by Thomas Takao


Jim Phillips’s experiences in becoming a shaper span both coasts of the United States. The ups and downs of his trials and errors would have discouraged most individuals into becoming a shaper. Through the years, his understanding of wood and its properties makes him one of the few shapers that can produce a work of art and ride like it.


Jim (JP) began surfing on Oahu, Hawaii in 1960. His father was in the military and was stationed there. In the years before Jim’s family moved to Delaware in the latter part of 1964 and the time he started surfing, Jim began shaping a few boards by peeling the glass off a board or two. Then asking around about glassing and what should be used and how to do it.


The move back to the East Coast took time to get use to for a teenager coming from the tropics. After being acclimated to his new surroundings, Jim did some traveling on his own, after which he found himself at a Hobie shop in Ocean City, Maryland in the early months of 1965. The guys that owned the shop decided to let Jim shape a few boards for them. That lasted before the Fourth of July of that year. Out of work, the decision to return home was on the agenda.


After a couple of months of gathering his thoughts in New England, JP went to Long Island where he got a job with a local board builder, that lasted until thing slowed down. Back then, surfing in New England shuts down when the winter’s cold comes calling.


Moving back to Delaware in the beginning of 1966 where JP spent most of the year until the fall. JP this time would go to Cocoa Beach, Florida. He lived near the Minuteman Causeway near the police station. JP would go surf the local breaks. There he met Gary Propper, Mike Tabeling, and Bruce Valuzzi. JP surfing would improved by watching and being around these guys. All three are legendary East Coast surfer who were a major influence for the next generation of East Coast surfers.


In 1967 JP was working for Carl “Tinker” West at Challenger Eastern Surfboards, Carl influenced JP’s shaping. Teaching JP the fundamentals and techniques of his way of shaping, a lesson he never forgot. This was the foundation on which JP built upon. When things got slow around Challenger, JP found work at Surfboards East and at a construction company doing roofing and siding to make ends meet during this time period.


In December of 1967 a week before Christmas Jim was on the West Coast visiting friends and happened to be surfing Rincon in Santa Barbara on his 9’10” Challenger Surfboard. Bob McTavish and Steve Bigler had just gotten off the plane from LAX. The two paddle out on their 8’ 7” surfboards that McTavish had shaped.


They had a wide full tail section, a thick V bottom and a large Greenough fins. Those boards were considered short. Anything under 9 feet during this time period was considered short. They proceeded to influence everyone in the water with their maneuverability on the waves. In JP opinion, that was the day his whole outlook in surfing changed.


The following year of 1968 at Swami’s in Encinitas during January, he was busted for smoking Pot. He was staying in Santa Barbara at the time. Through the grapevine JP found out that Bahne Surfboards needed a shaper. Within a week JP started working for Bahne Surfboards. That lasted until July 20th when JP ran into an acquaintance from Rhode Island. He told Jim that he had a lot of surfboard orders and needed someone to shape. JP was on probation during this time period and reported to his probation officer in San Diego every week.


Things weren’t going as well as JP would have like, so he requested to be on probation near his family. After making arrangements with the Department that handles such affairs. The Department agreed and sent him on his way.


After returning to New Jersey, Jim looked up a friend and was hanging at his apartment. That turned old and not making much income JP got his stuff and hitch hiked home. Meanwhile Jim had been in contact with Tinker since returning from the West Coast. Finding out that his shop had burnt down. Tinker had relocated to a new shop, quite a bit bigger than his previous shop. Besides making surfboards, Tinker was managing a band as well, the band he was managing at the time was called Steel Mill, later they would change the name from Bruce Springstien’s band to East Street Band.


From 1969 until 1973, JP was in Rhode Island shaping boards. During this period JP would make trips out to California and Florida. In 1971 Jim Phillips got married and had a son in March of 72’. In January of 1973 JP moved his family from Cali to Florida. During that year JP worked for his in-laws who had a construction company in the Bahamas. The work took him to the Virgin Islands where he did metal stud and drywall for a short period.


In the summer of 1973 Jim started a surf factory in Fort Lauderdale and had a day job for additional income. A year and a half later JP marriage was on the rocks and he no longer wanted to be in Fort Lauderdale. So in 1974, Jim moved up to Indiatlantic to make surfboards and surf.


The year was 1975 when JP rented the shop Claude Codgen had just moved out of in Cocoa Beach. JP would make surfboards for Gary Propper and others during his time in Cocoa Beach. This lasted until 1979. Gary was a promoter of bands at this time, his company was called Fantasma Productions. Later on Gary Propper would promote Gallager, Carrot Top, and the cartoon characters the Ninja Turtle.


The 80’s were spent in Florida making boards. One of his customer during this era was Peter Pan Surf shop. His boards were really appreciated there in Rhode Island. There was this time when one of the salesman said of Jim as a “The Genius” because of the way his boards rode and the nick name has stuck ever since. JP move to the West Coast in 1993 and started Jim Phillips Surfboards in Encinitas.


Currently Jim Phillips is shaping wooden and foam boards, though the wooden board take much longer to build. The ability in chambering balsa, or to turn an Agave blank into a fine shape is just a glimpse of his skills. Working on the Hill in Encinitas through the years has been an experience he thinks highly of.


Jim Phillips on his twin fin shape during the 1980's