It’s always nice to meet a fan. A fan of anything really. Someone who finds passion and inspiration in their interests—like comic books, or wine, or yes, even surfboards—will always light up the room. There’s something electric that happens when they speak on the topic. Their eyes go wide. Their hand-jive goes into overdrive and their enthusiasm grabs anyone within earshot and sweeps them up in the current.
As far as surfboard design in San Diego, the Fish is king in stimulating this kind of devotion. And as the design’s spawning grounds, San Diego is crawling with the committed. Recently, Surfermag.com got a chance to sit down with South Coast Surf Shop owner Eric ‘Bird’ Huffman and Surfride Oceanside’s resident board guru Sean Mattison, two of San Diego’s most well-informed and outspoken fans. Meeting to discuss plans for the fifth and final “Fish Fry,” to be held this year on May 7th at the Oceanside Harbor, the two shared their thoughts on the history of the event and explained why it’s important to grill meat and talk boards under the sun.
SURFERMAG.COM: So Bird, the whole Fish Fry idea started with you down here in the Pacific Beach area?
BIRD: Yeah. I had this idea about four years ago when people down here just started to ride Fishes again. Initially, it was meant to be really low-key. The idea came from watching Richard Kenvin surf. Back in the day, he never rode twin-fins. He always rode single-fins, and then he jumped straight into tri-fins, so he’d never really ridden Fishes before. But a few years ago, Mick O’Fleming, a local kid who’s been riding Fishes all his life, he forced RK to borrow one of his boards one day at the Point. And from then on, Richard has been on a quest. And watching him ride the Fish got me really re-invigorated on it, and I just got this idea. I was like, “Hey, let’s have a Fish Fry.” And it wasn’t necessarily about Skip [Frye], but when you get down to it everything in this town is about Skip. So I asked him to come and asked Stevie Lis to come down too, because in my mind he’s pretty much the innovator of the Fish as we know it, the San Diego Fish. And we asked Larry Gephardt, who’s been instrumental in the development of the Fish, with his fins and so forth. And Larry and Steve didn’t come, because that’s just not really their thing, but it turned out to be a great day at the beach. A gathering of people who just wanted to ride Fishes. The sun was out and I brought like five or six of my old boards and it just started to materialize. People just started showing up. It wasn’t publicized at all, it was just a word of mouth deal, but it turned into a really special gathering. Joe Roper came down, and he’s always on top of the pulse of everything. He’s sort of like the mayor around here and he had a bunch of fish meat that he had gotten and he just cooked all day long. All day long man, Roper was on the grill. Fish tacos. We never ran out of fish tacos. And people just kept showing up. It was neat because it all just came together. The concept was nothing more than a good day at the beach and that’s what it was. Bring some boards, eat some food and let people try some things out. RK showed up with these T-shirts that he made and they were just instant classics. He fronted all the costs on the shirts and they were amazing. Really simple with a Fish shape outlined on them and a few sandpipers standing on the board. And they said, “First Annual Fish Fry.” But so much jelled that day. It was just a really special day. It brought people out of the woodwork and it changed a lot of things down here. Certain people started dialoging with people that they hadn’t even met before and it was really like a meeting of the tribes. The exchange of knowledge was amazing and it opened a bunch of people up to riding that kind of board.
SURFERMAG.COM: Were a lot of guys talking about board design and that kind of stuff?
MATTISON: That’s what it’s all about.
BIRD: Absolutely. Sean hit it right in the head there. That is what it’s all about. Heavy design talk. And at the time, four years ago, not that many people were riding Fish. It was still a specialty board. But people got on it and saw what was going on. They picked up on RK’s lead and ran with it. They just realized how applicable the boards are for the kind of waves we have in this area. They jumped on it. And from there, a handful of people just took riding Fish to a new level. Riding it the way it’s supposed to be ridden. Working with the board. Knowing what its limitations are and working within that guideline. And there are a few people, like RK, Daniel Thomson, and Sean here, who can make a Fish do more than most of us can, but they can still ride it in the proper way. Using the rail, setting the rail, using the bottom contour and the keel fins. Using everything that defines the San Diego Fish.
SURFERMAG.COM:Sean, what made you decide to hold a Fish Fry up in Oceanside last year?
MATTISON: Well, my buddy Mike Griffin told me about Bird’s. And surf shops are almost like the pub you know? People come in and talk story and you hear what’s been going on and all that. And I heard about Bird’s Fry, and I was like, “Gosh, that’s so happening.” I was bummed that I missed it because I thought it was just such a cool idea and I was like, “Heck, let’s just do one.” And it was like, “Whoever shows, shows.” And since it was all about celebrating a specific design, I was like, “Why not make it kind of like a car show?” Not so much the commercialism aspect, but more of a thing where people can enjoy the artistry behind it. People get into this stuff.
SURFERMAG.COM:Like a hot-rod kind of thing.
MATTISON: Yeah. And we wanted it to be something where people can not only see where the Fish started but also see where it’s going. And the guys from South County, Bird, they brought some really far out, really cool stuff. And it turned into another great jelling experience. We did it up in Oceanside just because I knew some people were interested in coming from up north, Orange County, and I figured the Harbor is a good middle ground. Plus it’s pretty consistent. There’s tons of parking and bathrooms, and there’s sandbars all down the beach. It turned out great. I mean, I grabbed Bird’s Lis, which was a great board, and then I grabbed a couple others, a Guy Takayama, and I rode my [Michael] Hynson, and it was like a smorgasbord of Fish. We were seeing everybody’s different approaches and renditions of the same theme and were swapping and trading and trying them all. It was never about stealing Bird’s thunder or anything like that. I just thought Bird’s idea was sick, and it turned out to be a really, really good jell.
BIRD: Oh yeah. You took it to a different level. The first Fry was what it was. It was special and it was like when you do anything for the first time in this world. Ride a wave, have a baby, catch a tube, whatever; it was unique. It’s not like we can duplicate that, but what Sean did create was an atmosphere that had the hot-rod mentality he mentioned before. Everybody was out there riding. I brought up a dozen boards, and there were so many other Fishes up there and everybody was riding everybody else’s boards. I ended up giving away my 6′ 9″ to Kevin Naughton, one of my heroes. I’d never met the man before, but he pulled up next to me and he piled out of his truck with his kids and they saw I had all these Fishes, and they helped my carry all the boards down to the beach. So I was like, “Go ahead, pick any board you want. Go ride.” And the dad ended up being Kevin Naughton. I put him on my 6′ 9″ Fish and then ended up just giving it to him. And his son and buddy borrowed a board too and kept them for a while and they were stoked. It was about spreading different ideas about the design. And everybody likes something different about them. Some people like four-fins and some people like them more full. I like mine for what they are. I’m not really that experimental, so it was really neat to see what everybody else was up to. And it was done in a very respectful way. We were included in it. We were sent a really nice invitation by Sean and the boys up north, and they, out of respect, made sure it was OK with us for them to do it, which of course it was. But Sean made sure he had my support.
MATTISON: And I don’t think I’ve ever seen any event where so many shapers and designers were in one place for a specific design. It was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. I mean, you see guys sit and talk at a trade show, but this was real. It was what the surf industry should be about. It was what surfing is about. A surfboard, waves and people.
BIRD:You can get isolated in surfing. Isolated in your favorite spot or board. Isolated by only riding your favorite shaper. And that’s a bad thing. This was a chance for people to break out of that. We had guys who are master shapers, guys who haven’t seen each other in years, having conversations about design with these huge smiles on their faces. And a lot of theories were spoken about that day and put to the test out in the water. All with one goal in mind: The progression of surfing.
MATTISON: And I think surfboard design, in the past, was always changing. It was changing so fast that a lot of really good ideas got passed over or thrown to the curb. So now guys are going back and checking things out and deciding what’s worth re-exploring. And I think, as a whole, surfers are seeing a more panoramic view now. They’re going, “Hey, surfboards are like golf club. There’s a great board for different kinds of waves.” They’re not trying to find that one board for everything.
BIRD: And now, people are taking different pieces of the traditional Fish and going beyond with it. They’re going to another level by experimenting with different wide points and rails and fins. Last year, we saw a lot of that and it was all good. Nobody put anyone else’s ideas down. Nobody was concerned with how authentic the Fish had to be. We had real authentic Fish and then we had everything else that was just as real in its own way. And like Sean said: It’s about realizing there’s no one board. You can pick a board for the conditions or even pick one based on what kind of mood you’re in. People are breaking out of that horrible cookie-cutter mindset that tells you have to ride a Thruster every day. It was like that for a long time, and guys were ripping for sure, but it was really limiting. People thought they were progressing, but to me, it seemed just as stagnant as we were back when we were riding single-fins for too long. Guys were maybe going faster and hitting it harder, but it was like looking at the same painting over and over again, just done in different colors. But once guys started opening up, riding Fishes and all the other different things we have out there, it was like seeing artists use different mediums. And some guys who didn’t surf that well on those other boards are totally coming into their own now. The whole movement has been nothing but a good thing for the industry and people’s surfing. There’s no stigma anymore and it’s been a lot of fun. The Fish Fry celebrates that. And as Sean was saying, I think it’s time for another one.
MATTISON: Yeah. I got this phone call from a guy in Australia, and it ignited my interest again. He had read about it and he wanted to come to the States to participate and that was the ignition switch. We don’t want to play it out. We don’t want to wear it out by doing it over and over and over, but both Bird and I seem to think people want to check it out one more time. So yeah, come down. Bring a slab of fish, bring a grill, bring something to ride. This isn’t about clothing companies or anything like that. It’s about a surfboard, a design, and having fun at the beach.
BIRD: Bring your friends, bring your chicks, bring your boards. Bring anything you want.