"ALLEN WHITES STORY"
By Allen White
There have been many talented surfboard shapers from the East Coast of the US through the years and one of them is Allen White. He started in surfing, rather raft surfing at the Old Avalon Pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina when he was 5 years old. Surfing was just beginning to take off on the East Coast and Allen, like many kids on the Eastern Seaboard were there for the ride.
From here Allen will take over as he recall how his surfing was formed by a mixture of people and places.
My grandparents had a cottage at the Old Avalon Pier in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have fond memories when my mother would be at the front door of our home on the last day of school all packed up and ready to go to spend the summer at the beach. Looking forward to each summer was very special. My mom would do the driving as I and my older sister took in the scenery. Our father had to work so he would join the us on the weekends.
My sister had a lifeguard job at the Tanarama Motel next to the pier. Through family connections I had a job as the raft boy over on the beach. This included cleaning up the beach, setting up chairs, umbrellas and setting up the rafts. Having my sister working there afforded me the use of a raft anytime I wanted.
There were these two lifeguards, Jimmy Koneese and Jimmy Baccus who were also surfers. They oversaw the people in the surf and have noticed my ability on the raft.
They felt compelled to put the me out there on a surfboard. Needless to say I was super stoked and took to it right away, to the point where the raft was no longer the ride I was looking for. The year was 1963 and I was the only 6 year old kid hanging around that pier surfing. The two Jimmys were showing me the ropes. This would turn out to be the summer scene for the next 6 years.
I developed a routine of cruising by the pool to help my sister get the pool ready to open and then to the beach. I would borrow a surfboard from either Jimmy K or Jimmy B and go surf. After getting out of the water, I would head over to the pier for a few games of pool if I could find someone to play against. Have lunch at the Avalon Market, then back for another surf session.
The next few years surfing became an important part of my life, the whole lifestyle thing. I got my first surfboard for Christmas which was a 8’ 6” Hobie just before turning 8 years old. This is where I began making surfing buddies and also started surfing in Virginia Beach in the spring and summer. During this era, surfing was poised to explode. But there weren’t a lot of guys in my elementry school that surfed.
There were a couple of kids there at Malibu Elementry in Virginia Beach that did. A guy named Kurt Smultz who had moved from Cocoa Beach Florida to Virginia who became a good friend. It turned out his brother Tim, his sisters Gabe and Bridget all surfed and the whole family loved the beach. There was always a bunch of boards, nice ones like a Surfboards Hawaii model A's, a Dewey Weber Performer, a Gordie, and a Yater all in the back yard. Tim’s friends were surfers too and their house was a great place to hang out at.
I can't even tell you how many countless hours Kurt and I spent in the backyard pretending to surf on those boards. Tim and his buddies would catch us back there just tweaking the heck out of those fins and walking the nose, back and forth to the nose continuously, but for us this was wintertime surfing. There were beaver tails and long johns wetsuits belonging to the other guys hanging under the patio, but none of them fitted me or Kurt. There were many good surf memories with the whole Smultz’s family, sharing the waves on surf travels along the East Coast and Puerto Rico.
The Outer Banks from the age of 8 to 12 is where we still continued to spend summers. This was a very special time down there. There was not a single traffic signal from Kitty Hawk North Carolina thru Okracoke Island North Carolina (NC). The entire outer banks didn’t have signals. With the frequent surfing at the pier I began to make many new surfing friends and many of them drove.
So this enabled me to begin my search for waves. Some of those places are very different now. In Buxton NC at the Lighthouse where the famous jetties were not yet built and neither was the Research Pier in Duck NC. But still standing and still a premier break is the Kitty Hawk Pier. The Old Station and the 5 Mile Post were among the most heavily surfed spots back then.
It's kinda funny as I looks back at the last part of that long board era. I can't help but to remember how friendly things were. We commonly shared waves together and it wasn't a problem. But then again they weren't doing on waves at that time what they did on them later. At this same time I was surfing in the spring and fall at Virginia. Beach. This was very different setting compared to later. There were no rock jetty's at the inlet, only the Steel Pier (original location of the East Coast Surf Contest) and a small shallow inlet that served as a little kiddie break with “Purrrrfect little waves peeling off.”
Getting into the latter part of the 1960's, short board began to take over and you saw a lot of guys stripping the glass off those old long boards and reshaping their first short boards. It was 1968 when I went to Al's Surf Shop in Virginia Beach and traded my 8' 6" Hobie for my first custom order shaped by Bill Frierson and glassed by Ronnie Mellott.
It was an East Side Surfboard which was obviously inspired by the Vardeman V-bottoms that were coming over at the time. In fact Al Snebling (shop owner) loaned me (while I waited for my custom board to be built) a trade back from Jimbo Brothers that was his Vardeman team board. Needless to say I was stoked and that little gesture of Als' probably was one of the most impressionable things done in my behalf. Except for a friend of the family whose name is Jimbo Ward, he talked my parents into getting me my first board.
Getting back to Jimbo Brothers though, he was undoubtably one of the most progressive and advanced surfers in the world at that time, having won every contest in site including the US championships held at that time at Huntington Beach Pier.
He was so radical at the time I can remember watching him do this backside bottom turn that was strait down and truly strait back up. His floater off the top was heavy considering it was 1968. Additionally he would actually turn so hard and radical that his ass would drag in the face of the wave at the base of the bottom turn. Nobody was doing that then and only on occasion would you see it done today.
He had this down to almost a routine in contrast to everyone else who were into roller coasters back then. Soon I got that new custom short board and spent the next couple of years honing my skills and began trying a few contests. I remember my first surfing contest in 1968 at Hatteras Village on the north end of town by the ball parks. It was the Hatteras Surf & Baha festival.
I had gotten second place to a kid named Jack Barnes. His whole family surfed and he ripped. But it was this contest that created my ambition to compete. This contest thing is what created the springboard for me to get into the thick of things both in Virginia Beach and the Outer Banks. Surfing in several contests and often times placing well soon landed me onto my first surf team with Al's Surf Shop & Eastside Surfboards.
This period of the 1970’s was extremely energized for me (besides just getting out beyond the parental reigns at 13 years old) but the Steel Pier was a really powerful experience. To this very day the best break Virginia Beach ever had was this spot and since its burning down and having been removed, the spot has still been consistently the best spot. But never close to as good as it was prior.
Back then it was the surfing hub for the Mid Atlantic. There were always some surf celebrities around. It meant there was a lot of people to learn from to see what they rode and as I said before this was the short board design explosion. This is I think when I got my first twin fin, yea the ones with the thick and wide tails with belly in the nose. It was a 5' 4" and was a reference to when we started airbrushing color on surfboards (1970).
It was a space scene with comets stars and planets (wish I'd kept it for a wall piece). This is also when Al Snebblin asked me if I would like to be on his surf team with Eastside Surfboards. He would eventually hire me on to work in the factory. I agreed and my mother went to city hall to get me a special work permit to work at that age.
Working at a surf shop would be my first linkage to sustain a lifetime connection in the surfing world. Surfin in the day and workin at the factory at night was just about the best deal a kid in my shoes could ever imagine falling into. But it got better; as my parents became more comfortable with this routine and knowing that Al was watching out for their boy, they would let the reigns out further. One of the most significant memories is where there was a good chance for surf to be on and I was there. Al owned the Steel Pier and I was able to go there and after work hang at the pier.
Get something to eat, maybe fish and then best of all camp out on the pier (right behind the pier attendant box) waking at sunrise to at times perfection with nobody out. A quick jump from the pier a few paddles and bingo it couldn't be better for a young surfer like myself.
This was something I did this, many times over and a very treasured experience. Back then when it was good anything of 4'+ right-handers would start breaking at the jetty. Which by this time had been extended out past the pier and was about 300 feet south of the pier.
Some of the jobs I did at the factory were ding repairs and being the rub out guy, then to polisher. My surfing was improving and Al's surf shop bought an old school bus that he modified into a team mobile home. This meant we travel to events and a place to hang out at. There were 5 of us traveling: Kim Hickman-factory shaper and teamrider, Ray Shackelford-teamrider, David Barbini-teamrider and musician extraordinaire, Mike Pendleton teamrider and myself the rubout guy and teamrider, Also I was the punk grom of the crew. We traveled up and down the eastern seaboard mainly between Ocean City and Wrightsville. Surfing in contests and selling boards as we went along our way.
This was a great experience in contest surfing as it meant getting out of your own small pool and surfing with new faces with different styles. The new acquaintances and friends were educational and the hospitality of the surfing world was so warming, just pure during these times. There are many people I remember Dale Shaw from Ocean City (Sundancer Surf Shop) was one of our stops and he always showed us great times. I remember he had a crew that was traveling around at that time, but I can't remember their names except for the little guy surfing in my division that ripped.
The guy was Mark Foo that made his way eventually to the North Shore. At the time he was living in Maryland somewhere and surfing Ocean City a lot. We became buddies and enjoyed surfing together and hanging at the contest. He was a great surfer back then. I can remember the bigger it got the better he got. Lost touch with him many years before his passing and I am sure that he had many true friends that miss him dearly.
I myself would have liked the opportunity to rekindle the friendship we once shared. I will always remember those surf days we shared as surf rats in Ocean City. We were riding boards (1970-71) that were a little better suited for the East Coast. They were more balanced in thickness and in outline. Sort of double ender like with rounder ends in contrast to the spears, kinda like fun shapes today but not wide and it had a single fin. Then people were trying out the first side fins as in side bites on today’s boards.
They were called stabilizers and you bought them in a glue on retro fit kit from the surf shops. This is the beginning of the first stabilization in the short board revolution in term of design slow down. More attention was concentrated on the fine tuning details and their contribution to the riding characteristics of the surfboard. This is something that I have noted over the years to be cyclical.
A major design changes need time for fine tuning. Testing and reviewing is where the two can be matched up in terms of what actual feed back response works. The characteristics of how a surfboard rides are affected in so many ways and no one fundamental concept is always applicable to every design.
Around 1973 it began to get wild and foggy here. But fortunately I had surfing and being competitive is probably what keep me from getting so far off the path. I mean a lot of my friends sort of lost their way and never fully recovered.
That didn't happen to me and I think that’s when I began reflecting in my surfing, it forced me back to the original path. I didn't know it at the time, but looking back at it now; it did. Just another fine example of the true gift that surfing has been to me.
There are things in this era that are vivid. I remember those Dry Ducks and the putting them on routine. Took 2 people most of the time. This is when Wes Lane begins showing up routinely on his bike before and after school and he was so into it. He had the Dry Duck put on down to a 1 person assembly. Can't tell you how many times I saw those things unroll & fill up, anybody else but a surfer would have drowned. We all watched Wes develop here and as we all know later to shape a style much like M.R. as any of us have seen and then, back to a style all his own as he began traveling the world tour.
In 1973 I went to Puerto Rico with 3 other guys: Kurt Smaltz, Jeff Duff,and Mark Therealt (who was known around the world) actually he had two good finishes at the Smirnoff at Sunset Beach. Mark was one of those guys that you had no idea of how well he surfed until it got big. On that trip it did get big, in fact Tres Palmas broke, I never saw it like that again.
During this swell the three of us were gettin scared (as this was our first real surf trip off the east coast and Hatteras had provided the max for us). Mark was just coming alive. He was a big guy tall and thick so when it was smaller you never saw his timing and power come together. After this trip I made it a policy to return annually and got to see, meet, and surf with many people of extraordinary talent.
Guy's like Monty Smith (who owned Island Surfboards), Rick Rassmussen, Mike Oppenhimer, David Balzerack (this guy would ride these super concept designs at about under 5' in length with concaves & channels all over the place) he surfed the smallest boards in the biggest surf I have ever seen. The guy that created "Mainard" the surf cartoon character must have known "DCB" because every time I see either one of them they remind me of the other.
This brings me to Jorge Machucca a resident of PR & absolutely the best surfer I ever seen. I had the opportunity to watch him surf on our first trip to PR & then later he showed up in Hatteras (around 75') w/Fox Surfboards. This guy was the most creative and radical surfer ever. One day at Hatteras on a huge swell at the lighthouse we watched Jorge routinely pull into a dry backdoor barrels either frontside or backside and come out the opposite end.
You couldn't tell if he was reg or goofy; any thing he did one way he did just as critical the other. Surly this one day had to be one of those top 5 surf days that stay vivid in your mind for always. It was the best performance to date I have ever seen. Getting back to Hatteras it was great to surf there in the mid seventies.
The Natural Art crew showed up; They were riding a great surfboard under the leadership of Pete Dooley and Scott Busby. Also some insane surfing that was heavily documented thanks to the presence of Larry Pope (photographer) and Greg Loher (surfer). This team of Larry and Greg were probably the finest tuned duo (photographer & surfer ever to have come to this area even to date. Greg had gotten first jetty so wired that he had this super critical off the lip down so rhythmically that he could nail 6 to 8 straight up and straight down in succession.
With no maintenance moves in between at all.........He was machine like and like no other era that I know of that particular break (lighthouse-1st jetty) was also machine like in character. At that time the campground was the place of choice for surfers and all year long it was the hub for surfers visiting the area.
During this era, after Al’s surf shop had closed. I wondered from shop to shop looking for a comfortable place to work. Also I had the opportunity to ride many different boards. I was working for 17th St surf shop (Lee & Harriett Jones owned it) and through that relationship I met many new people. I met Mike Purpus who was riding for Jacobs Surfboards and was their main rider. He seemed to have taken a liking to me and helped me gain confidence and shortly there after I started winning contests again, several local and regional titles in my division.
Shortly after surfing in my first professional events, one of the things that I got from Mike was a good cut back. After all he was the master of the roundhouse and for anybody looking for a tip from Purpus at that time it would been the cut back, you’d had to have been blind not to.
Along about 76' I worked for WRV (Wave Riding Vehicle) which is where my shaping career started. Les Shaw & Bill Frierson were the owners then and there was a slew of shapers coming and going both local and from other parts of the world. There were many influential shapers there like Marty Keesucker, Micheal Doyle, Ronnie Mellott, Bill Frierson who probably was the most influential there. I think what I got from Bill was that surfboards are a design of custom needs.
He taught me to think the pattern of building a board around the surfers style and intentions. You know where he stands may illustrate where to put the main directional control center and where he wants to go, will dictate the type of exit curves and release you would build into the shape. Bill is a complex thinker and one of the most three dimensional thinkers I've known in terms of shaping.
Virginia Beach was the place to work if you were into surfboard construction. In 1977 where Mark Bischoff and myself opened a factory of our own. It was called Offshore Days, we fashioned an old house on Virginia Beach Blvd to be our factory. Things went well but my partner decided it wasn't going to satisfy him. He went on to be a physician. And I agreed to sell to a local shop owner (Bears Surf Shop) David Bear and take some time off to travel (left home & didn't come home for 6 months).
Went back to work for WRV for a short period, until the following winter. Before I decided I had to go again. Went to California on a tip I could get work at the South Coast factory, that eventually fell thru. The guy who gave me the tip no longer worked there. At the time California was pretty stuffy about east coasters and their ability. But I surfed a lot in the San Clemente area and Baja.
Leaving California, my girlfriend (wife now) and I headed for Florida on our couple of bucks to nibble around for work. Turned out to be more successful. Bumped into an old acquaintance (from my childhood past) Mike Tabeling and his wife. Mike owned Creative Shaping. They built a bunch of different labels there. They included Mike Tabeling, Jeff Crawford, Weber, Shawn Thompson, Rabbit's. This eventually would be a regular thing where each factory built their own and several other labels. This was where the numbers in my shaping experience began.
At this time the East Coast builders were the supplier for surfboards all through the Atlantic basin. Richard Munson, Michael Doyle (VA Beach) and myself were the shapers, with Richard being the lead. Richard taught me flow and balance in shaping. We would all have 50 or so orders on the wall at all time through out the year. The 3 surfing explosion was on and the East Coast and Europe from spring to fall was going off. But in addition to that the winter brought on Brasil, Venezualea, Carribean and these international buyers would order hundreds at a time.
This would carry on into the early 80's. Eventually I was working for several factories including Quiet Flight and Natural Art. Ending up at Natural Art (NA) where Pete and Debbie Dooley were the owners. NA had a lot to offer then with very steady work and they built the finest boards I'd seen back then. So it was prestigious to be a part of it. They were very professional and career oriented. Which looked like a place I wanted to be. Pete gave me my own label "Sea Shapes" I had my own Label also "Seasoned Surfboards" and between the two things, it got very busy. This was the 80's.
The explosion was still in full force and the traveling surfboard supplier was in demand.
Which meant shaping, managing, selling, traveling and surfing. Life was on the fast track here. Where it only made sense to surf the East Coast pro tour and take anything along to sell that would also fit in the truck. So I added Astrodeck to my ammunition and did very well as you probably remember Herbie had the only game in town and every body wanted it I even sold it to hardware stores that sold it to people that wanted it in the bath tub.
This is where I met wild man Greg at NA, Natural Art was great, because I got to learn things from Greg Loher, He offered conceptual experience technically, placement of abrupt changes in curve and shape configuration. What they were doing and more importantly, how they would apply to a certain wave and style.
The professional surfing thing was more about justifying my existence as a shaper than winning contest at this point. The guys winning contests at this point were getting more sophisticated now. It was what I think the beginning of the era where a guy would decide he wanted to be a pro surfer and not a jack of all trades guy. That earned his living in and around all available opportunities in the surf world that mostly entailed surfboard construction.
These guys winning were really ripping!. None the less, I did have a couple of years there where I ranked 8th in the standings, having placed in the money in several events. This was a difficult time for me. My schedule was three to five days of massive shape production, then an all night travel with an early to rise and two to three days of contest surfing. It wasn't just hard to get your head in it, but was even harder to feel confidence. I think also that shapers in general make poor contest surfers because they inherently are testing while surfing contest or not.
When a turn doesn't feel pure especially big critical direction changes we feel it right away and kinda lose the concentration. It takes quick reflexes to adapt and grind through it anyway. That is for sure what contest surfing was like for me.
During these years the East Coast blew up for my SB company. Many states were great for me including South & North Carolina where Mark Allison and Roy Turner of Surf City were very influential, Virginia where 17th St Surf Shop and Laderburgs did a fine job. In 83' eventually I partnered up with a few buds that include Doc, My Dad, Gary "Smitty" Smith, and Niel Lessard.
I opened a Shop in Virginia Beach and called it Sea Level Surf Shop. Shortly afterwards I moved my board building business up there and once again tried living in Virginia Beach with my wife Valerie. Business was great and grew rapidly through the rest of the 80's.
At the time I took in a new surfboard factory partner David "Barney" Barnes. David was one of those guys that quickly took to any thing he was taught and was a great guy to train to build boards. Soon he took over management of the factory and this loosened me up to manage the shop and shape boards.
In 1993 I sold off all the business I owned in V.B. and moved to Cocoa Beach, Fl. I had become a firefighter for eleven years and continued to shape for several entities & my own label ("Allen White Custom Surfboards"), still in Cocoa Beach and making boards.
Allen during his competitive days above and his researching days which is whenever he's out in the water