At the end of a long, narrow hallway with a bare concrete floor, in a small warehouse on South Cleveland Street in Oceanside, California, Gary Linden is shaping a surfboard. This one is a fish, with parabolic stringers running along the rails, and Linden’s hand moves easily over the foam, giving it a final sanding before it goes off to be glassed.
The 57-year-old is wearing a worn Social Distortion T-shirt the band’s guitarist gave to him after he shaped him a board. Not exactly the surf shop T-shirt you’d expect to see on an older local shaper. Foam dust lingers in Linden’s curly gray hair and about an inch rests on the floor. In fact, foam dust seems to coat just about everything in the vicinity. Old surf posters cling to the walls, peeling at the corners, and everything seems to be in a state of organized disarray. The smell of resin hangs heavy in the air.
The 57-year-old is wearing a worn Social Distortion T-shirt the band’s guitarist gave to him after he shaped him a board. Not exactly the surf shop T-shirt you’d expect to see on an older local shaper.
Gary Linden has been making surfboards for 40 years, 30 of which have been spent in this very building. He was on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) board of directors for 16 years and served as president for three. He has judged contests around the world and also served as contest director of the Red Bull Big-Wave Africa for eight of its nine years, including this one. And when Clark Foam closed its doors in December 2005, Linden became general manager at Walker Foam, increasing production from 50 blanks a week to 500 over Christmas vacation, just so they could help supply the industry need for blanks. With all that behind him now, Linden is finally revisiting his shaping roots.
“When most of us started out we didn’t know it was a business,” he says. “I just thought, ‘This is fun, gotta do something.’ But there’s a lot of pressure running a small business, so it takes the fun out of making surfboards if you constantly do it.”
Sitting on a balsa surfboard bench in his retail shop, listening to him describe his accomplishments, it’s clear that Linden has paid his dues. His business is modest despite his reputation, but only because he took time away from it to pursue other avenues in the surf industry and those are experiences he wouldn’t trade. He knows doing more sales would help, but Linden’s not the type to schmooze. All he wants to do is have a job making surfboards.
“I have a house in Brazil and I’m getting to the point in my career where I can take a little time off to go there. I can walk to the beach and go surfing in the morning, come home and eat lunch, and walk up to where I have a shaping room. Somebody brings me a blank, I shape it and they pay me. I can make surfboards and surf, and live that organic lifestyle where it’s not really a business. That really inspires me, and I can bring it back into my work. That perpetuates new designs, new materials, and pushes me forward.”
Linden stands up and walks over to the rack of boards against the far wall, gently selecting a board and pulling it into view. “What I’m really excited about are my parabolic, stringer-on-the-rail boards,” he says, pointing out the two wooden lines following the curve of the board.
“By having the stringer on the rail, you’re actually using the stringers as a turning tool. So if the stringer’s in the middle, it’ll flex and release, but it won’t do it in the direction you’re going. By putting it on the rail, as you go into a turn, it bends with the wave and the pressure you’re applying. It loads up and releases and shoots you in the direction your turning.” Linden’s eyes are sparkling. “The first turn I made on one, I went, ‘Oh! For 40 years I’ve been putting the stringers in the wrong place, and now I’m not!’” His excitement is palpable, and his face has given way to the laugh lines mapping his surf-weathered skin. Clearly, to him, this is a big deal and the smile is contagious.
Linden gently replaces the board and walks to the rack on the opposite wall, reaching for a big-wave gun. This board however, isn’t foam.