Gabriel Medina, two crowns on the back of his magic Johnny Cabianca-shaped sleds. | Photo: WSL

Longtom: Surfboard makers cling to life during pandemic; Shaper to two-time world champ “fixing dings”!

"I don’t know how long we can survive.”

Surfboards, the indispensable item.

Surfboard shapers, designers, glassers, sanders, our indispensable craftsmen.

World-wide they are being hit hard by the pandemic, or more accurately by the response to the pandemic.

Europe is the worst hit.

Zarautz based builder Johnny Cabianca who puts the steeds under Gabe Medina has been essentially shut down since Spain introduced almost total lockdown on March 23.

“My two employees can’t come to work, it’s not allowed” he said via Whats App. “ We’re a young company, only four years old and without cash flow I don’t know how long we can survive.”

The shaper to a dual world champ, for now, is fixing dings and finishing boards that have been sitting in corners of the factory.

“For us it all depends on how things evolve. When the beaches open again and when the shops open again, worldwide, as most of the boards we do are for export.”

Collapsing export markets have hit closer to my home, too.

Lennox-based Steve (Shuey) Shubonj of Glassing Division laminates for DHD and LSD. Glassing for DHD makes up eighty percent of turnover and has come to a complete halt.

“It’s put me in a precarious position,” he said. “I’ve already put two people off. As long as people can keep surfing around here, it’ll keep ticking over, as long as the landlord cuts me some slack, but I’m doing it all myself now.”

San Clemente-based builder Timmy Patterson was working around the clock to get boards ready for Italo Ferreira’s title defence.

A last-minute drive to LAX to meet Italo en route to the Gold Coast and handover boards was stopped at the eleventh hour as the tour opening was cancelled.

The undelivered quiver sits in a corner of the factory, “like a stash of gold.”

Patterson is still building boards at a reduced level behind locked doors with the shop shut, for now.

Marcio Zouvi of Sharp Eye surfboards is in a surer footed position than most.

“We own our own building, and our employees are on the payroll,” he said. “It’s the sub-contractors who are in trouble. Our business is diversified, we export a lot. We’re still servicing orders from Japan.”

Zouvi says the virus catastophe may precipitate a shake-down in the surfboard building game.

“We have very little receivables, we’re fine. Others have very high overheads. Rent, insurances. There’s an ageing workforce. There’s a question over how many factories will survive.”

The shake-down could extend to shops with “retail also struggling. There’ll be some impact, how deep we don’t know.”

Zouvi also worries with clothing companies struggling that payments with team riders are being suspended in an effort to bring surfers back to the negotiation table, presumably for far less shekels than currently offered.

His main concern is with the sport’s governing body.

“I hope the WSL can weather this out. We need an organisation such as WSL to standardize a format for competitive surfing which we can use as a reference. It’s very important for my business, with the type of boards that I make, to really gauge who is who, what they are riding and how they are riding.”

Ballina-based builder Gunter Rohn has been in the game for a long time.

He describes a board-cutting facility as being down from 400 a week to 100 a week.

Things are “patchy, but not dire” for him, with a loyal custom clientele still ordering boards as shop sales go through the floor. He sees surfing as important for “mental wellbeing” and hopes beaches stay open but admits lots of people will fuck it up.

Conspiracy theory pisses him off.

“I have to tell people to stop sending me shit,” he says.

Fellow Ballina shaper Wayne Webster is also surviving from custom orders, with his shopfront closed.

“I’ve had pneumonia twice, I can’t risk it. But the landlord wants full rent and I’m not eligible for the Government stimulus money, so I keep going.”

He describes success in these “absolutely nuts” times as “not going broke, having a house and food. This virus is polarizing and magnifying everything.”

For Webster, this is the start of a potentially long journey.

“A lot of people might feel like they are on holiday with no work, they’ve got more time to surf. That won’t be the case in a couple of months. Social distancing is here to stay. Who knows how long my showroom will be shut for.”

Not everyone is in crisis mode.

Maker of the hottest item since custom face masks, the mid-length channel bottom twin*, Simon Jones is in a good mood on this day that Jesus got nailed on the cross.

“Touch wood, and I feel I’m tempting fate,” he says, “the orders are still coming in.”

Where from? USA, Japan and Australia.

“Shipping is more expensive, I won’t be shipping until next month. It’s a time to catch up on domestic orders.”

For now, Jones has his eye on a local break.

“Gunna head down on a seven footer and try and dodge the crowd.”

The virus might be global, but the solutions will be local.

Happy Easter comrades.

*As ridden by Torryn Marten.

Surfer (in white) getting taken off beach.
Surfer (in white) getting taken off beach.

Contagion: Mexico catches “Jackboot Fever”; Pauses “War on Drugs” to send Federales after Coronavirus Super Spreader Surfers!

Public Enemies No. 1.

And there is no longer a single place on earth, outside of Huntington Beach, California, where it is safe to be a surfer. Shot at in Cosa Rica, capsized and arrested in San Clemente, shamed and chased in Australia, taunted and teased in South Africa, shot, hung and tasered in New Zealand.

Our sort has emerged as public enemy number 1. Apparent Coronavirus super spreaders and the burning fever to keep us out of the water has now infected Mexico where it has just been reported that Federales have paused their war against the cartels to seize surfboards and levy massive fines against any and all who dare dance upon the water.

Federales (pictured) with contraband.
Federales (pictured) with contraband.


A proud country where freedom isn’t free, it costs a handful of pesos, but is plentiful, warm and chased with margarita on the rocks, a basket of tortilla chips and a stone pestle of fresh guacamole.

A near perfect country that can’t have decided, on its own, to make us outlaws but also, a country where outlaws find their true place.

Once this wild Coronavirus has run its course will be allowed, once again, or stay forever banned?

When reached for comment, World Surf League CEO Erik Logan said, “I’ve told people to try not to be on phones, try to be on video chats, try to see people. At every turn, try to have a human connection. I was also saying to our teams that we need to get into a form of routine. You need to get out of your house, go for walks, try to get away from the screen, find different places to work. A lot of our employees have children – I’ve got two teenagers at home so I’m relegated to the garage right now; I’m sitting in my garage with a desk. You have to figure out how to set that up for yourself.”

More as the story develops.

Covid-19 rebel: Meet the shredder who took on no-surfing ban at Lowers and lost $US22k boat in south swell maelstrom! “It was a spur of the moment decision!”

Better to die on your feet etc.

Gotta love a man who ain’t afraid to put his head above the parapet.

Don Abadie is a forty-eight-year-old surfer, and jiujitsu expert as it happens, who took his fourteen-foot Caribe out to four-to-six-foot Lowers this morning, along with a pal, to circumvent the no-surfing law shutting down beaches across California.

Didn’t turn out real well.

Abadie caught one wave, and missed another, before a set shook his little inflatable off its anchorage and sent it into the rocks.

While that was happening, rangers, guns drawn, were on the beach.

Abadie, who shreds by all accounts on his little five-four Timmy Patterson twinnies, says he and his pal James Brent Jnr’s plan to chase empty, pumping Lowers, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, was a “spur of the moment decision.”

In an interview with Johnathan Wayne Freeman on Instagram Live a few minutes ago, Abadie said he figured the law extended only to the high-tide line and that by boating in, and not touching the beach, everything was cool.

“They (the rangers) let us know the ground rules. Once a beach is shut down, everything is shut down,” he said. “Regardless if you’re in the lineup or on the beach. It’s all the same.”

His boat was dragged across the rocks and it was later towed back to the dock by BoatUS.

Abadie lost his only set of car keys (“My car’s still at the dock”), an iPad (“I figured I could check work from out there”), a new phone; his buddy lost his keys etc.

No tickets were issued nor arrests made.

“We were cool to them so they were cool to us,” he said.

“I don’t have media training. This is my home beach, I’m in my community. That photographer has driven all the way out here to stand by the police taking photos. No one else is allowed to drive out here or come to the beach. What he’s doing is not exactly an essential service. That’s not journalism, that’s tabloid stuff.”

“Shot! Hung! Tasered!” New Zealand surfer fears for family, terrified to leave house after “horrific” response to iconic photo!

When did it become a bad thing to give cops a little hell?

Last Sunday, a New Zealand news site ran a provocative photo of a surfer giving hell to cops brought in to police the country’s draconian no-surfing laws.

The caption read, “A surfer is not happy to be spoken to by police for flouting lockdown rules at a West Auckland beach.”

Now, the surfer, who says the upraised digit was aimed at a tabloid photographer and not the cops, says he’s been hammered with death threats against him and his family.

As reported by Newsroom, 

A west Auckland surfer says threats have been made against him and his family after the Stuff news site published a photo of him with a caption erroneously describing him as “not happy” to be spoken to by police.

In the photo, published on April 5, the man is seen holding his surfboard and giving the middle finger to the camera while being spoken to by a police officer. He says the photographer had been hounding the surfers for a while and he was unhappy with the photographer, not the police officers.

The full caption beneath the photograph reads: “A surfer is not happy to be spoken to by police for flouting lockdown rules at a West Auckland beach.”

On closer examination it is clear the surfer is not looking at the police officer standing nearby, but directly at the camera.

The man, who was photographed going for a final surf at his local beach on Sunday, says he has been threatened with being tasered, shot and hung in multiple Facebook groups and reddit threads.

“When I walked up the beach I did the fingers to the photographer skulking around the beach, thinking nothing of it. I went and spoke to the police. They were lovely and were clear with their instruction and delivered their message and I acknowledged their advice and agreed.

“We then continued to chat for about 10 minutes. That afternoon I became aware of an article on Stuff using a photo of me. The caption of the photo implied I did the fingers to the police and resisted their advice. This is not true.”

He says he has had hundreds if not thousands of “horrific” comments – many driven by one stranger online who continues to share the article in community Facebook groups throughout the country.

“Over the following hours I was made aware of the photo being shared and some pretty scary comments being made. This escalated to the point that hundreds of people were saying all sorts of nasty stuff believing I did the fingers to the police.”

More, here, although the disturbing point, I think, is, when did it become a bad thing to give cops a little hell?

Specifically, when did surfers put their own necks under the police jackboot?

Is this a form of Stockholm Syndrome?

Who do you love the most? Quarantine Kelly or incorrigible flout-the-rules-get-tubed Kelly? | Photo: @sensitiveseashellcollector

Kelly Slater tells J-Bay local: “Just go surfing. I’ll help pay your ($US272) fine!”

“Kelly said that if he was here, he would have surfed the whole day…"

Yesterday was a day from hell for the J-Bay locals. Perfect lines, reeling down the point, with sets up to six-foot, crisp offshore winds and not a soul in the water.

There were a lot of hungry eyes on the line-up.

There are plenty of people with line-of-sight of somewhere along that miraculous line-up, and most of them are surfers to some degree or another.

Whether they are Supers chargers or Point cruisers, they all surf.

Local surfer Craig MacKay was one such surfer who was agonizing over it.

He posted a little clip to his private Insta account, and things escalated quickly.

Craig happens to be friendly with Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox and a host of other current and former pro surfers who have enjoyed his hospitality during the J-Bay events over the years.

After he posted his clip, Slater was quick to comment, “Just go. I’ll help pay your fine.”

The comment, liked by Taylor Knox amongst others, opened up even more anguish for the surfer, and a whole new level of a quandary.

“We (Kelly and I) had been chatting about it,” said MacKay, “and we were pondering as to why no surfing. However, we do understand that if we are allowed to surf, others should be allowed to do other individual sports.”


“Kelly said that if he was here, he would have surfed the whole day, which I have no doubt he would have. He would have come in and paid the fine. I said ‘Sure, we would surf all day, get to the beach and the cops would be stoked to meet Kelly and take selfies, while the rest of us would be fucked, get fined etc.’”

R5,000 for a day’s surfing at empty Supers is a steal at US$272, but it’s still expensive for South Africans.

The problem is that it is breaking the law, and for all our significant advances and methodology for dealing with COVID-19, there is still the current totalitarian paradigm in place when it comes to lockdown.

In other words, it’s a bit of a crapshoot.

In a cruisy world of money in hand, bottle stores open, and restaurants and takeaways to feed the masses, there might be a few local police who would know Kelly and be stoked to meet him.

Still, in the current lockdown situ, there are members of the police that have been bussed in, the Defense Force has been deployed, and there are so many people of authority around who might not know or care about surfing.

It’s a moot point, but Slater is not here, his idea was good in theory, but the pressure was on MacKay.

It would have made most surfers sick to the stomach.

The thing is there is always the chance that the police could take offence to someone breaking the law by surfing, and simply throw them in jail instead of writing out fines. The authorities are already tired, COVID fatigue they are calling it, and they also just want this thing to end.

Still, an empty Supers line-up on a six-foot offshore day, and a benefactor willing to pay for any fines that might come your way. It’s a helluva thing, the biggest temptation ever for a surfer…

Would you do it?

“There haven’t been waves for months, and now we have non-stop waves,” said MacKay, who didn’t paddle out, despite the quandary and the enticement. “I was just trying not to watch because it was hurting my eyes.”

It’s firing again, quite solid, with a little bit of a devil wind on it, but no one out.

The line-up is as empty as death.

Luckily it goes onshore tomorrow.