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San Clemente Journal

Boardbuilders Hall of Fame

Jan 04, 2024 10:10AM ● By Jim Kempton

Art by Roy Gonzalez

Inaugural Ceremony of the first 10 Inductees

By Jim Kempton

   San Clemente has long been a destination for surfers and musicians alike. These wanderers and revelers continue to push the boundaries in search of perfect waves and the perfect boards to ride them. 
    Brawner Surfboards in partnership with Los Molinos Beer Co. and Hemingwave Creative Agency presented the first annual Rhythm & Resin Festival to showcase top surfboard shapers, local artisans, musicians, and celebrate the heritage of building surfboards across generations of waterman. As a tribute to those who paved the way, the Boardbuilders Hall of Fame got off the ground by honoring five craftsmen who are no longer with us. That list includes Dale Velzy, Brad Basham, Chris McElroy, Randy Sleigh and Midget Smith. 
   Another five boardbuilders who are thankfully still with us will also be honored. That list includes Herbie Fletcher, Danny Brawner, Rick James (the shaper, not the rock star), Jay “Sparky” Longley and Terry Senate.
They were all represented in artisit Roy Gonzalez’ artwork above.

 Dale Velzy
Dale was the Robert Mitchum of surfing – bigger than life and Surfing’s  OG of all time - a cowboy, hot-rodder and a soul surfer. He is widely credited as being the first surfer to hang ten. 
During World War II, Velzy served as a merchant marine, then came back to Manhattan Beach, where he began shaping surfboards commercially and opened the world’s first surf shop, Velzy Surfboards. 

He went to Hawaii and shaped boards in 1950. He shaped for Miki Dora, Mickey Munoz, Mike Doyle and Donald Tak who were all on his team.  

Velzy’s enduring contribution to board design was his Pig surfboard, which took the surfboard’s wide point and moved it back toward the tail, making it much more maneuverable. He used to say Hobie knew how to make them look good but I knew how to make them WORK.
His was the first surfboard shop in Orange County and in 1958 he opened the first surf shop in San Clemente.

He was the ultimate entrepreneur: he started a board building class for kids who wanted to learn to shape. He charged them for the classes and as soon they were good enough he had them build the boards and send them to Hobie. Then he charged Hobie for the board the kids built! He got paid twice and went surfing in the meantime!

He has a surf break named after him Velzyland of course; because he bankrolled Bruce. He is a giant in the surf world.

 Chris McElroy
In the heyday of San Clemente’s Surf Ghetto, shaper Chris McElroy was the undisputed man. Calle de Los Molinos was his kingdom. He was the guy making local heroes Christian Fletcher and Dino Andino the boards that sent them into the stratosphere. He took Dino to his first NSSA contest when he was 11. Not only was McElroy building great boards, but he also took young shapers like Matt Biolos and Timmy Patterson under his wing. He shaped Mitch Colapinto’s first thruster. For you younger guys Mitch Colapinto is Griffin’s dad. Chris partied like a rock star and had the best ‘air guitar’  - but he could play real guitar as well. And fittingly, the last board he made was for Griffin Colapinto. He was a creative force, an artist, craftsman, mentor and troubled Soul, McElroy and his famous air guitar have now slipped into legend. 

 Randy Sleigh
Randy was a total Los Molinos local, the kind that this community has always championed and always loved. He made boards for Christian Fletcher and Matt Archbold and all the hot up-and-commers in his era.

And just like McElroy he was a rock star shaper and lived the rock star style
He moved to Kauai. His son Josh Sleigh became a surf star in his own right, a pioneer in aerials, an X-Game athlete and master board builder himself.
Randy passed away at Princeville, Kauai in 2012.

 Brad Basham
Basham’s Surf Factory has been a landmark on the street since 1972. He was in many ways both the hub and the rudder of the Los Molinos surf Ghetto, a joyous, wise, and kind soul brother. And a good surfer as well as a generous business man. Always ready to listen, to laugh, and to share his genuine love of surfing.

He gave everyone credit, always helped out anyone who asked – and was just a beloved guy. No matter what was going on Brad’s favorite response would be: “what's the worst that'll happen?” 
When he was shaping, before he turned to just manufacturing, so many guys have said “Brad made me my very first surfboard in his mom's garage.”

And his longtime partner Lynne Smith was always by his side – all the better he used to say when they were surfing together. His presence will truly be missed in the surfing community and the world.

 Midget Smith
Midget was a local boy, graduated from San Clemente High School in 1969, he went to work at Hobie Surf Shop in Dana Point. There he was, under the tutelage of renowned board maker Terry Martin, a surfer who gave back in as many ways possible. He was one of those guys that always said YES!

He dragged his good friends down to Mexico to key into some of the best pointbreaks in the world. He judged for decades, for the Western Surfing Association, and the NSSA, giving young surfers an accurate contest-by-contest gauge on how to improve their surfing.

Did he make boards for anybody good? Mark Occhilupo, Martin Potter, Dane Kealoha, Andy Irons, Chris Drummy, Mikala Jones, Jason Weatherly, Jason Bogle and San Clemente local Jim Hogan, and of course he was a life partner with the first lady of surfing Mary Lou Drummy.
Midget passed away in 2008 after a recurring battle with cancer. 

 Rick James
Rick James learned to shape at the Greg Noll’s factory in Hermosa Beach making The Mickey Dora Da Cat Model. One morning Mickey came by the Noll Factory to have Ricky shape him a new surfboard. They finished around lunch. Greg went to the store to get the usual Friday beer keg and the rest of the guys went to lunch. Mickey wanted a special fin for his new surfboard. Ricky accidently cut off his thumb. He was in shock with blood spurting everywhere. 
When he got to the hopistal, the ER doctor asks where’s the thumb? He said he could sew it back on. Mickey raced back to the factory  screaming, “Where’s the thumb?”

Greg held up a block of resin and said, “How do you like my new paper weight?” He had filled a Dixie Cup with resin and dropped the thumb in. With catalyst!!

Miki raced back to the ER and handed the doctor the block of resin with Ricky’s thumb. The doctor said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” Ricky fainted.  

When Rick told South Bay legendary surfer Mike Purpus the story, Mike said “I loved that thumb.” Ricky replied, “Not as much as I did.” Rick had his shop in San Clemente for many years until he sold it in the late ‘70s.

 Jay “Sparky” Longley   
Now here is a guy, after he started Rainbow Sandals, has been more successful than maybe ANY of us – but you would never know it from how he hangs with all the guys here at Los Molinos.
He was originally a rail sander for Joe Quigg and then for Dale Velzy. After that, he started making sandals in his garage and selling them via poaching the sawdust festival in the parking lot. They kicked him out 

So he went to San Clemente and rented part of a building from Fred Gregory. Having no money, he promised Fred he would pay him in two weeks after selling sandals and he came through, the rest is history. 

It’s one of the biggest sandal companies in the USA now, and it started right here at Los Molinos with Jay “Sparky” Longley.

But here is a story that tells you what this man will do to make it work. He planned a photo shoot with Art Brewer – Art was a good man with a camera and also a friend to a lot of us here. So they are about ready to do the shoot and Sparky runs over his own foot with a FORKLIFT. Does he quit the shoot? Hell no, he finishes the photo shoot with Art  Brewer anyway and THEN goes to the doctor!!

 Terry Senate
Terry started his board building career at Bahne who taught him board design. He also was mentored by the great Ben Aipa when he was making the first Stingers. Over the years he’s made boards for Shane Dorian, Ross Williams, Brock Little, and Pat O’Connell. But part of the reason why Terry has so many customers is that he takes a lot of time to talk to each individual - as every good custom shaper does. 

But as everybody knows Terry is famous for telling bad jokes. He’ll say “Hey, wanna hear a joke?” And then he tells you the same joke he told you two months ago! And six months ago!
All kidding aside, Terry has been a top shaper here on Los Molinos for way more than 25 years. And he has beaten every health problem that has come down the pike. One of the most beloved guys in the surf ghetto - or anywhere.

 Danny Brawner
Growing up in the San Clemente area, Danny was one of the very 1st surfers in the area back in the late ‘40s. He played drums for the Sandals band in the early ‘60s surf music craze. You might remember that band’s music was the soundtrack for Bruce Brown’s Endless Summer movie.
Brawner was the lynchpin craftsman for Hobie’s Dana Point factory, working with Micky Munoz, Gerry Lopez and Corky Carroll. For over 40 years he pin-lined and resin-tinted the majority of Hobie surfboard-shaper Terry Martin’s estimated 80,000 boards at the Hobie factory.

One board in particular, which some at Hobie claim may have been the most important board the company ever made, was a 3-foot board turned around overnight for President Richard Nixon. Nixon’s daughter, Tricia, had ordered a board from Hobie for her father for Father’s Day shortly after they arrived in the Western White House above Cottons Point in San Clemente. The board, presidential seal and all, fell over inside the factory and was damaged before being given to the president. So Danny worked all night and day to make this three foot replica for Father’s Day and then give him the real life-size model later. Who else in the surfing world can say they made a surfboard for POTUS! 

 Herbie Fletcher 

He was the first guy to do so many things: He was on the very first Hobie surf team. He was first guy to pioneer jet skis at Pipeline and the first guy to ride the nose at Backdoor Pipe. He made the first hot surf videos with the Wave Warriors.

He’s been on the cover of Surfer Magazine several times over five decades. His family has three generations of surf stars.

How’s this for namedropping: Herbie was in a movie by photo icon Bruce Weber. He paints 20 foot paintings with art icon Julian Schnabel. He worked making surfboards for the movie called Rainbow Bridge with Jimi Hendrix.

Herbie bought his first Surfboard in 1957 he was nine years old. He saw Dick Dale at the Rendezvous Ballroom in 1963. I don't think I know of anybody better at “side slipping” as Herb. He started Astrodeck right here on Los Molinos. He’s been making boards for 50 years. He’s owned a surf shop somewhere in San Clemente since 1972. He has closed down more bars than anyone I know! And he is still surfing Pipeline in his 70s!!

The next Rhythm and Resin Festival will be - September 7th 2024