Tag Archives: surfing

Endoskeletal.

Grain Shop

What if surfboards had souls? Surfboards. They do have souls. They’ve got personalities, just like we do. Quirks, habits, and even shortcomings, which we tend to overlook in favor of their more positive attributes. Like a girlfriend who is, actually, pretty high-maintenance, but she’s so ludicrously good at making up, that you’re willing to fight with her. Constantly if need be. Yeah, it’s hard to break up with a board that has the perfect amount of pop or turns on a dime.

But some surfboards are more well-rounded than others. Naturally, some are stronger. Some of them have backbones. Literally. They’re composed of sinews and ribs, and right in the middle of it all: heart. They’re take-home-to-mom caliber. The boards made by Grain Surfboards in York, Maine are that kind of boards. Custom-built, hollow wood beauties. And of course, they exist in a very limited number.

Grain’s rate of production is “very slow.” Founder and principle owner Mike LaVecchia says this unapologetically. “We build maybe two dozen boards a year.”

“But,” he continues, “it’s a small part of the business. April through October, classes are kind of our main thing.”

Grain generally offers three types of surfboard building classes, which allow students to do 90 percent of the building themselves: A seven-day course, a four-day “blitz,” and a two-day finless craft class with alaia master Jon Wegener. Grain also sells kits that include all of the necessary ingredients for about half the price; their buyers do 100 percent of the work. Most people opt for the classes.

Grain Founder and Co-owner Mike LaVecchia

Grain Founder and Co-owner Mike LaVecchia

“It’s really fun to get people working with their hands who don’t typically have an opportunity to do things like this,” LaVecchia says, as he waves his own sturdy hands toward boards in various stages of completion, racked and propped throughout the workshop. “We’re always by their sides to help troubleshoot or fix anything, so we give them the freedom to mess up, knowing that we can make it right.”

East Coast surfing elicits eyebrow raising in many parts of the world. Yes, still. And due to the cold water and perceived lack of waves, Maine may as well be the Moon to most surfers. But Maine technically has more miles of coastline than California (3,478, thanks to its bevy of nooks and crannies) and much of it is surfable. York juts out into the North Atlantic and picks up loads of swell. Its surf scene is burgeoning. Nonetheless it’s hard to get anyone, let alone surfers, to call on coastal Maine and its sub-zero sea breezes in the dead of winter.

“We were kind of twiddling our thumbs,” LaVecchia says. “People are surfing all over the place, but when it’s cold and snowy here, nobody wants to come visit, even though it’s a great time of year to be here. So, we actually had some people ask us about doing classes out West.”

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Open Book

Tyler Wright after winning the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the first stop on the 2013 ASP Women's World Championship Tour.

Tyler Wright after winning the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, the first stop on the 2013 ASP Women’s World Championship Tour.

TYLER WRIGHT
rose to the top with nary a trace of ambition.
Her trick?
No tricks. 

The sun is yet to rise. Tyler Wright is in good spirits, carefully studying invisible waves on a barely discernible horizon. Nearby, Carissa Moore also stares seaward as Praia do Guincho in Portugal comes to life before them. They are locked in a quietly blazing battle. It’s only the top of the world that’s at stake.

Thirty hours later, Tyler’s second in the world with no hopes of climbing higher, at least not this year. She congratulates, hugs, and laughs with the woman who took the title from her hands. But you see, she never, actually, saw it as hers. She never expected to be in contention for a world championship. She found herself here. And instead of succumbing to the pressure that accompanies such a situation, Tyler simply ignored it.

At the 2013 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, the third of a then-indeterminate number of events, Tyler and Carissa faced each other in a final for the second time that year. It was Tyler’s third in three contests. It was the start of the title race that wasn’t. Partly because the race was all but deadlocked until its conclusion, and partly because one of the top contenders wasn’t acknowledging its existence. It was early to start sniffing around for a title battle, but with a slew of head-to-heads, it was hard not to. By the time Tyler won in Rio, at the fifth event of the year, she was still saying that a world championship cup was the last thing on her mind. It seemed unfathomable that Tyler was truly indifferent to the title race. How could she be?

But her story remained consistent and her smooth exterior never once betrayed a glory-hungry monster within. So, I started to believe that there wasn’t one.  Continue reading

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Between A Rock and A Hard Place: New York’s Complicated, Cumbersome Surf Scene

Note: This piece was written between September 2010 and December 2012. It’s probably one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written, but it never found a home. If you enjoy reading it, please share.

The Rockstock & Barrels surf competition and music festival returns to the boardwalk at 90th Street in Rockaway, Queens on a sunny Saturday in June. The beach is full of Yankees caps and dyed black hair and intentionally disheveled-looking clothes. Their owners either ride pop-outs or no-expense-spared paragons of craftsmanship; nothing in between. They take to the waves in droves.

“It’s a circus out there on the weekends. It never used to be like this,” confides Rockaway-bred John Gutierrez as he watches hundreds of surfers jockey for chest-high waves.

“You really get everyone,” local Danny Jones says. “You get Wall Street guys that wanna rent soft tops on the weekends and you’ve got hipsters that come down with their freakin’ ripped wetsuits and their weird-shaped boards: ‘Yeah, I shaped it myself, bro.’ Old-timers, young kids…”

“Dailies.” That’s what Rock locals call visitors; interlopers who care little that this is actually someone’s home. At the end of their beach days, the sand is strewn with rubbish: Bottles, cans, you name it. You’ve never seen so much sea glass before.

Danny’s camera bag and lifeguard gear were pilfered from the beach and one of his friends was jumped somewhere in the “lower-numbered streets.” The area between Beach 32nd Street and Beach 84th Street is called Arverne-by-the-Sea. In the early 19th century, this neighborhood consisted mainly of charming (if “flimsy”) beach bungalows. When New York’s Commissioner of Public Works Robert Moses tore down inner-city housing in the mid-20th century, he re-classified Arverne’s summer rentals as year-round homes and moved the displaced residents into them. They were eventually shuffled into public housing projects, and didn’t fare well so far from their jobs. Until recently, most developers ignored Arverne, and what should be some of the most valuable land in the city is largely in tatters. Through much of Rockaway, abandoned beach-front high rises back up to low-income tenements, and many of the people who live in them–within 2,000 feet of the ocean–can’t swim.   Continue reading

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Monday, September 15, 2014. 10:22 p.m. (I think.)

“Do these things work?”

I looked around, surprised. I hadn’t realized that he was talking to me. I looked some more: Tall, teal eyes, nice kicks. He glanced at my phone.

“Oh,” I said. Mobile boarding pass. Right. “Yeah, it should.”

“Okay,” he said, adding, “I don’t fly very much.”

I asked him where he was from, where he was headed.

Seattle (it’s not always rainy), Seattle (he was just visiting his brother)

“Are you flying directly?” I asked.

“I wish. Through San Francisco.”   Continue reading

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The year is new.

Oh, so it is. I’m usually much more on top of my New Year’s posts, but 2013 was one heck of a year and I wasn’t really sure where to start. Then I thought, I’ll just begin with what’s always closest to my heart: the food. (And drink.) And I’m gonna preemptively put a few dollars in the proverbial jar, because I’m about to sound like a… well, maybe just don’t read this if you’re prone to fits of jealous rage. Right, the food…  Continue reading

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