If you’ve ever slid your hands down the rails of shiny new semi-gun and mentally compared it to a high-performance supercar, well, you’re not alone. If you’re making that connection while holding a surfboard made by San Francisco’s Julian Hoenig, then the comparison is especially apt. He is without a doubt the best Austrian-born, Audi-trained, Lamborghini-designing surfboard shaper in the history of the world.
Hoenig was born and raised in Graz, Austria, about as charming an old world city as you’re likely to find, but also landlocked smack dab in the middle of central Europe. He rode his first waves on a camping trip to France at age 12. A handful of years later and fresh out of high school, Hoenig bought his first shortboard, threw it in the back of a battered Volvo wagon, pointed the thing west, and spent two glorious months in France learning to surf on the “thinnest and narrowest board I ever bought.”
A sponsored snowboarder as a teenager, the goofyfoot Hoenig nevertheless progressed quickly, and within a few years was spending his summers cruising the coasts of France and Portugal looking for waves.
But it wasn’t all culture-oozing European surf trips for Hoenig. After graduating in 2000 with a Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design from FH Joanneum, a science-focused university in Graz, he caught the attention of luxury carmaker Audi, which sent Hoenig to study automotive design at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena on a full scholarship. Audi’s investment paid off handsomely.
From 2002 to 2008 Hoenig helped design some of Audi’s most revered cars, including the legendary R8—Audi’s low-slung 500 horsepower supercar—as well as Audi’s best-selling A4 model. He also had a hand in making the prototype RSQ, a car that guest starred as Will Smith’s ride in 2004’s sci-fi blockbuster iRobot. After six years at Audi, Hoenig left the company to spend two years as a designer at Lamborghini.
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And, as if you weren’t already feeling horrible about your own life, when he wasn’t designing and test driving Lambos through northern Italy, the globetrotting Hoenig was enjoying Europe’s liberal vacation policies by heading out on multi-week surf trips all over the world.
In 2010, after moving to San Francisco, Hoenig decided to apply his world-class industrial design skills to surfboard building. He’d experimented with making boards as far back as 1998, but his years as a car builder honed his ability to turn complex design theories into practical pieces of high-performance equipment.
“The exterior of a car is a complex singular shape that is aerodynamic, functional, and has to look good,” Hoenig said, in comparing car and surfboard design. “For surfboards, my experience as a designer is really helpful to find the right proportions, the right surface qualities, and the streamlining to perform in the water. I like simplicity and pure shapes, but super refined. Because I’ve been using 3D software for car designs over the years, it was natural to create boards in CAD. Shaping software is a tool just like a planer or handsaw; if you know the tool you can make a good product.”
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Hoenig’s first design, the Lozenge, a squirty little soap bar template, worked great in small summer surf at NorCal beachbreaks. Inspired, he built a few more models, including the robust OB, a full-volume shortboard/semi-gun designed for the bare-knuckled winter peaks at Ocean Beach. This is the Hoenig shape that most evokes the supercar comparison. Refined, clean lines, with horsepower to burn, but luxurious in all the right places. The thing looks fast just sitting on the racks.
Happy with his designs, in 2012 Julian started his own label, Awesome Surfboards, and teamed up with German-born surfer/graphic designer Brian Forstat. The two now make some of the slickest-looking boards in Northern California. Hoenig is also an accomplished visual artist, and the paint jobs of Awesome Surfboards’ visually striking product line reflect his past in industrial design and gallery showrooms.
And of course, like any shaper, he loves testing his handiwork, surfing a few times each week in and around San Francisco and Santa Cruz. He finds time whenever he can to jet off to his favorite spots in Moorea and Bali. Still a newcomer in the hard-to-crack lineups in Northern California, Hoenig’s philosophy in the water and the name of his company harken back his days as a traveling European surfer. “Be awesome to locals, and be an awesome local.”