Interview: Josh Hall, Gypsy Shaper
Big Sky Wire
By Michele Lockwood
Charismatic San Diego shaper Josh Hall reflects on his gifted relationship with legend shaper Skip Frye, his worldwide gigs as a gypsy-shaper and theories behind the conscious choice to turn down the lure of computers in place of a planer. Josh’s story reconfirms the theory of the extended global surf-family as sustainable support network joined by mutual friends, waves and in this case, wine. Travel combined with surfing makes the world that much smaller.
CW: You’ve been ‘gypsy shaping’ for a while now; can you tell me how it first began and where you’ve been? How has Sancho Rodriguez of the San Sebastian Surf Film Festival been integral in kick starting your tour de force?
JH: Well I think the first trip I did was out to Japan on the "3 Amigos" Tour in 2008 with Andy Davis, Jeff Canham and Tyler Warren. I think I only did like 6 boards but what an experience! Since then I've been real fortunate to travel a lot. I've built boards in Japan, Rockaway, Puerto Rico, Portugal, France, Spain and most recently, I just shaped a bunch of boards in Bali.
The Spain/France gig has been happening the last 4 summers now and I owe all of that to Sancho. It’s an awesome story about me and Sancho and how everything transpired. We actually met in New York of all places, at the first Surf Film Festival put on by Tyler Breuer, Mike Machemer and Adam Cannizzaro at the Tribeca cinemas in 2009. Sancho and I hit it off immediately because I spoke Spanish with a ‘Spain’ accent (having lived and studied there for school back in 01-02) and turns out that the day after the festival he was coming to San Diego. So right away I said you're coming to stay at my place. I came to find out we have a good friend in common that I’ve surfed with for a long time.
We also discovered another shared passion - wine! Turns out Sancho's brother Telmo is one of the most renowned oenologists in all of Spain! So long story short, we hit it off, I showed him a round a bit and next thing I knew, 6 weeks later I was in Spain shaping for the first time!
Skip Frye has been a huge influence on your shaping. He has always spoken so highly of you and for a man of his stature that is a golden key to many doors. How has your relationship developed and do you think you’ll be in a position to take a young shaper under your wing one day?
Ah, man, it’s such a heavy relationship to have and I’m unbelievably fortunate, I mean what can I say? Like saying thank you a million times wouldn't even scratch the surface of how I feel about it. I mean he's the whole reason I’m anybody doing anything in this surf thing. We have and always have had a real organic and open relationship.
About 4 years ago I moved my shaping shop over into his complex and it’s been amazing being around him everyday. He's so open to me about questions I have about outlines and board design and theory, helping me with fins. Experimenting with fins!
There have been a few super heavy moments too. Probably the most significant was restoring his original Steve LIs fish template. And in true Skipper fashion, as I walked back to his place with the old one and the new one in my hand, he looks at me with those eyes he has and says, "You made yourself one too right?” I was so freaked out, but I scurried back and made one for me. Skip is just unbelievable, I mean, here it is, the "Holy Grail" the fish templates of all fish templates and he's just like, here, "Make sure you have it." That’s the kind of relationship we have. Slowly the torch is being passed down and I’m so thankful for it. It’s a heavy responsibility to have but one I've always dreamed of. And for sure one day, when I’m in the right time and place it'll happen, someone will get handed the torch down from me. I've helped my good friend Peta out in Spain get started and it’s been fun watching him go; so stoked building boards for his friends.
You don’t use the shaping machines at all and you never have, can you tell us what your philosophy behind this is? And why you choose to shape all your boards from scratch?
Well, the machine is another tool that I will admit and I can see why some guys use it to fill their production. I’ve chosen to stay away from it just because of how, where and who I grew up with. Skip still does one board at a time and loves it as much as he always has. Not doing volume he never burns out. It’s a long-term philosophy.
A lot of people now shape 100 boards, get a few good ones and start designing them on the machine and make themselves look good on a blog and blow themselves up as the next big brand, to me that’s just the exact opposite of why I shape. For me it’s because I want to surf. It’s a lifestyle choice. Plus as Dick Van Straalen puts it, "It just stops the evolution of a shape". I’m always refining, tweaking and trying new things. I'll build a board because I'll get jacked up on an idea and I have to build it just to clear up some headspace. A perfect example is the 6'4” Skosh Channel bottom I’m currently test-driving. That was a direct result from hanging with you guys and watching the Steph Gilmore footage, I just had to experience what those channels feel like for me personally. Not because someone else told me but because I need to myself. That’s the fun part about shaping, you get stoked to get in the room and turn out something new and radical. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't work as much.
You’ve done some nice collaborative projects with a crew of interesting characters, the notorious Harry Daily being just one. Who else have you worked with and what is in the works for the future?
Yeah, taking Harry to Japan last year was a freaking blast! He's awesome and his art is so far beyond- really incredible. To be honest, I have no idea how it all happened but I’ve become friends with a lot of artists. I’ve worked with Andy Davis and had a logo made. Tyler Warren made a logo a long time ago. And most recently Thomas Campbell and I have been working together. I’ve known Thomas since he started filming Skip for ‘The Seedling’ and just in the last few years have started to work together. He's created the logo I’m currently using and we’re working on a big board project called "Le Slivair", a different and unique big board experience. I’m so grateful to call these guys friends. They are truly inspiring. Also working on a new website and trying to get the merchandise down too (laughs).
The San Diego area has such a fertile history when it comes to surf history and board design. How has that helped your surfing and shaping develop into what is it today?
Well if you move around a lot in San Diego you realize one thing; we have a ton of different waves: beachies, reefs, and some certain underwater point breaks. Growing up with Skipper we travelled around a lot and that forced me to ride a wide variety of equipment. Joel Tudor was and is a huge influence and that’s something he has always preached, ride everything: long, short, etc… so with the wave scapes we have here, that’s what you have to do. It rounds out your surfing. And building boards to access all these waves rounds out your shaping. It has also helped me shaping abroad too. A lot of waves I’ve surfed I can compare to a wave in SD and then make a good board for a surfer in that area.
Being a former wine merchant have you got any pointers on Australian wines? What were some of your favourites?
Ah man, the Shiraz's that come from the Barossa region were always one of my favorite wines, big bold in your face with really rich flavor profiles. Intense stuff!
Big Sky is the property on which Andrew Kidman and Michele Lockwood live with their two children in Northern New South Wales. Once a week they speak to writers, photographers, surfers, artists and musicians for Coastalwatch's Big Sky Wire.
To follow Andrew Kidman's film celebrating 40 years of Morning of The Earth, head to the Spirit of Akasha blog here.
To check out Michele Lockwood's blog click through here.
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