Story by Gene Cooper
I was born in 1956 in Glendale, CA and spent my years growing up between the San Fernando Valley and Newport Beach. My father was a hard working carpenter/contractor from the old school and my mom was a housewife with a serious artistic streak. She made most of the things that we had, along with most of the clothes worn by the girls, beautiful stuff.
It was a creative environment with constant projects in the works. Now as a surfboard builder I find that I have one project after another, not totally able to let go of any part of the process. This approach limits production and growth as a surfboard company, but then, it's more fun to report to an art studio than to a factory.
I started surfing in 1966. A year later when the short board era hit I started cutting down longboards and re-glassing them. My Greg Noll film productions board was the first victim and my neighbors beautiful Con followed. Between my friends and I we probably ruined 6 or 7 good longboards but we were riding boards that were the proper size so we were happy. Spending a lot of time in Newport, I got into kneeboarding for a few years though 1970. When I returned to surfing it was on a $25 1968 Hanson V bottom, other cheap transitional's, and old logs, then Greg Liddle's.
In high school I met and started surfing with Rick Pharaoh who got me on the right track with the surfboard construction. Rick was a grade behind me and shortly after we met he taught himself to shape and glass at a pretty high level. The second board he built was as good as any I'd ever seen and these boards were done in about 3 days, he was 16 years old and very talented, this was in 1973.
He became a pretty prolific backyarder almost overnight. I became a shop rat in his garage, maybe sanding and polishing a little, picking it up as I went along. He made boards for me(I owned Pharaoh #2) and all of our friends. I sometimes had a hand in building them. After the first few they were mainly hulls, inspired by Greg Liddle, and mine were usually stringerless, I felt that flex improved the performance.
In 1975 Rick had a job at working for Lloyd Gist at California Foam Surfboards in Reseda. When he quit to go build boats for Frank Butler at Catalina yachts I was his replacement. He spent a day training me as sander/polisher and general pick up guy at the shop, then I grew into most of the jobs around the place. Rick returned now and then to guest as a shaper or laminator.
There were all kinds of guys coming though there doing piecework daily but the one that stands out is Bob Petty, a burley and seasoned production guy who would always show up with really big power tools. Rockwell 653 planer, 6000rpm Milwaukee Sander, etc. Bob was from the South Bay surfboard industry mecca of the 60's. He would hit the ground running but took time to share some tricks, it was an real eye opener to see Bob work.
I joined the LAFD in January 1978 and retired in August of 2009. Between '78 and '90 there was a lot of surfing going on but not much surfboard building. By 1990 I was mostly riding old 60's logs, kept buying them, riding them, trading them, riding them. Soon it became apparent that I had a Bing problem.
Longboarding had gone totally progressive by 1990 but there were a small number of surfers who still liked riding the old ones, These old Bings and the like were so...regal, built to last, and high quality. They had a feel that you couldn't get from the new longboards that were the standard at the time.
So I got the tools out, bought the materials, made stands and racks, and went after it after a 12 year hiatus. Sent my wife on vacation and did the first batch of 13 in my garage start to finish. Gathered components from 60's Bings, Cons, Webers, Ricks, mixed and matched. Started the Cooperfish label at that time to strictly concentrate on vintage style traditional equipment. It all came right back real easy. The batch was pre-sold to the surfing firemen I worked with for $400 each.
By 2001 I had a bunch of board models available. The demand for the traditional longboards had risen through the '90s and we were off to the races in a new factory. I brought laminator in Sammy Cammack, sander/polisher Jeff Pupo, and pinstriper Chris Fallon. Still keeping the volume low and paying attention to the details with this small tight crew. Other craftsmen that have worked in the factory are- Steve Huerta, Stan Fuji, Vince Felix, Kenny Edwards, Zeph Carrigg, and Brian Michler.
In 2005 Scott Hulet asked me if I would like to build and donate an "art" board to this Surfrider Foundation Auction benefit at Milk Studios in NYC. I shut down the shop for a week to build this 12' "slob job" gun. It ended up fetching $9000 (!) for Surfrider thanks to a few very generous bidders. This got me charged up on projects and benefits.
In 2009 I joined forces with photographer Michael Moore and launched a calendar project that featured 20 boards that we built throughout the year. We had a launch party at Hurley that raised money for The Veterans Adaptive Surf Camp through a raffle. Then we then auctioned off the remaining 12 boards throughout the year via Ebay with 20% of the proceeds going to The Surfing Heritage Foundation. Each board started at $1 with no reserve which kept things interesting. These boards ended up being my swan song to abstract color because changes were already in the works.
In 2010 I was commissioned to build a 16' elephant gun out of a huge slab of foam blank that the customer provided. Jim Phillips did the stringers as he did with many of the boards in the calendar project. I shut myself in the shop, this time for several weeks, and went at it. The owner now has it on display at the Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente.
I was sitting in my van at Blackie's one morning watching the colorful boards go by and it hit me that I was totally over the 60's style abstracts. I felt the same about all the board models that I'd been making for 10 to 15 years, Nosedevil, Hornet, Device, Malibu Foil, etc. I'd been doing "greatest hits" on custom orders for a while and just decided I was done with all that. The demand remained but my passion was gone.
Those models with the abstracts were available in the "Cooper designs" label and were being made by Eric Walden (shaping) and Brian Michler (glassing) in their "12th Floor Foam and Glass" factory. Customers had a way to buy these models and colors that they'd grown accustomed to and I was free to develop a new line of boards and experiment. I also wanted to keep a minimalist theme which I always went for in my personal boards.
Flexibles- All the Cooperfish longboards now are made of "tow" weight foam and glassed with double 6oz flat weave volan with isophthalic resin, directionlly sanded gloss. The core is heavy with a light shell and the boards have a very tense flex. Also the consistent density seems to give the boards a unique balance. Another plus is that they are very dent resistant.
For a weight reference: a 9'5 pig is about 27lbs and a 9'5 Foil is about 24lbs. I originally started this construction with pigs only, but now I've done Foils, Noseriders, and V Bottoms with very good results. Speedhulls-the other half of my new direction are hulls based on the C2 guns. A concave running out the back to give it some drive. Classic foam glassed with double 6oz flat weave volan, isophthalic resin, and directionlly sanded gloss.