We’ve been making Birdwell products in Santa Ana, CA. since 1961, since that time we’ve supplied many surf teams, clubs and lifeguard organizations with custom jackets.
In our Comp Jacket Reports we track down the jackets and check in with the people wearing them.
Born and raised in San Diego, Josh Hall is all about the glide. At age 18 he was taken under the wing by shaper/surf philosopher Skip Frye—“I owe that man everything, my knowledge of the ocean, weather, wind, tides, board design and theory.” Josh was a quick study. His reputation grew. The board orders lined up. Now 34, Josh shapes a wide variety of designs, the common thread being down-the-line speed and trim. From his website: I’m not chasing themes or board building trends to make a buck. I shape and design boards that I l like to ride and boards that work, because at the end of the day, that is all that should matter when you get a custom built board – one that makes you have fun and catch tons of waves. More waves means more happy people and more happy people might just make our little planet a better place. We recently shipped Josh a batch of team jackets, which gave us a good excuse to get him on the phone.
JB: What’s exciting on the shaping front right now?
JH: We’ve been shaping a ton of Quads and Fish Simmons and using bamboo fins—that’s been pretty much the most insane feedback of all the stuff. And Thomas Campbell and I have been working on a board design over the last, like, five years. Basically trying to make a high-performance glider, you know? Taking the volume down, still keeping it 10’10” but narrowing it up and thinning it out. We’re going 10’10” by 22¼” by 3” thick. So it’s really opening up some ideas of flex and what really is the right volume for most of us to be surfing with, so kind of in that range, man.
JB: How do your shaping days go? I’m curious about your process.
JH: The boards I like to build best are the customs. I’m only doing six a week, so it’s really nice, because up until this point, with my travel schedule and such, what I would do is I’d come home and I’d binge shape. I’d go, ‘Damn, I gotta do 20 ‘cause I’m going on another trip,’ right? So I kind of was getting…not burned out, but my body was burning out a little bit, you know? ‘Cause I still hand shape everything, I haven’t put anything on the machine. Now that I’m booked at six a week, I have a wait of five months. I can plan: ‘Okay Jamie, your board is going to be shaped the second week of May and it’ll be done the fourth week of May,’ so that way people know. It’s funny, people won’t wait three months, but they’ll wait six or more, which is really something interesting that I’ve found. But basically the blanks come on Monday. Whatever the work is for that week, I’ll cut ‘em out Monday after they get there, and then I’ll just cruise in and rough two, or rough four, and then come back and finish two or four the next day. Depends what the surf is doing—if there’s surf then I might not work at all. But, ideally, it’s rough ‘em in the afternoon, and finish ‘em in the morning. ‘Cause you come in with clear eyes and fresh, you know?
JB: What do you love most about shaping?
JH: I think it’s just seeing people’s reactions when getting on boards, or having them really experience trim and glide, because they’ve never ridden a board that has any properties in it to allow them to access that. They don’t quite know how to describe it yet, they’re like, ‘Man, I just stood there and went all the way to the sand through the soup and hauled ass!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s called trim, that’s glide, that’s like the whole point of why we do this, you know?’
JB: What part of surfing is most inspiring to you? What keeps you most interested in the game?
JH: For me it’s seeing how there’s been kind of a big shift the last 10-15 years. I think people are realizing ‘F—k, I’m never going to be a pro, so why can’t I just go out and ride what I want and have fun?’ People are just looking for something new and if they can’t buy it or have access to it, they’re trying to make it. Locally, seeing what Ryan Burch is doing and what Tomo [Daniel Thompson] are doing with their boards. I mean, those two guys—that’s who I’m impressed by. They have the flow, but they’re building boards, but they aren’t shortboards, but they kind of are, but they glide, you know? And they’re ripping. And there are guys now, pro guys, kinda going, ‘Whoa, look at this.’ So yeah, what those guys are doing, to me, is pretty inspiring.
JB: What advice would you give to the average surfer who’s trying to get the most out of their surfboards?
JH: For me it would be getting a board from a guy that surfs similar waves that you’re trying to surf, and builds them for those waves. ‘Cause if I’m going to buy a board and spend the time and money, I want to know my shaper can surf. Again, I’m not a pro, and I never will be, but I know what makes me feel good and I know what feels right and wrong and what goes fast and what doesn’t. So I guess it’s just, Where are you looking to surf? You looking to surf Malibu? Or are you looking to surf, like, Rincon? Or, you know, wherever. And maybe see who’s building boards and surfing those waves alongside you. ‘Cause every good break should have some local shapers out, you know?
The Dazzling Blue is a series of short pieces about things we do in boardshorts. It is written by Jamie Brisick. A Fulbright scholar and a lifelong surfer, Brisick has written several books about surf culture, including Have Board Will Travel: The Definitive History of Surf, Skate, and Snowand Becoming Westerly. He lives in NYC and rides a 5'10" Channel Islands Pod.