Breakout: Guitars and Surfers
Interview With Surfer/Guitar Maker Kevin Kinnear
Kevin Kinnear is a longtime San Diego County surfer. Some of you may recall seeing Kinnear’s name on the masthead as editor and visionary behind 80s surf magazine BREAKOUT. BREAKOUT magazine helped to awaken a slumbering California surf scene. Kinnear is now a proprietor of Epic Guitars in Carlsbad, California. Many of the beautifully handcrafted guitars are made by surfers. We thought it appropriate to catch up with Kinnear and chat about the old days of BREAKOUT as well as the surfer/guitar maker connection.
Tell us about Breakout magazine, how did it get started?
BREAKOUT was a common vision between me and Guy Motil. It was founded by George Salvador in Carlsbad, actually right here, down the street on State Street in Carlsbad. So I can throw a rock a break the front window of our old building if I want. George started the magazine with his partner Greg Hunter, it was .25 cents, a black and white magazine and he passed it out at the local 7-11s. Guy Motil and I had sort of the same vision at the same time and hooked up a little bit after George started it, but before it went color. Stubbies brought the Stubbies Pro Trials to Blacks in 1979. There had been a huge era of no contests, no professionalism, nothing. I think the last contest was the 1972 amateur contest in Oceanside, that was the last serious event. And we had one pro surfer in Chris O’Rourke. I was all pissed off about the Windansea guys being ignored in the 60s, guys like Jon Close and Andy Tyler and others. So I promised myself that if I ever got the chance to have a voice that I would jump at it. So after this big dead era in California, Guy and I had this idea about resurrecting the California surfer and the California surf scene. Everyone was scattered, due to the draft, everyone was hiding out still. So Stubbies was crazy enough to hold the Pro Trials. They wanted to do it at Windansea first, but then moved it to Blacks, so, from the fire to the frying pan. I knew most of the finalist, Dean Hollingsworth, Jeff Hodges, Richard Kenvin and Mark Brolaski. So, yeah, the time was right for Breakout and a new California era.
You just mentioned perhaps some of the top all-time surfers from San Diego. Here at SURFER we are determining the 50 greatest surfers of all time, but I like to look at it here in my own backyard, and those names you mentioned, RK, Hodgey, Dean Hollingsworth and Jon Close. Wow. Jon Close perhaps the most underrated surfer from San Diego.
Yeah, Jon Close was considered to have the greatest bottom turn at Windansea, other than Barry Kanaiaupuni, who was more of a visitor. John is an incredibly good surfer and an incredible musician; he is one of the best Jazz pianists I’ve ever heard. He’s up in Oxnard now.
As I recall the first issue of Breakout, as a professional surfing scene is flowering, a lot of names come to mind. I think the first issue had a rather blurry photo of Joey Buran from a New Years day swell in 1979, am I right?
Yeah, Joey Buran was pretty much the only hero we had. Of course Joey was from Oceanside. There was also Billy Stang, another great surfer, a guy I knew from surfing at Blacks, sort of an underground guy. Billy went on to be featured in the first big story SURFER did on Puerto Escondido, along with a guy named Mike Smith, who is probably the best jazz guitarist on Kauai right now. Smith rode his Caster fish at Puerto Escondido which was pretty insane. Billy Stang got a nice center spread from Puerto Escondido. After O’Rourke and his unfortunate sickness, in the late 70s, Joey was really our only professional who could crack the international circuit. Then Tommy Curren came along and I did one of his first interviews for Breakout, and by the time Breakout had run its course, Curren was world champion.
Well you mention Curren, and of course lots of name come to mind when I think of that era, guys like Todd Martin, David Barr, Davey Smith, Mike Lambresi, Chris Barela, Kevin Reed…
Well the main thing that we did… and I can thank Craig Stecyk for taking me to see Tony Hawk skate when Tony was probably 12- years old. So exploring the aerial thing early on, Stecyk knew how important that connection was, the aerial connection. And Stecyk turned me on to the skate thing. So there was Davey Smith, Matt Kechlele was probably the first, and Smith, and Kevin Reed, and so we were running that aerial stuff way before the main stream magazines. And we did the first story about Thrusters because Gary McNabb gave me Thruster to take down to Blacks, and right away I just knew that we had radial tires for surfing. So we were on it before the mainstream magazines caught on.
Kevin, you may not now this but back then, in my grom days in Del Mar, we used to call you Jesus, because of the long flowing hair you had.
(laughs) Oh yeah, I learned about that nickname form Steve Sherman. He told me about that recently. Sherman and I and some others reignited the Del Mar Surf club together. And of course you were involved in that, and a lot of others, Baldy (Jeff Baldwin).
Hey, your guitar shop, EPIC guitars, has beautiful handcrafted guitars, many of them produced by surfers. Tell us a bit about that surfer/guitar maker connection?
Well, what is interesting is that guitar makers are exactly like shapers. I love introducing them to each other. They immediately recognize each other as craftsman. The thing is that a lot of people that make guitars can’t play that well. And a lot of times shapers aren’t the best surfers. Of course you do get people like Donald Takayama or Simon Anderson who rip. James Goodall is one of my favorite guitar makers; James is a surfer up in Mendocino. Charlie Carter makes great guitars and Charlie surfs at Windansea. I’m supposed to surf with Pepe Romero Jr. here is Oceanside, and Pepe surfs. He is from the famous Romero guitar quartet. And Celino Romero too. Both surfers. Bruce Wood, from the Santa Barbara area, is making exquisite classical guitars. John Kinnard, who makes guitars out in Fallbrook, he and his friend surf in Carlsbad and have been for about 30-years. It is a natural connection, if the shapers where doing music they’d be making guitars and vice versa. One other surfer is Andy Powers who is a great surfer, surfs big Blacks. There was a picture of him on Surfline during last years big swell, he’s on an 18-foot bomb. Andy is probably the greatest 27-year old guitar maker around; or guitar maker regardless of age. Andy makes insane guitars.
Kevin, thanks for your time, we will stop by the shop and check it out.
Right on Scott, and a shout out, all you guitar players out there, come check us out. The store is a lot of fun–Epic Guitars on State Street in Carlsbad.