Joe and Jack Bark | Continuing the Legacy of Bark Paddleboards
Master and apprentice. Craftsmanship. Family business.
In this modern age such terms can seem archaic, like mere echoes from a bygone era that lacked smartphones, Twitter feeds and the almighty Internet. But technological advancements aside, there remains irreplaceable value in honoring a craft's tradition by passing on tried and true methods from generation to generation.
For legendary paddleboard shaper Joe Bark and his son Jack, honoring traditional technique is key to the success of their shaping business. Every morning amid the dust and foam beads of a modest Los Angeles workshop, Joe teaches Jack the intricacies of SUP board design so he can carry on the family legacy.
Joe Bark's passion for board shaping came from a deep immersion in waterman culture. When he was in his twenties, Joe would make a pilgrimage to surfing's Mecca, the North Shore of Oahu, each winter. "Hawaii beaches weren't crowded back then and there were plenty of good waves for everyone," Joe said. "I'd surf most of the day, work a few odd jobs and then go back to whatever house I was staying at and make T-shirts to sell."
In short, his life was like a scene from Endless Summer.
Joe started shaping boards in 1976 and kept developing his skills even when he became a firefighter back in LA. In the days before SUP, Joe focused his efforts on crafting longboards and prone models. Word spread throughout the SoCal surf scene that if you needed a fast, smooth ride, you wanted to see Joe.
As Joe continued shaping in the 90s, some new characters entered his story. First came daughter Gemma, now 23, and two years later, her brother Jack. Soon enough, there were four children running around the Bark home, with the arrival of Sam and Emily. Their mother Aimee was a teacher and before the children started school, they spent time with Joe in his workshop.
"My dad used to give us quarters to sweep up when we were really small," Jack said. "As we got older he'd have us tape boards, draw templates and cut pads."
The family also spent a lot of time together out on the water, and the Bark kids could swim soon after they learned to walk. When SUP exploded in popularity, Joe's business grew and so did the trust he placed in his children to help in the shop.
"It got to where Jack was inlaying wood for rudder systems, putting in tie-downs and gluing down pads," Joe said. "To me, it's like coaching: when you have kids who want to learn, you'll invest time to teach them everything you know."
Eventually, after hundreds of hours of experiential learning, Jack was ready to build his own boards. "I was 15 when I shaped my first surfboard and about a year later my Dad helped me with my first SUP board," Jack said.
Fast-forward five years and Jack's work ethic is following the template of his father, who leaves the house most mornings by 4 a.m. Jack is currently balancing board shaping and testing, SUP and prone racing, and studying marketing and geography at Cal State Dominguez Hills. But no matter what happens in the classroom, the results of his shaping education are evident.
"Jack's been helping me with my signature boards – maybe he'll rough a board out and I'll finish it, or vice versa," Joe said. "He's also developing his own following and getting his own orders. Our customers love him and I'm proud of that."
A key part of the Bark business model is real-world testing. This means that Joe, Jack and the entire family spend lots of time on the water in what Joe calls, "our R and D lab." While production boards are machined, each prototype is still shaped by hand and perfected after countless refinements following on-water testing.
"A design can look perfect, but then you get it out in the bay and there's an unexpected wobble or too much drag," Joe said. Such attention to detail is also apparent when the Barks are back in the workshop. "My dad will see small things that I wouldn't notice while we're shaping, and can make a little correction that leads to a better board," Jack said. "That's the level I'm trying to get to."
Getting better is a daily pursuit for Jack, who recognizes that every morning spent shaping with his father helps him advance his craft. He also hopes to use the marketing skills he's acquiring in college to help grow the Bark brand.
"My Dad worked so hard to build the business while he was a firefighter and I want to help him keep it going," Jack said. "The best thing about it is learning from him every day in the shop and then spending more time together paddling."
For father and son, master and apprentice, who could ask for more?
Learn more about this father—son team in a piece from our Spring 2013 issue, Barking Up the Same Tree.
Want to taste the fruits of their labor? Here’s our review of a new Bark model, the Surftech Eliminator.