Justin Quintal is a Florida Man. Though not the kind that gets sensationalized via the news media or memes; the kind that drunkenly wields an alligator to terrorize a convenience store.
The Jacksonville based surfer is the kind of Florida Man who knows when predatory fish—Tarpon, Redfish—are chasing mullet (the baitfish not the hairstyle); the kind who is licensed to hunt game from a canoe; and the kind who froths hard on Atlantic hurricane season surf.
Born and raised in the Sunshine State, Quintal has done much to keep Florida's surf scene in the limelight. His prowess on all manner of surf craft and standout performances as a perennial invitee to Joel Tudor's globetrotting longboard competitions (he's won seven Duct Tape Invitationals) fit with a long tradition of Florida-based surfers exceeding expectations among and against surfers from places thought to have better surf. He's also used his platform to acknowledge the history of surfing in his native North Florida, posting interviews with and profiles of prominent Florida surfers from bygone eras on the website of his board brand, Black Rose MFG.
So in late September, when Tudor and company brought the Duct Tape Festival to St. Augustine (roughly 30 miles south of Quintal's home base of Jax Beach), the Vans team rider made for an apt representative of what’s cool about surfing in the Florida. While the festivities were underway, we caught up with the multifarious board riding Florida Man, Quintal, and asked him about the ways in which his native region cultivates a distinctive brand of surfer and the state of surfing in the Sunshine State, today.
Do you think Florida breeds a unique kind of surfer? In what ways are you a different kind of surfer because you grew up where you did?
It's funny, yeah. When I was younger, I was into fishing, but since I only had my bike I would bike to surf and go surfing just wherever I could bike to. But, starting at an early age, I knew about the FWC [Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission]'s giving these licenses that are like "Florida Sportsmen" or "Florida Sportsmen Gold." Those are for everything—all your fishing licenses, all your hunting licenses, freshwater, salt water. I think I actually found out about those from getting busted paddling into the Intracoastal and fishing from a canoe. But anyway, the older I've gotten the more of an appreciation I've gotten for that idea of a Florida Sportsman. We have all these seasons that are massively different, depending on the region, for fish and bird migration. You go down south and the water is crystal-clear blue in the Gulf Stream where it comes within two miles of Lantana, then up here its brown water and the Gulf Stream is 60 miles offshore [in northeast Florida]. What I'm getting at is that Florida is a really diverse and wild place and if you put in the time, it can really provide some unique experiences.
It's so much more than going fishing or going hunting, though. It's paying attention to the changes in water temps, the weather. It's really similar to surfing in that way. It all ties together. A lot of times I'm traveling with my surfboards and my fishing poles. There's been days where I've been duck hunting in the morning, surfed, drove to Ricky [Carroll]'s factory to pick up boards, then drove back and gone fishing all within a 12-hour span. Florida just has so much to offer.
You've also studied the history of surfing in this state, especially Northeast Florida. You've made a point to spend time with local legends like Larry Miniard, Dickie Rosborough, Bruce Clelland, and others. You've even written about these guys on the Black Rose MFG. blog. Why is it important to you to connect with these people and to share their stories with others?
They are such a significant part of the growth of surfing in this area, so I think people need to know about them. But on a personal level, each one of them has this crazy wealth of knowledge that I want to tap into. These guys have seen all the changes that North Florida has gone through. They've travelled and have a lot of knowledge about surf history in general. And they have a lot of cool stories. I always take something away when I hangout with them. It gives me a better understanding of where I come from, which I think is important for the surf community here. So many people that surf here don't know much about our history. I want to help share these legends’ stories so kids can see where they come from and let them know where they fit in. Or so if you see one of these guys paddle out, just fucking give them a wave. They've been surfing here for 50 years. You have to show respect. I think places I've been to in Hawaii and California have that respect for elders, but we're still learning here. It's not localism, it's just being cool and having respect.
What's your theory on why so many good surfers come out of Florida despite the state's reputation for having sub-par surf?
I think being able to surf bad waves, your reflexes have to be quicker, faster. I also think our waves break faster. In California the waves feel so slow. I always find myself [when I visit California], the first two days or so, having to adjust. I think it's easier to slow down than speed up.
But [in Florida] you're also forced to surf every kind of condition if you want to surf everyday. Like Joel said, people who have good waves all the time can get lazy. I love perfect, groomed points as much as anyone. But I also find a lot of enjoyment and creativity in imperfect conditions.
Still, there's definitely world class waves here. When it's firing here, there's nowhere I'd rather be.
What did you shape for the Duct Tape Festival this time around? And how would you rate your comfort level in the shaping bay?
I made a 5'10 twin-pin and a 7'8 mid-length kind of displacement hull thing. I did them both at the Surf Source in Atlantic Beach. I did the 5'10 based off a Greg Loehr shape from the '70s I have. I wanted to pay homage to him. It's one of the funnest boards I've ever had—way ahead of its time. Greg Loehr was just so innovative. Then, the other board I did was based off of Joel's Santana Model, which is a really fun board. It's not a displacement hull, but the bottom contour is similar. The fin box is further back than where somebody who is into displacement hull-aficionados would place it. I gave it a rounded, kind of Skip Frye egg nose, which is different than the Santana's longboard nose.
As far as my comfort level. I love going into the shaping bay. I want to get better. I'm pretty bad at using the power tools. Not so much that I'm afraid of them, it's just the planer is really hard to use. I would never consider myself a shaper. That's something that annoys me a little bit. There are a lot of people nowadays who might shape a couple of boards and then slap a logo on there and say, "OK, I'm a shaper now." I know for the guys I look up to, they would never have called themselves shapers until they'd shaped a good amount of boards by hand—until you really knew what the fuck you're doing. It's disrespectful to the people who came before you.
But, at the same time, it's great that it seems like more people are getting into shaping boards. Just don't call yourself a shaper until you've put in the time.
There's a lot of good, young longboarders in Northeast Florida now. What's the state of logging in the Sunshine State?
Honestly it's pretty amazing. The last few years all these young guys who were surfing good before have started to come into their own. Each one with their own style. It seems really sudden. The Conklins [brothers, Patrick and Ryan] are killing it. They're shaping their own boards and getting really good at it. They just spent a ton of time out to California. And Saxon Wilson went out there, too. They were living out of vans. That's the first thing I did when I graduated high school—pack up a van and head to California for a month. It's important, if you want to make surfing a way of life, you have to go have new experiences and immerse yourself in surf culture. So, I'm stoked they are really going for it. Besides Saxon and the Conklins, there're the Larsons [sisters, Zoe and Mia] and Pat Nichols who is from South Florida, but lives in North Florida now. But yeah, there are a ton of great longboarders. I'm excited to see how much better they can get.