Harbour makes the claim that their Seal Beach shop is the world’s oldest continually operating board manufacturing location.
Rich Harbour, the name behind the brand, started shaping boards back in 1959 so no matter the validity of their historical claim, they play a major role in California surf history.
Today the shop has artifacts scattered around the walls, on shelves, and hanging from the ceiling. It also has new boards on the racks, being shaped in the back, and available online. The place is not a museum but a functioning shop.
It is crowded with tourists and surfers, the two not being mutually exclusive, parking is tight, but you should visit.
There are three Mollusk shops, Venice, santa Barbara, and the original in San Francisco.
They are all pretty much the same look, same stock, and same vibe, but without feeling contrived or templated.
At least not compared to the big chains or the more corporate shops with posters of sponsored riders on the walls.
This place has a weird octagonal clubhouse high up on one wall and the other wall is painted with some sort of stylized lion that is drawn to look crude but not exactly childish.
The pallet is all light wood, tan, and muted tones- which did make me wonder a little bit if this place was made for surfers or the sort of suburban instagram mom who wears tall leather boots a chunky poncho and broad brimmed hat while out grabbing a Starbucks.
I would say that woman would fit in here visually, but I don’t care because those Danny Hess surfboards are works of art.
Hobie opened their first surf shop in 1954, claiming to be the first in Southern California.
Hobie Alter had long been making surfboards in his garage, but with this new dedicated location Hobie the man, and the brand, stepped things up.
Hobie played a major role in not just shaping boards, but in the many ways the boards themselves shaped surf culture. Hobie helped pioneer the transition from balsa wood to foam and had a hand in shifting surfing from a local culture to a global image.
Much of how the world views California, is just a reflection of Hobie.
At the Dana Point shop you can watch a board being shaped and stand browse the history hanging from the rafters… then buy a Burton shacket and a pair of Quicksilver shorts.
In my (limited) experience, surf shops trend toward either a shopping mall version of an imagined White California, or a museum centered on a 1950’s shaper sprinkled with global brand clothing items (Quiksilver, Billabong, whatever). Not Album. Album is a functional art gallery.
I’m not good enough to ride any of their art nor am I smart enough to understand the science of how they work, but I know what looks good. Those boards look great.
They have somehow found that sweet spot between a late 80’s T&C Thrilla Gorilla and a prop branded by Prada that no serious surfer would ever be seen on. I don’t know enough real surfers to speak to what “they” think of Album but I do not care.
Its like how I don’t need to know real artists to like Van Gogh or know real musicians to like D’Angelo. I like Album.
A Kook is, but is not only, a person who is bad at surfing.
There are a million ways and reasons to be bad at surfing, but one of the kookiest, is to have no clue as to what you are doing wrong.
Perhaps the most kooky thing, is to make no effort to learn what one is doing wrong, yet continue surfing.
I am a kook.
I don’t want to be one, but there is so much I don’t know, that it will take a lifetime for me to get half a clue. That is my best-case scenario; one half clue.
I’m putting in an honest effort but there are obstacles.
I’m not a real athlete, I’m more of a beast. In other words I’m more made for smashing and lifting than I am for balancing or doing anything at a high speed. Or a medium speed. Or anything involving the word speed.
2. I need to lose 50 pounds. I require a lot of buoyancy to counteract my displacement to equal gravitational force. In other words, It takes a lot to make me float. Maximum displacement does not improve surfing. But more than that, surfing requires a lot of paddling and other things that resemble physical activity and at least 50 pounds of me are in no way helping. Those 50 pounds are the guy who lives on the couch, eats from your fridge, but doesn’t pay bills.
3. I live in Rancho Kookamonga. Kook is in the name of the place. No, it is not really spelled that way, and no, the word itself isn’t REALLY the problem, but the geography is. I am at least an hour away from the beach with no traffic. Everywhere in California has traffic, and gas is expensive.
4. Money. It would be nice if I had more money, or if things related to me surfing didn’t cost as much money. I’d be happy with either solution, but as it stands gas, road tolls, wetsuits, surfboards, and TIME are prohibitively expensive. I have found ways to scrounge out some time (for now), tolls come in small bite sized chunks, but that board. I currently ride on the homemade generosity of an older board that has been beat up almost as much as me, it weighs as much as me, and while it currently helps get my oversized self upright on a wave, it pretty much only allows that. And I’m not sure how much longer it can handle this one job. Surfboards, the ones big enough for me, are expensive.
5. I’m getting old. Not just older, but I am solidly closer to old than young. I make friends with retired people. There are things my body could once do, that it no longer can, and when I try it hurts. Things always hurt. It doesn’t matter what I do, the pain just sort of shifts around depending on the activity.
6. Excuses. The idea that the board, or my geography, or the tides, are why I’m not a good surfer, are excuses that don’t really hold water (though unfortunately the board does indeed take on water). I should just eat less. I should find ways to earn, or save, more money. Eating less might help that. I think if I ate less I could be more of an athlete. I have known these aforementioned things long enough to have done something about them yet this list remains up to date.
But mostly I just want a new board. A magical one. One that would make me better.
And that is why I am a kook.
Because of 1 through 6, plus this last bit…
I intend to persist.
I can’t help it. I’m stuck. I’m snakebit. I’m stoked. Addicted. Hooked. I’m no good at it and it is still fun. It is fun every time. It is hard every time and once I think I have improved, something proves me wrong.
And I have fun.
So I will be there this Saturday morning as the sun comes up. I will be trying to get better but battleships are hard to turn even when they have an able Captain.
I have an epic tale to tell, which I won’t get to now, but I must report a part.
The gigantic surfboard was crafted long ago in a Hawaiian garage, meant to carry a large man through the foamy tides of heaven. As the craftsman finished his work he looked up and saw that the night’s crescent had set, giving way to morning, and feeling a wave of inspiration grabbed a pen and gave the board its name- “Half Moon Gone”.
Despite being loved, Half Moon Gone had been retired to a Californian garage where it sat unsalted, replaced by other professionally crafted boards called “custom”.
One day Zeus with his custom craft, observed the ambition of an overweight Icarus struggling to fly on a board Zeus declared much too small for one with such oversized ideas. Deity had compassion on this mortal as he reached into the garage of his heart and dusted off Half Moon Gone, and he gave it me.
With this new board I began to fly.
The two of us, Half Moon Gone and I, looked like the love child of a turkey and condor. A most glorious wingspan centered on a total mess. A happy, soggy, salty, mess.
As this mess began growing feathers it became evident the wings needed a little upkeep. I climbed mount Google, presented an offering in the temple YouTube, then religiously, devoutly, applied sealant, sandpaper and paint.
Half Moon Gone was on its way from Condor to Phoenix. And I was ready to climb aboard and soar to the sun.
The final step required some inter-religious multi-cultural cross pollination, which in retrospect may have been the root of the problem. I left Olympus and submitted a request to the North Pole’s Saint Nick. I asked for a specialized altar allowing me to mount Half Moon Gone atop my car and the fat man, giggling, gave me one gift on which I could carry another.
I was happy. I was ambitious. I was ready.
But over on another peak, in Rancho Kookamomga, feeling ignored, was Santa Ana.
He watched me wake before the sun rose, scoffing as I placed Half Moon Gone upon its altar.
He let me get 25 miles down I-15 before he waved his hand and ripped the entire rack off the roof of my car, sending Half Moon Gone, with the rack still attached,
Brian Bent is not pretending or acting. He is what, and whom, he presents himself to be. And he is great.
What he presents, is a hot-rodding rockabilly surfer circa 1968, or maybe 1953, I can’t pin down exactly when. You can find images of him all over the internet riding a checkered surfboard while wearing a striped shirt and captain’s cap, ya know, like the one Thurston Howell III wore on Gilligan’s Island.
The pics look great. But what is even better, is that on any given day you can easily run into Brian out in the lineup at Doheny or San Onofre, and he will look exactly like he does in those photos, and he will ride that log for all its worth. He can surf.
When he is done he will haul that log into the parking lot, load it onto a homemade hot rod, and head home to paint.
His paintings are what first caught my attention.
People have been paying attention to his art for decades. He is not new. His work is a loose mix of what appears to be fashion illustration, shapes, and storytelling. He renders spindly stylized characters like you might imagine would exist if Jack Skellington targeted the world of Gidget. He made a splash back in the 80’s when he was designing the interiors of the Becker surf shops and his work was eventually picked up by galleries. He has been and still is, producing.
Producing as in continually creating. Making. All sorts of stuff.
I met Brian as he and his wife were headed from the beach back to their car. I was (still am) just some soggy kook in a wetsuit hollering “Hey Brian” and they stopped and graciously listened as I told Brian I loved his art. He was gracious. They were nice.
Then last weekend he opened up his home for a “garage sale” and Mrs. Hammas and I went to check it out. The Bents were exactly as they appeared at the beach, super gracious, and their home is the best representation of a stylized life I have ever seen. They execute a designed life to perfection.
In front of their modest sized house is a teal, tailfinned car with anchors painted on the cab, then three steel home-made hot rods, and of course all the vehicles are outfitted to carry a surf board. In the garage are tools upon tools and a quiver of hand painted longboards next to a pile of banged up single tailed skateboards.
The house is a collection of mid-mod vignettes made up of furniture, instruments, and art. Skatalites played on a record player, easy going people not wearing shoes milled about the kitchen, and the Bents appeared sincerely happy we were there. They showed us around, shared a bit about their life, and went out of their way to make us feel comfortable.
And I was. Thanks to them.
This comfort came largely from the Bent’s authenticity. The 60’s, or 40’s for that matter, are long gone and most of us do not dress or design a life like the Bent’s so it might be natural to assume they might be a little… weird. Or act eccentric. But they don’t. They are, again, normal. In the best possible way. In the way that makes a person a real person rather than a performance. In a way that makes Brian a master of style rather than a relic.
Brian is not living in the past, he is living in style.
Scott saw me gawking through the open door and invited me in. The studio isn’t in a general retail space, situated upstairs from a real estate agent, but he didn’t appear all that surprised to see a visitor. I suspect it happens regularly.
Scott Richards runs, or rather is, a company that produces hand painted nautical flags denoting the West Coast’s favorite surf spots. I asked him if he considered these triangular canvas flags nautical, or if they are pennants, and he just shrugged. That sort of technicality, or rather strict terminology, does not appear to be his concern. He rather offhandedly added that he would suppose they are pennant like in their one sidedness but nautical in their construction, which tells me he has thought all of this through, he is not flippant, just casual and unconcerned. What is important is that he makes them, and that people, including himself, like them.
I like them too.
Scott went to art school and came out as a “visual communicator, the air quotes were all his. He went on to work with all the cool kids at the cool companies, Quiksilver et all, but has now decided to spend his time just making cool stuff. Less corporate, more making, and if you wander around his studio space, because he will let you do that, it is obvious that this guy is tactile. Little knick-knacks and block prints fill all the open spaces on shelves and in corners, objects and made images, the sorts of things that aren’t ads, but advertisers work hard to incorporate. This place isn’t so much projecting an “image” but is very much making the base level stuff on which images are built. It is hard not to love it. All of it.
We chatted a bit about art, about surfing (how I’m really bad at it), and a bit about business. He is doing a National Park series, all sorts of custom orders, it looked like things are going great but mostly they just seemed relaxed and happy. I left appreciating not just what Scott Makes, but enjoying the whole thing. Scott’s studio, the company, the company he keeps, the way he goes about all of it. It is materialism done right.
Less of needing and wanting more stuff and accumulating or winning- more of the taking what is tangible and crafting meaning and value.