Surfboards & Coffee: Echo Beach Revisited
There's a slim stretch of beach directly across the street from our US office in Newport Beach, CA. It runs from 52nd to 56th Street and has a loud and wild history that has since shaped surfing and fashion the world over. Known locally as Echo Beach, this sandy haven was a hotbed of innovation, style and DayGlo in the 80's where familiar faces like Shawn Stussy, Peter Schroff and Lance Collins could be found tweaking on board shapes and shooting the shit with the local subculture of new-wave, Devo-loving surfers.
This short expanse of time where surfing and fashion really began to influence each other quickly reverberated throughout the world, but the epicenter will always be known as Echo Beach. Personalities like Preston Murphy, Jeff Parker and Danny Kwock (all pictured above), groms at the time, were staples in the lineup, stylishly aggressive both in and out of the water.
It was here that Stussy fine-tuned his twin fins and soon evolved his surf brand into a fashion icon, helping introduce the world to Echo Beach through his new streetwear label. Schroff developed the genre-bending Lazor Zap shape. Lance Collins was applying racing boat hydrodynamics to twin keels...
To say that Echo Beach was important is a bit of an understatement at this point. From innovation to fashion to art and entrepreneurship, it's handprint can still be seen today, although as with all things in the past, it's influence has slowly been forgotten by today's youth. Luckily a group of about 50 surfboard enthusiasts, locals and groms were able to gather at Vacancy Coffee and our Newport Beach office and talk story, surfboard design, and generally just froth on the good ol' days for an event known as Surfboards & Coffee: a gathering put together by some of the world's most legendary surfboard collectors.
We sat down with Jason 'Goomba' Cohn and Buggs 'Rico' Arico, the founders of the event, to better understand the art of collecting things. Below you'll find some excerpts of our chat....
BANKS: Can you tell us a bit about why you started collecting surfboards in the first place?
JASON: I grew up as a child of the 70s, with brands like Lightning Bolt & OP. As a child growing up in Ohio, our coast was not only a lake that didn't have waves, in fact, it burnt, ya know, it'd catch fire, it was that polluted! I'd tell my parents all the time that when I grow up and I'm old enough to go to college, I'm moving to Southern California. I wanted that sunshine and I didn't want to shovel snow anymore. I wanted to be there, I wanted to participate in that lifestyle. So, for me, it was more of the allure of the coast and for the artistic side of what surfing represented. that creative aspect of it, and I like the functional art form. That's what drew me into it first, the artistic hands on, and when you look at a beautiful surfboard, it's undeniably Southern California. It automatically makes me feel like I'm home.
BANKS: How long have you been collecting?
JASON: Been collecting now about 25 years. For me, the stuff that I really am drawn to the most, like most collectors, is what they grew up with. Brands like Lightning Bolt, OP, Stussy. I grew up with the stuff with lot's of color. For me I can't get enough color! Hey, at least I'm not collecting gum wrappers, right?
I'm really interested in the design and innovation period, the mid 70s-mid 80s. I wanna share those stories so that the stories pass to the next generation and they understand that this is something that's not just important, but it can be used functionally, but it's equally as beautiful if you put it on a wall.
BANKS: So did you start collecting to be a historian? To preserve what you though was worth preserving in surf history?
RICO: Well not to be an historian per say, but just because I think any collector, whether it's coastal nostalgia or Western, or whatever it may be out there, anything that has prominence or story behind it is ya know, in my opinion worth collecting as opposed to something that has no story, but maybe is still vintage. It's fascinating in the sense that the new generation, a lot of the kids don't know much about the history of our sport. Like even in Hawaii, which I was really surprised by actually.
Try and surf a single fin at Backdoor that's like 3" thick. Or riding solid Honolua Bay on an 8ft singlefin with no leash! Today most wouldn't even think of hitting Honolua without a leash, even if it's 2 feet! It's interesting, I think it's just so important for the younger generation to know the history, I think they'd appreciate the sport more. And more from the standpoint of the evolution to the shortboards, how it was more of a lifestyle and an art and that artistic side. Now it's so competitive and you know, everything was about style back then in the 70's. As the whole skateboard evolution and surfing went high performance with urethane wheels and trifins and the 80s, ya know? Anyway, I was fortunate just like Goomba, to grow up in that little transitional period, I was a pretty core surfer, I was 15 years old at 1980. Kinda cool to experience it all as a grom. Here's me rambling.... Haha. I don't look at myself so much as an historian, I just like collecting stuff that has a story behind it, meaning behind it. The journey of looking at the spoon and the hands it went through to where we're at now.
JASON: Surfboards are a lost art in a sense. Something that relies on Mother Nature, it's unpredictable. Oh and by the way that water is sacred. For you to go out into that environment with something that is that personal and symbiotic as a surfboard, it feels like you should know what you're putting under your feet and the process that brought it to there. Why it exists. Ya know? Those are the type of things I think people want to know. A soulless pop out from China doesn't need to exist.
BANKS: Is there a shaper that the two of you think is the most interesting or influential from your collection?
RICO: Ben Aipa, for example, who started his shaping career in the mid 60s and he's still shaping today. Here we are in 2017. What fascinated me was again, pulling a board that represented his evolution into the trifin shortboard from the late 60s to early 80s. I have a board in my collection that represents his shaping style in '69, and then as he progressed to the singlefins and twin fins and trifins. Not all shapers have that experience right? A lot of the shapers didn't get into any of these things until the early 80s, but to answer your question, I feel like Aipa, Greenough, Frye, Lis, these guys really started late 60s early 70s thru the 80s. That whole shortboard evolution period, to really experience that whole transitional period.
JASON: I think anytime there was this disruption was always interesting to me. For years you'd have a log, and then when the shortboards started to hit, experimentation and innovation became important and that's kind the period we're talking about. The disruption felt from the stinger or the Bing Bonzer or even what Bertlemann was doing. He didn't just surf, he shaped and innovated and he was doing fluting and channels and golfball divets, trying to figure it all out. That's related to the discussion today with Schroff and Lance Collins when I was asking about the difference between the shaper and surfer's point of view and where does it meet. That's when innovation happens, when they listen to each other and they push the boundaries. For me, I'm just a sucker, whether it worked or not, whether it lasted or not, Schroff's Lazor Zap was just mind blowing to me.
BANKS: Alright, last thoughts. On the topic of disruptors, do you see anybody nowadays, would you ever consider collecting from a present day shaper? Do you see anyone pushing the limits of surfing now?
JASON: I think we need to see and champion young shapers, guys like Tyler Warren is paying attention.
JASON: Tomo is another. Tomo and TW are paying attention. We need guys that are your age that are conscious of it all, and not just repeating the past but being inspired by it and moving it forward.
RICO: Those guys who are kinda retro like Birch, Alex Knost that are riding and shaping. Those type of guys that are inspired by what was and then adding their two cents of what is today, based on their inspiration of the old school stuff. I think a lot of that kind of stuff will probably be collectable. But when you look at, since board building has went to the masses ever since the late 80s and 90s and through 2000. A lot of that shit, we talk about boards, I don't see a lot of that stuff being collectable, unless there's a story ya know, like that was Kelly Slater's 10th World Title board, something like that. Or art stuff ya know?
JASON: There's performance boards and then there's lifestyle-rootsy-sticks. I don't think they're marrying very well in the middle. So there's either soulless stuff that I'm just gonna surf to death and then there's the weekend warrior boards that you love riding to have fun on. How do you get the artistic side of things and marry that with the performance stuff? I don't know if that could happen today.
RICO: Time will tell...
Much thanks to the Surfboards and Coffee crew and to our nextdoor neighbors Vacancy Coffee for putting together the event and letting us be a part of it!