Field Notes from a Surfboard Expo

Sacred Craft Descends on Santa Cruz

Two connoisseurs inspect a flawless example of surfboard design from Santa Cruz. One of the beauties of Sacred Craft is that it's a very hands-on weekend. Photo: Ellis

I went to the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo in Ventura last year, and I was truly impressed. Not by glitz and glam and the polished marketing campaigns that the surf industry is getting better and better at creating with each passing retail season, but by the dirt-under-the-nails realness of the community of craftspeople who design and build what we stand on in the happiest moments of our lives. It was awesome to wander from booth to booth, talking dimensions, tails, materials, and fin configurations.

A rainy day didn't keep people away. Photo: Ellis

But what Sacred Craft Ventura lacked, I thought, was a crowd. Maybe the venue just made it seem that way, or maybe Ventura was just too far for people from Los Angeles, the OC, and San Diego to travel to, but I left wishing more people had been there to get a whiff of the cured resin in the air. So when I rolled up to the first day of Sacred Craft Santa Cruz on a rainy Saturday morning, the nine enthusiasts waiting in line for the doors to open at 10 a.m. made me think the show would be similarly under-attended. I was wrong.

As the day passed the crowd grew, and by lunchtime on Day One it was hard to walk the aisles as attendees spilled out of the booths of shapers, artists, and accessory companies. The stormy weather probably made a day inside seem more appealing to Central Californians, but I don't think that's what lured surfers indoors this past weekend. The shaping bays, where live shaping demos are put on by master craftsmen like Pat Rawson, Bill "Stretch" Reidel, and Mark Angell, were swarmed by crowds craning their necks to get a view of how the legends work their Skil planers over a polyurethane blank. As Haut shaper Ward Coffey made sanding passes up and down the rails of a glistening white blank on Sunday afternoon, the grandstands took on the energy of a Wimbledon final--heads moving silently from left to right and back then finally erupting in applause and whistles as Coffey finished his final pass and raised his sanding block in victory.

Stretch takes center court. Photo: Patterson

As a SoCal native, I couldn't help but be struck by the duality of California as I walked the show. South of Santa Barbara, commercialism and pro surfer worship is much more prevalent, but north of Rincon the surf scene becomes far less focused on the business of surf, prioritizing instead the act of surfing in a rugged ocean environment. Instead of taking the kids to the latest Pixar blockbuster, it was great to see so many families spending their morning appreciating the craft of surfboard building.

As we packed up the SURFER booth on Sunday, I caught myself thinking ahead to a future in which Sacred Craft shines with the same polish that's been applied to the rest of the surf industry and wondering if I'd miss the dirt under the nails and the empty aisles.

Click here to see our full gallery from the Sacred Craft in Santa Cruz