[All Photos by Corban Campbell]

There’s always been a posse of rising surfing talent that resides in San Clemente, mostly adolescent rippers who cut their high-performance teeth by throwing tail at T Street and Lowers. However, lately a crew of longboarders from the surf-centric town have been making a lot of noise a stone’s throw south at San Onofre. Numbered among these young style masters in the making is 20-year-old Nick Melanson.

When not casually navigating through the crowd at San O, or on trips with surf cinema luminary, Thomas Campbell, Melanson is mowing foam. We recently rang Melanson, who was actually in the process of shaping a fish with no template when he set the planer down to take the call. “There are a lot of outlines going on,” Melanson chuckled when asked about the board. He didn’t seem too worried, though. After all, Melanson takes a freewheeling approach to most things, and that ethos has worked pretty well for him so far.

Melanson, perched with ten toes over in quintessential California nose-riding fashion.

Melanson greets a blank with a smile.

Give me a Southern California longboarding scene report.

My friends and I are always going down to San O to surf. It's cool because there’s such a wide variety of people there. We find ourselves hanging out with surfers from generations before us and learning from them and also getting inspired by some of the kids younger than us who are just ripping. It's kind of baffling how many good surfers are in the water now. But San O's definitely getting more and more crowded. If you go there on a weekday and it's kind of nice out, chances are there's a line of cars waiting to get in.

Riding a longboard is such an accessible thing. You don't need that much swell. There are guys doing backflips and getting spat out of double-overhead tubes on shortboards, which is rad, but if you're longboarding, you don't have to wait for those types of conditions to have an insane session. You can go surf on any given day and have fun with your friends by making the most out of little 1- to 2-foot waves. It's a pretty special thing not having to stress out if there's swell coming or not. Obviously swell is something to look forward to, but when you ride a log, you're not dependent on it.

You were on a thruster and doing contests as a grom right?

Yeah, Riding a shortboard is how I got brought into surfing. My parents were super into the family-oriented scene of the contests, and wanted me in some sort of competitive activity. There were kids that were brought into that scene way earlier than me that had coaches and stuff. I was never on the same level as they were.

I got into making boards when I was 14—that kind of boosted my progression into riding different boards. My buddy had a snapped longboard that the glass came off of. It was a 4'8" blank with no rocker. It was too small for him so he asked me if I wanted to make something tiny out of it. I said, "Sure!" So I put it on some auto racks, because my dad works in the automotive repair industry, and with just a sanding block started hacking away at the thing. I couldn't turn away from it and just had to keep doing it, it was way too fun.

I was only shaping really small boards until I rode my friend's longboard at Lowers and I was like, "Oh my god, this is insane!" I couldn't believe how fun it was. That one wave on a log at Lowers opened my mind that anything can be fun to surf on.

Mid nose-ride, Melanson calculates the next section.

Melanson and friends retreat from Sano to a more secluded locale where amenities include a beachside pool.

14 is pretty young to shape a board. I feel like most 14-year-olds are dead set on catching as many waves as they can, not clocking time in the shaping bay. What sparked that interest?

My buddy, Gunner Day, has an uncle who makes boards. I got a board from him and he was going over all the details of it with me and I was like, "How do you make something look so symmetrical and perfect?" He was the first person to tell me, "If you're making a board with your hands, it's impossible to make it completely perfect. It might look perfect to the eye but there are imperfections in it." I was like, "No way! That can't be true." After that, he was always down to work with me on boards and made a couple more for me.

Hang’n heels.

Trudging up the beach with a self-shaped log, fine-tuned with craftsman Travis Reynolds and colored by fine artist Thomas Campbell, Melanson gets by with a little help from his friends.

Tell me about that trip you took to Mexico with Travis Reynolds and Thomas Campbell, didn’t you all collaborate on a board?

That trip was amazing. Travis and I finished shaping a board and Thomas was like, "Dude, you want me to paint it?" I was like, "Yeah! Please! Do whatever you want on it!" He pretty much just did a complete free-flow piece of art. We got to get down and dirty in the lam room and just made that board happen.

What inspired the design of that board?

I was surfing with Alex Knost one day at Blackies and we ended up hanging out at his house after the session. He has this gigantic stack of boards in his backyard—Bonzers, single fins, there had to have been 30 boards in the stack, all different types. He remembered that he had a log at the bottom of the pile that was completely hidden. He reached down and grabbed this diamond-tail pig shape that was super thin and foiled. He was like, "Dude, give this thing a go! It's too small for me, you should try it." Ellis Ericson had shaped that board for Alex and I later found out that it's the only log Ellis has ever shaped. That board ended up becoming the only board I was riding at the time. It went insane, I fell in love with it and it kind of changed my whole perspective on Longboard design.

That board became the inspiration for what I shaped down in Mexico on that trip with Thomas Campbell. I just tried to put my own spin on it. Travis Reynolds helped me out with it, which I was really stoked on. We were trying to figure out how to improve it, put our own flare on it and make it better for California style waves—softer stuff.

I saw Ellis at Thalia Surf Shop for the premier of his and Andrew Kidman's film, "On the Edge of a Dream." Ellis was like, "Alex told me he gave you that longboard I shaped. Do you still have it?" I was like, "Yeah, I have it in my car. I ride it everyday." He couldn't believe it and that's when he told me it was the only longboard he ever shaped. He had me go grab the board so he could show Kidman. We were all looking at the board and Ellis was like, "I kind of want this board back." But I still got it.

Melanson’s Thomas Campbell-painted board, as good a spot as any to dry a pair of trunks—in this case a new Vissla creation made from upcycled coconut husks.

You went on a trip to Costa Rica with Alex Knost and Jared Mell for Thomas Campbell's next movie, right?

Yeah, I really had no idea what a trip like that was like or how monumental it would be for me. I was baffled by how special of a place Costa Rica is. The first day, we jumped out of the boat and we were paddling all this camera equipment to shore, like big tripods and backpacks and stuff. I was really trying to not fuck up any of Thomas' equipment and didn't even notice the surf. When I finally got to the sand I turned around and saw the waves and they were perfect, offshore and beautiful. Then I saw Jared Mell hanging heels while holding a tripod over his shoulder on his way in. He was soul arching and it was just an insane first wave of the trip, and we were just unloading gear. We ended up surfing for like five or six hours right off the bat, no sunscreen, just absolutely fried.

I paddled in to talk to Thomas and told him I couldn't believe how insane it was out there. He was just like, "You're surfing like a grom. Conservative. You're catching all these waves—stop, wait for the best one and then just go for it—balls to the wall. None of that conservative shit. Don’t surf like a grom." I was so caught off guard. It was rad though because that trip kind of changed my view on everything, now I just try to go for it every time.