If you’ve picked up a surfboard in the last 30 years, it either has Ron House’s name on it, or his influence in it. An icon in the surf industry, House was at the forefront of the shortboard movement with his designs in the late 1960s and continued to innovate during shaping residencies in Hawaii, and his current home in San Clemente, California. Sitting in his shaping bay in the heart of San Clemente’s gritty Los Molinos manufacturing district, the fit 63-year-old legend opined about his love of craftsmanship and the state of standup paddling. — Joe Carberry
I get a call out of the blue from Laird Hamilton. It’s 2003 or 2004, and he tells me he’s been using a big board and a big paddle to catch waves standing and doesn’t lie down. I was trying to get my mind around it.
He asked me to make him some boards so I took a look at the ones Gerry Lopez and Billy Hamilton had made for him and made him a few big, single-fin surfboards. That’s how (the Laird board) got started.
In ’05, Laird encouraged me to get into the sport so I went up to Malibu and he showed me a few things and I came back and made myself a board.
I went down to the end of the beach at San Onofre (Dog Patch) when there were just guys on waveskis and started catching waves. When that happened I knew this was a whole other deal. That was the end of my lay-down surfing career. I didn’t see it coming.
We’ve progressed the design of boards to be more specifically for performance surfing. Our technique improved so the boards progressed pretty fast. The people getting into it were really good surfers. We had to learn how to use a paddle.
The designs were just surfboards. Bigger wasn’t a problem for me. But when we got into race boards, then they got bigger and more specifically designed for traveling over water. That’s where I hadn’t been before.
I looked at prone paddleboards and figured we needed to make standup boards like that but modified so you could stand on them.
Learning how to shape a foiled (displacement) bottom took some adjustment. So it was interesting figuring out how to cut those.
A lot of (shapers) were denying the whole thing. I had trouble getting glassers to glass my boards at first. They didn’t want to deal with 12-foot boards.
That was less political than the attitude in the water. I lived in Hawaii for years riding guns and shortboards. In the late 1980s, early ’90s, when the longboard revolution came back the shortboarders were feeling stepped on. The longboarder’s attitude was ‘if your equipment keeps you from competing and getting waves, you’ve got a problem with your equipment.’ So now that the standup guys turn up and they have an advantage, the longboard guys are bellyaching pretty bad.
It comes down to a sense of manners and sharing and consideration for others rather than equipment choice. Equipment choice just allows bad behavior to be more offensive. We’re all competing for a limited resource.
The way we’ve dealt with it is we tell the surfers ‘You have priority. Any wave you want, if you can catch it you can have it ’cause I can catch waves you’re not going to catch.’ When you actually get that in practice it tends to work out pretty well. If you’re patient on a standup, you can get waves surfers have no chance of getting.
And with all the shark sightings, I’d much rather be standing on a board holding a paddle than dangling my legs in the water.
I’ve shaped surfboards for a lot of good surfers over the years and have gotten plenty of feedback. The racing thing, we’re still refining those boards and I get different feedback from racers on what they want. Racing is changing much more rapidly. We need to fine-tune everything still.
All of the skills I’ve accumulated I’m putting to work on going outside the box with raceboards. All the skills I’ve had to learn over the years have arrived at this point. I’m able to stretch boundaries.
I’m really happy with the fact this sport has such a broad appeal. To see everybody embracing it is a lot of fun. And when I see the Battle of the Paddle, I see younger people showing up and they’re great athletes, polite, respectful, well-spoken. It gives me a lot of optimism. The future of the sport is in good hands.