South Coast Surfboards, an Imperial Beach Original, Has been making Surfboards for over 50 Years
Apr 14, 2018 01:44PM ● Published by Paul Spear
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This story was written by John Warner
Imperial Beach, CA
You'd see 'em wearin' their baggies
Huarachi sandals, too
A bushy bushy blonde hairdo
Originally published 2016-06-26 01:44:33 PM
Ah, the summer of 1963 was something special. Over the airwaves, The Beach Boys
harmonized with crazy new words, little Stevie Wonder launched a career with “Fingertips,” and Puff the Magic Dragon signaled an impending culture clash.
Yet, something was happening here in Imperial Beach that, even after over 50 years later, can still be found all over California and the world of surfin’ U.S.A.
In the spring of 1963, Tom Warner and Richard Joly brainstormed ideas as young, ocean-loving entrepreneurs. Tom designed the classic South Coast Surfboard logo, and Richard perfected the shaping skills he learned from their mutual friend, Geoffrey Logan.
In 1959, Logan opened the first IB surf shop, Geoffrey Surfboards, at 121 Elm Ave. He later shaped for Hobie, Windansea, Stewart, Bruce Jones, Country Surfboards of Hawaii, and countless custom big wave boards for the north shore of Oahu.
Richard Joly and John Hanks collaborated on Joly Surfboards in 1962.
With Tom’s business acumen and Richard’s creative talents, the pair set off on an epic big adventure. The first South Coast Surfboards were humbly created in garages on Carnation Avenue.
Within a few months, a retail shop opened at 636 Palm Ave., selling new boards to stoked locals for around $100. Manufacturing was established at 310 K St. in Chula Vista.
A young David Craig was known to poach a few broken blanks from this site and indulge his early skills.
Top San Diego talent were either riding or working for South Coast: Danny Bussell, Mike Richardson, Dennis Choate, “Dinky” Dorsey from IB, Gary Cook from PB, Tommy Cosgrove from OB, Paul Hamby from Chula Vista, Tim Cousins, Dennis Dobransky from Coronado, and even the pipeline icon John Peck were part of the South Coast team at one time or another.
By 1965, manufacturing relocated to Brown Field and surfboards were sold in several shops on both coasts. A price list and brochure for South Coast Surfboards during this period listed two locations: 805 First St. (now Seacoast Dr.) in Imperial Beach and an East Coast office address at 342 Madison Ave., New York City, New York.
Yes, once upon a time there really was an IB business with a Madison Avenue address!
The surfing world of the 1960s was intoxicating, but a business model for the surfboard industry was a rare bird, indeed.
Aside from the seasonal nature of surf gear, the reliability of employees in the surf industry was quite precarious.
Good waves, a great party, a draft notice or an extended Baja road trip could seriously interfere with work and production schedules. Diversity was necessary for survival.
Warner opened the original Surf Hut at 805 First St., and sold a complete line of surfing accessories.
Using the resin/laminating techniques of surfboard production, he started making nautical furniture and selling unique items at Kettenberg Marine and designer boutiques.
It was at the Kettenberg store in Point Loma that the actor/comedian Jerry Lewis saw some of the antique hatch cover tables Tom created. Lewis requested some custom items for his new yacht, the Princess Two, and his Hollywood office.
The quality of craftsmanship, attention to detail, and implicit love of the ocean expressed in all his work impressed the comedian. Lewis made Warner an offer he just couldn’t refuse: Maintain and navigate the yacht he had docked at the Kona Kai Club in Point Loma.
Fortunately, Tom knew how to “drive” a boat.
He had owned a small commercial fishing vessel with his father, and had worked a few summers as a deckhand chasing tuna. Tom’s deep understanding and respect for the tides, currents, and uncertainties of the oceans calmed the nerves of the original “Nutty Professor.”
The opportunity to surf the high seas on luxury yachts was an irresistible new career path. Tom sold South Coast Surfboards at the peak of the late 1960s surfing craze to a retired Navy captain, William Mercer, and the original Surf Hut to an old friend, Jim Hartnet.
As a hedge, he simultaneously started Pacific Fiberglass and Plastics which produced Pacific Surfboards and other items.
Richard Joly continued to shape for the new South Coast owner for a brief time. When the retired captain tried to institute a rigid production and accountability schedule, there was mutiny at the surfboard factory; shapers, glassers, sanders, and team riders were gone with the first south swell.
Joly took over operation of Pacific/Personal Surfboards, and outsourced his shaping genius to other manufacturers.
With no real connection to the local surfing community, William Mercer was left with an abandoned ship. South Coast Surfboards drifted into obscurity until 1974, when the name and logo were revived by Rob Ard in Ocean Beach. That classic logo, still found on quality custom surfboards everywhere, embodies the dream that Richard Joly and Tom Warner launched from an Imperial Beach garage in 1963.
From Dempsey Holder onward, the allure of the ocean has generated a cast of local characters with volumes of colorful experiences -- tales that would make Johnny Depp's Jack Sparrow appear an anemic squid.
Ah, the Imperial Beach tradition of surfing and seafaring is, indeed, a never ending story.
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Paul Spear, Publisher, and Editor of Dig Imperial Beach