, it kind of opened my eyes to like…”you need a lot of boards to kind of surf consistently around here anyway” 

You got to ride some longer boards and then when it's good, you want to ride something like skinnier, It sort of opened my eyes early that you want to have a lot of different surfboards for the conditions 

So, over the years, you know, just kind of gathering boards of what I like, what I've tried, what I know works for me or the feeling you get when you surf a certain board on a certain day….it just sort of likes to keep adding to the stash. 

For me, it just kind of kept going, I think right now I'm up to about 35 boards or so. 

And I surf most of them. I don't really collect anything just to have, there might be one or two that are outdated, like old guns, like a Caster guns or something that I won't ride, but most of the boards I still surf them, it's kinda like a working quiver, you know….

TTOS: if you had to select one among the ones you have, which one would you choose?

Oh, that's tough man. 

The one I like actually right now, is a board that Skip Frye made for me…a nine foot. 

He calls them nozzles, the nine foot nozzle, but it's basically like a big fish. 

When I was growing up, you know, fishes maybe got to six feet tall and that was it. 

Skip has been making them longer and longer, he made me this one for a Peru trip, I went on a couple of years ago and he goes….”Hey, try this board,  It's an eight, six. Just try it. It's kind of this new thing I'm trying”

It was amazing, I mean, it turns, it goes fast. It's everything I want in a surfboard. 

Right now I have a nine foot fish, I can pretty much surf from two foot, two, eight feet and it works in everything….that's one that is pretty much an all-around board. 

I can surf it anytime, anywhere, 

TTOS: definitely Skip Frye is a legend that makes very qualitative and amazing surfboards….

He has seen everything in the last 65 years or so….every type of board that's ever been designed, it came through his eyes and he felt it and he has seen him and he has made versions of it. 

He has seen everything, the boards he shapes for the waves he rides around here. 

And you know, they've changed as he's gotten older, things are just always changing with him, but he can shape anything that you need for around here, which has translated around the world….you can ride those boards in amazing waves everywhere. 

TTOS:  You told me before that sometimes you had to sell some of your boards, do you have any regrets in doing that, for maybe a particular surfboard?

I've got so many regrets, you know, when I was young, Skip was young as well …you just kind of figured these would always be around…..I can get them in there and at the time they were cheap. 

You would get a board sometimes you would ride it a few times and sell it.

Back then it wasn't a big deal because you just knew you could get more and now that time's gone by you realize how special some of those boards were. 

You know, I sold some because I need to pay rent, bad times…. I got divorced about 10 years ago and I had to sell a bunch to pay for lawyers. 

Just stuff like….you wish you didn't sell them…., but at certain points of your life, you have no choice.

And you know, at one point, when I had my skate shop, I had only one last surfboard a nine made by Skip Frye that I got when my dad passed away. 

That's the one that I've always kept, also because he wrote my dad's name on the stringer and stuff. 

I kept that no matter what, even when I wasn't surfing and I didn't surf for about four years at one point. 

I just have one board sitting on the side of my house and then when I fell back in love with surfing again, after the skate shop and all this stuff, I just kind of, I wanted to go surfing again and I couldn't do it that one on board. 

By then, I just kind of kept adding back, building it back up… know, it's like life…some years are great, some years are terrible….you never know what's coming. 

So sometimes you got to let them go. 

TTOS:  the good news is that Skip is still young and still shapes amazing boards!  

I think his thing is that he has a young soul and he's still surfing a lot.

It's so fun talking to him. Cause he he's 78, which most 78 year old people, they look 78 and they act 78. And when you sit with Skip and you talk with him for a few minutes, if you talk about something and he's sparked on it, you see his eyes light up and he's an instant teenager again.

he it'll tell you the story about like riding away and how the board felt and he'll, they'll get animated and it's, I can't even explain how special he is.

Cause it's just such a throwback to these types of people that were there, just such a pure surfing personality.

Everything with him is about shaping and surfing, those are the two things that you could just see it just that are his life's passion. 

TTOS:  Let's talk about skateboarding for a second, how skateboarding evolved in your area, in your city, in San Diego….

I mean San Diego, it's one of the major points of skateboarding, mostly because in the seventies and eighties, we had the skateboard magazine here “Transworld”. 

As you had the main magazine in San Diego, a lot of people were coming to San Diego to get photos in the magazine it just kind of was a skateboarding hub from that and then we had skate parks like Damar and Oasis and a bunch of other places in the seventies and eighties.

It's always been a huge part of culture, even back to what we were talking about before, Skip, you know, he was in the skateboard world championships in 1965 like all of our surfers here, we're always skateboarding and you know, as a kid growing up in a shop, it's kind of, it's what you see. Right? 

You see your local hot surfer, what he's riding and the hot skateboard guy….you kind of want it, your gravitate towards that. 

In Southern California, especially, it was just a huge part of the culture growing up. 

It was, you know, as a kid in school, you want to be like the coolest dudes, surfing, skating and all the girls like them!

So you're like: “well, I kind of want to look that” and, you know, you grew up at the beach too.

Like for me, my dad was a fisherman he was an older Portuguese guy and we were always at the beach and he was catching our dinners. I was always riding waves while he was diving. 

From boogie boarding or riding mats (we rode mats in the seventies) it just sort of evolved back into like….you're always at the beach, you're always riding waves in some form. 

Then when you realize surfing is pretty cool, you want to be part of that and same with skateboarding. 

I still have those in the garage, full of skateboards. 

You know? it's those fun things that just, it's a connection to the things that make you happy. 

TTOS:  If you have to meet like a young surfboard collector, which advice would you give? 

I get approached a lot about people wanting to collect and maybe I have a different perspective and it's also how Skip, I kind of looked at it in Bird as well…..they're all riders, right? Like you want these boards to ride. 

The reason you buy a board is to capture the feeling that that board will give you, so if you're buying an old 1965 …you want that feeling and you're going to surf that board that way 

Some people buy in just because that looks clean….I want to hang onto it, because it might be worth something and they flip it. 

I'm not a flipper, I don't like that. I think people should buy boards that they want because they're going to surf it or it means something to them. 

So for me, if you're going to get into collecting or you want to pursue something like that, collect the things that you want to ride first and foremost and then the things that mean something to you…. maybe you saw the Dog Town movie and you wanted to Jeff Ho’es, Zephyr boards, because that made you love that era.

Collect the things that, that you're passionate about. Don't just pluck it. You think it's gonna be worth two grand for three grand or four grand buy something you want to have in your stash that you want to ride. 

TTOS: This actually is the scope, a little bit, of this podcast….you know…. is to try to find cross-references among the biggest collectors and the surfboards. In order to allow us to say that sort of board and that surfboard are from the same period, maybe from the same owner, that's a drawing or that is a sticker on the surfboard that means something…

I think connecting, it's very powerful, if you want to recreate those kind of stories….

I had a guy hit me up. This is funny, cause you nailed it. He sent me a picture of a Skip Frye that he found in Australia and he goes: “Hey, I just found this board. It's been broken, then repaired. It's a skip Frye. What do you know about it?”

The minute I saw it, I'm like, “Oh my Gosh”, it was one of the very first fish Simmons that Skip ever shaped in ‘92.

It had these red fins on it and this little logo in that old video I was telling you about that I had made where Skip is surfing on a brand-new surfboard and he's surfing so good. 

It was that board and I asked the guy…”Hey, is there a name on it? “He goes, yes, John….and I'm like, I'm pretty sure he shaped that board for a guy in France. And when he went to France in 94, for that legends contest, he left his quiver with this guy, John. 

That guy, John ended up moving to Australia, but that's again how the board got around. So for that guy, for him, all you saw was this old beat up board, but in reality is one of Skip's personal boards. 

That was one of the very first fish Simmons ever shaped. 

That's so sacred and the guy had no clue, but that's fine. 

Talk about like things go around for 30 years and you never know what my pop up. 

TTOS:  we're going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, so please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind. 

The best surfboard you ever ridden?

I ever had ever written was a six foot, a Rich Pavel fish. 

It was very unconventional fish, It was really boxy, railed, flat, had an edge nose to tail and slant back wouldn't applies on it. 

When I looked at it he gave it to me and I had to pay for the glassing, but he gave it to me for free

He was like…”you should try it” ….. I had that board for two years, I surfed it in anything like eight to 10 foot cliffs or two foot beaches….that board worked.

It was the best surfboard I ever rode, which is so weird….cause I didn't buy it….he kind of gave it to me in a weird way. “Yeah. Hey bro. Good to see a thing?”….. it was the best surfboard I ever had for sure.

TTOS:  The best shaper of all time or your favorite one…

Oh, that's so partial….for me, I love Skip Frye,  I just think what he does is so unique and different. 

That would be my vote, but yeah, I mean, there are so many of them out there Takayama was insane. Al Merrick is incredible ….. there's so many of them, I hold them all in such high regard because they all do different things.

TTOS: The most promising shaper….

Probably Ryan Burch, you know, someone like him, he makes incredible surfboards and he surfs so good. 

I kind kinda like those guys that surf as good as they shape, there are a lot of really good surfer shapers, but I think Ryan Birch is really special. 

Let's say when Skip Frye type people are not here anymore and you want to get surfboards of that vein or somebody who could shape everything……you kind of look ahead to, who's going to be here 20 years. I think Ryan Burch should be one of those guys.

 TTOS: Your favorite surf spot

Restaurants, Fiji. That's my favorite wave on the planet….That's it's the best. I worked there for a few years.

To go back every now and again, that's still one of the best waves on the planet. 

TTOS: The best surfer of all time or your favorite one….

Tom Curren.

TTOS: The last question, we ask to everybody, we want to know your best relationship advice….

Oh man. Best relationship advice……

Get a really good dog…..That's the best friendship we'll ever have. 

A good dog just loves you no matter what and you don't mind doing things for him. 

I swear to God, I can't give any advice regarding marriage, because I'm not good at it….apparently…. 

Recorded in May 2020

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Claud Proenza

3 years ago

One of the things you should look for in a beginner surfboard is good construction. Look for a board with heavy plastic urethane foam and a wide foam core with lots of sidewalls and high bumps for absorbing the shock of waves and making them go where you want them to.


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