Haut and About: Santa Cruz Shaping Legend Doug Haut
The shop doesn’t have a computer or e-mail. There’s a cash register, but it’s just used to store money — all sales transactions are done on a calculator.
No one at the Haut Surf Shop has seen its namesake in a day and a half.
Saturday mornings, Doug Haut, 65, takes a break from shaping in the back and hangs out in the shop’s showroom, chatting with customers about boards and waves and generally holding court with a gruff sort of amusement.
This Saturday, a forgotten acquaintance from Haut’s alma mater, Los Altos High School, came in to see him. The guy, now living in Idaho, came in the day before, too. No Haut then, either.
Last time manager Jeff Langston saw Haut, he was either going fishing or going surfing.
“But that was the day before yesterday,” says Langston.
By the time Haut rolls in to the shop in his dusty old Chevy pickup, happily operating on an unknown schedule of his own rhythm, the guy from Idaho is gone.
“Oh well,” shrugs the shaper. He has little patience for idolatry, and though this year marks his 40th shaping boards, he can’t be much bothered with nostalgia, either.
“All artists walk to the beat of a different drum,” says Langston. “Doug is big-hearted and the gentlest guy, but he has the persona of ‘take no prisoners.’”
For Haut, it’s clear: the past is the past. He only wants to go one way: forward.
The Haut shop is a throwback, housed since 1969 in a low, rambling building with a dirt and gravel lot that’s typically dotted with salt-corroded pickups and vans loaded with surf gear. As you walk in the door, you’re smacked with the potent, surf-industrial smell of resin, redolent of chemicals and promise.
Haut’s is perhaps the last retail shop in the country that also manufactures surfboards, or one of the few left, according to Richard Novak, a longtime friend of Haut’s and owner of NHS Inc., the parent company of Santa Cruz Surfboards.
“It used to be standard, but it isn’t anymore,” says Novak. “It’s just hard to get bureaucratic approval to open up lamination shops, polyester shops.”
After you get accustomed to the resin vapors, the next thing you realize is that you’re not going to find bikinis, high-tech tide watches or Indo Boards at the Haut shop. It’s a no-frills kind of place for a core segment of the surf community. There are a few modest racks of T-shirts on the threadbare carpet, faded surf photos and articles tacked up to the walls, some wetsuits and assorted wax and ding repair kits under the glass counter. Then, toward the back, new and used longboards, shortboards, Fishes and hybrids are stacked up in order of height like nesting dolls.
And, in perhaps one of the most stunning bits of accounting in the surf industry, Haut’s wife, Suzie, and various shop employees over the years have penciled detailed payroll records into ledger books dating back to the 1960s of each job performed by whom on each board Haut has designed, who has bought it and for how much. The 2005 book was up to board number 25,828.
“When I first saw a Haut board, the light bulb went off,” says Mike Wasch, who’s been glassing for Haut for 28 years and has worked in the industry for 37. His tennis shoes bear the colorful drippings of his work, like wax over a wine-bottle candelabra. “Like, this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Haut’s influence can’t be overstated in Santa Cruz, where his surfboards are standard in lineups up and down the county coastline. But Haut boards are also available all along the West Coast, on the Eastern seaboard and in Rhode Island and Texas. And he sells a lot of longboards in Japan.
“I have a little cult following there,” chuckles Haut, blue eyes crinkling at the edges.
He’s also head of the creative team that designs boards for Santa Cruz Surfboards and is a featured shaper for Surftech.
“He’s always been at the cutting edge of the most current stuff, from longboards all the way through all the eras till now,” says longtime Santa Cruz surfer and shaper Ward Coffey, who shaped out of Haut’s shop for six years in the ’90s.
Haut’s versatility sets him apart.
“He can do a shortboard or longboard,” says Novak. “A lot of shapers are limited to certain things. Doug covers all the bases and is always open to learning how to do new things.”
But in this era of pre-shaped blanks, the main thing that distinguishes Haut is that he’s one of just a handful left who design from raw foam.
“He’s one of the last true sculptors of foam art,” says Novak.
Haut started his career by making his own boards after he began surfing in Santa Cruz in 1957. Soon after, he made his first trip to the North Shore, eventually landing under the wing of famed late surfer and shaper Mike Diffenderfer. From there, he made some for friends and slowly built a steady clientele.
As a 40th anniversary celebration, Haut is building two sets of collector boards: Twenty-five classic multi-stringer longboards with wood tailblocks and other features priced at $1,200, and 10 traditional balsa longboards for $3,500.
Even after a career that’s spanned four decades, though, Haut says he still feels like a student.
“There’s just so much to learn,” says the shaper, a medium-tall man with a white goatee who’s typically seen wearing a Santa Cruz baseball cap. “I’d say you never stop learning. New techniques, new designs, everything’s evolving constantly.”
As a result of Haut’s longevity, many of his old boards are hot collector items. Recently, a board of his from 1966 or ’67 sold on eBay for $9,500, says Haut. According to Langston, people have been coming into the shop to buy 40th anniversary logo T-shirts and immediately putting them in plastic baggies for safekeeping.
But true to form, Haut’s not having any part of the whole “living legend” thing.
“It’s just bullshit,” he fumes. “Give me a break.”
SURFBOARDS TO MOTHERBOARDS
Despite his stance as a traditional artist and craftsman, in the past few years Haut’s been designing boards on his home computer, and he says it’s opened up new horizons for him.
“That’s given me a shot in the arm,” says Haut.
Recently he spent time with Eric Arakawa in Hawaii picking up some new computer-design tips.
At this point, Haut would like to go further into custom shaping — he’s developing a Web site to drive custom orders, hoping to have it up by the end of summer — and do more design work for other companies.
A classic surfer, though, Haut balances hard work with a healthy amount of R&R. He says he’s been in a state of semi-retirement his whole life.
“I work really hard, probably harder than anyone,” says Haut, “but I play really hard. I’ll worry about the wheelchair later.”
His second love, he says, is fly-fishing, a pastime that puts him into a Zen-like state. He likes angling for the bigger fish, mainly striper, steelhead salmon and dorado.
“I don’t think about surfboards, and I love being around moving water — rivers, lakes,” says Haut. “I think about things, contemplate things.”
Still, life and business are never without their challenges.
Haut’s greatest challenge over the years has probably been competing against low-cost garage shops, says Novak. And he’s got a very good customer base, but it’s a task to keep that base.
Recently, Haut was playing with his daughter’s dog, a 110-pound Rottweiler, and the pet accidentally tumbled him and twisted his knee. He’s got a torn meniscus and is considering surgery. But that hasn’t kept him out of the water.
“I’ve got a knee brace,” says Haut. But true to his stoic nature, he’s not even wearing that anymore.
Haut, says pro surfer Sean Petersen, who surfs for Santa Cruz Surfboards, is just getting better with age.
“He’s still cross-stepping,” says Petersen, “so that’s what counts.”
Gwen Mickelson is the surf columnist for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.