John Kies's Story
By Thomas Takao
There are many shapers who are not well known outside of their respective areas. To their customers and team riders they are the ones whose shapes they enjoy riding. John Kies is one such shaper whose boards are in demand because his customers return time and again with their friends. To get a view of what developed along the way and the interesting places and people that are apart of John Kies’s shaping journey we’ll start at the beginning.
John Kies was born in St. Johns Hospital in Santa Monica, California. His early years were spent growing up in different cities. This made it rough for John and his brothers to make friends. When he was in the 7th grade, he had gone to three different schools in Bakerfield, CA, Houston, TX, and Phoenix, AZ . John’s father worked for Del Webb a very large company involved in developing Planned Communities, Resorts and Golf courses around the country. His position called for a lot of traveling.
When John was 13 years old his family was visiting friends in La Jolla. The ocean was nearby and this gave John and his brothers their first opportunity to mat surf. After their visit to California his father asked John if he liked it there. John answer was a very positive yes, with the rolling surf still fresh in his mind.
In 1966 John’s father decided to start his own company and settle down. He moved his family to Del Mar, California. It was August and John would be beginning school in a week at San Diegito High School. Arriving on a Friday, they unpacked and went down to Hansen’s Surf Shop in Cardiff looking for a used board for John and his brother.
They didn’t have much of a selection back then, so they went to Surfboards Hawaii in Leucadia. Not much better there as well, the salesman told them to go down to Pacific Beach and visit the G&S surf shop. Once there, they were like kids in a candy shop, John and Robbie were greeted with tons of used boards. John got a 9’ 6” Delby Woodworth for $50. Delby had a shop in Solana Beach. He was a boat builder who made a few surfboards for about 3 to 4 years. John remembers his first board which had a clear bottom, with 2 turquoise blue panels stripes at a 30 degree angle from perpendicular on the deck. Its decal was like an upside down Hobie outline.
Robbie, John’s brother got a 9’2” South Coast surfboard. After arriving in Del Mar earlier in the day and back that afternoon with their new used surfboards. John and Robbie went surfing at 15 St. Awkwardly paddling out for the first time as the white water tossed and turned the new surfers. A beginning surfer knows the feeling of having your own surfboard and eating it too. By chance his timing in paddling and catching the wave began the chain reaction. Standing up before it pearled and riding the white water to shore for so many seconds. John found the stoke that is surfing and it became part of his life.
Prior to surfing John was a very good junior golfer. He mentioned some of the guys he played with back then are some of the guys you might see on TV today. After taking up surfing John put away his clubs for 12 years. John’s second board was a 9’ 10” California Surfboard. The shop owner was Steve Bernard who also did the shaping. John started to hang out at the shop during his High School days cleaning up around the shop, getting to know the guys who worked there and occasionally worked behind the counter. It was located across the street and south from the old lumberyard. Sunset Surfboards took over the shop after California Surfboards closed.
When Hansen Surfboards moved from their shop in Cardiff to Encinitas Dave Chapman moved into the shop across the street from Cardiff Reef and began Chapman Surfboards. Dave shaped a few with the rest being shaped by Bob Turner. Their surfboards were being glassed by Tony Channin who had a shop in Del Mar during this time. John started working for Dave on Sundays.
John was surfing Cardiff and hanging out with his older friends. They were Bruce Connelly, Derek Ross, and Kevin Holey. John remembers an old single story motel with 9 rooms located where the State’s parking lot booth is now, it was called Evan’s Motel. The old local still call the beach Evan’s. Back then half of Charlie’s building was the Sea Barn and the other half had 2 apartments. Bruce lived on the bottom floor of one.
John’s next board was a Chapman shaped by a guy named Roger. Roger had moved up to the Haight Askberry area in San Francisco and was back down visiting in Cardiff. Dave knew Roger who had shaped a couple boards before moving to the Bay Area. Making a long explanation short, John hated that board and decided to shape his own board.
He would peel the glass off an old board that he had and shaped a 7 footer. After the shape, John glassed it in his Dad’s garage. He took it out to Cardiff and tried paddling out. The board didn’t float so it was back to the drawing board. John peeled and shaped two more and had the same results. Finally he bought a shaped blank and glassed it himself and it rode good. After glassing that board John would go on to glass around 100 more boards.
His glassing became known in school. One day Marc Adams stops by with a shaped Takayama and wanted John to glass it. John said he would and Marc came by when John first started laying up the bottom. John mentioned he was going surfing after glassing the bottom and Marc said he would go too. After returning from their surf session John glassed the topside of the board. Marc was over every day watching his board being worked on. The closer the board got to being finished the more anxious Mark got to riding his board. This was the beginning of a long friendship that would eventually turn into a business partnership.
John’s good friend Kevin Holey was getting into shaping also and had shape a board or two at John’s place. One summer in 1970 Kevin stopped by with a Skil 100 planer. Kevin had just returned from New Jersey where his brother-in-law was shaping and who had lent Kevin the planer. Jim Phillips trusted Kevin and things were cool.
John and Kevin had been shaping boards with just a block plane and a surform up to this point. The planer’s trigger wasn’t working properly, once plugged in it kept running. At the time they didn’t think of getting a new trigger. It was plug in to start and pull the plug out to stop. That summer John had the use of a Skil 100 planer, which was great. Kevin took the planer back to New Jersey after the summer and John learn how important it was to have the right tools. So a short time later John went to Hammond’s Machinery off India St. in San Diego and bought a Skil 100 planer for $150.00, which he still has today.
In the fall of 1970 John got a job as a salesman at Koast Surfboards, his hours were after school and on weekends. The location of the shop is the same place where The Encinitas Surfboard Shop is today, on Coast Highway north of Encinitas Blvd. He was Koast Surfboard’s first employee. The owner was Allen Wysche, a guy who had just graduated from High School with John. The shop was setup like Mitch’s in La Jolla (surfboard supplies).
John had enrolled at Palomar Junior College, after getting his associate’s degree he would continue on to Cal Western as a Business Major. John continued to shape his own boards while going to school. While working the counter back in 1971 John met Bill Shrosbree who was there to meet with Allen at the shop. He was apply for a shaping job, which he got and be working there.
John first decal was in the shape of a skeleton key with the wording of Surfboards on top and by John Kies below on the shaft. His next brand name on his boards was called Hometown. There are about 50 around somewhere. John kept a log of those boards back then with their dimensions and the owner’s name. He still has that log.
The shapers who had worked for Allen at Koast back then were Mickey Fremont, Bill Shrosbee, and others who has slipped passed John’s memory. Their factory was located at the 4 Winds shop that was once the Surfboards Hawaii shop in Leucadia. Surfboards Hawaii had moved up to the Hill next to the Palomar Theater and 4 Winds moved in. After 4 Winds closed their doors Koast moved in and started making boards there. Koast was at the Encinitas location for about a year and a half.
A shop in Cardiff became available in 1972. It had windows all around with plenty of space. Wysche rented the shop and place tons of boards in the shop. John bought a small trailer and parked it behind the shop after returning from Hawaii, if he wasn’t in school or working, he would be across the street surfing Cardiff Reef.
But before continuing on let’s go back a year and see the surf trips that John went on and then returning to school after getting back. John had begun school at Cal Western in the spring of 1971, took a one year break that began in the summer of 1971. John Kies and Kevin Holey had been planning a trip to France after seeing a picture of Nat Young at La Barre. Kevin was in Rhode Island at this time working with Jim Phillips and had been in touch with John most of the year by phone.
Kies left August 15th for London and then onto Paris, France. Staying one night in Paris then taking a train down to Biarritz, Kevin would arrived the next day. John took one 6’ 10” with a 13 ½” nose and a 12” tail and about 19 7/8” wide board for those who might be interested in it’s dimensions. It was a standard outline for a single fin surfboard.
With his surfboard, backpack and sleeping bag John checked into the Hotel Cote Vais. After putting his gear in his room John went surfing across the street. The surf was 3 to 4 feet and fun, after John got out and return to the hotel he saw Kevin and had him place his gear in his room. John and Kevin were making a surf check when they met some cool Aussies on the beach. They were camping at a campsite outside Biarritz called La Fotinia. After getting to know them and their situations the two Aussies offered John and Kevin the opportunity to join them, it would cost them 25 cents a day. It made cents to go that route since they were on a budget. They moved into the campgrounds and stayed for 2 months.
Besides the Australians, there were a couple of other surfers from Santa Barbara at the campgrounds. A motley crew of surfers whose paths met at a campground in France enjoying the camaraderie of surfing. The following day John was checking the surf before checking out of the Hotel. The surf was up, easily 10 to 15 feet backs. The beach break was closing out and John noticed a reef down the beach going off. He took a walk towards that location. No one out, but someone who he knew was there watching the waves. Jeff Litchton was a fellow surfer from the Encinitas area and was visiting France with his mom.
After the decision to go out John, Jeff, and a guy from Santa Barbara paddled out through the channel. As they paddled closer to the take-off spot of this very big left peak, their adrenaline were pumping, their eyes wide open and their awareness was on high alert. If they fell off their boards or got caught inside, it was a long swim in since none of them had a leash.
After the surf session John got his stuff and moved in at the campsite. The campsite was located 10 miles south of Biarritz. Arriving at the site John watches as a big right peels off, if you could imagine a 15 foot wave at Swami’s breaking cleanly across the reef that how it look to John.
Another wave hits the reef and a backsider drops in. He makes the drop shifting his weight as he lean towards his inside rear rail section and begins the quick transitional bottom turn up. In a continual motion of leaning forward after reaching the half way mark of the face of the wave, adjusting his weight back to the outer rail just before an explosive smack off the lip. With a slight free fall reentry onto the flowing wall in front of him the surfer regains his balance in a wink of an eye.
Gaining speed and room to maneuver, the backsider goes into a flowing frontside roundhouse cutback, repeating the previous maneuver once again. Meanwhile on the beach John calls out to the guys around him, Oh my god who is that? The response was Lopez, Gerry Lopez. There were quite few hot surfers around Biarritz during this time period. Most of the surfers that surfed this place would meet at a restaurant called the Steak House. When John first went in he thought he was in a bar back home. A list of names that were there: Mike Diffenderfer, Doug Haut, Jackie Baxter, Gerry Lopez, Jeff Hackman, Hal Jepsen, Mike Miller, Mike Tabeling, Miki Dora, Brad McCall, Sid Madden, James “Booby” Jones and a bunch of others.
After staying at the campsite for 2 months, they decided to move into a house. The house they rented, which was located across the street from the Lighthouse at Biarritz and cost $200.00 a month. John and Kevin got Sid Madden and a guy name Randy to split the cost for 2 months. While living there John bought a Mobilet which is a French motor scooter for 20 dollars. It had a surfboard rack welded on the side with a duffle bag behind the seat. They would use their Mobilet going 20 miles in either direction. John and his friends were having a great time. Time flies when having a good time and the 2 months came and went. A new adventure soon appeared.
John, Kevin, and two Australians named Robin and Gary decided to travel to Morroco. They bought a Ford Anglia for 80 dollars and were on their way. The foursome would surf Spain and Portugal on the way down. Getting their maps out the guys looked for points on the coastline to explore. One such place was named Mira Mira. It was just like Trestles with a river mouth with cobblestone rocks. The waves were peeling at 5 feet and the guys paddle out. No crowds in the water and just the 4 of them were having a blast. Word got around and the people from the town went out to watch John, Kevin, Robin and Gary surf.
The kids treated them just like the kids in Endless Summer treated Robert August and Mike Hynson. The admiration for someone to ride waves was profound in a sea town that never seen anyone surf. The Mayor invited the guys to stay at his house for a few days. They accepted and were treated like kings. Traveling on the foursome came to Figuroa de Favs in Portugal. It was like 3 Swami’s one after another. Putting up their tents, the guys stayed for 2 weeks. It seemed wherever they went surfing, the people were fascinated and would watch them surf. There were castles along the way and on certain situations during the middle of the night they would go explore those castles.
They got to Gibraltar and cross over to Morocco. Morocco was a wild place and you didn’t want to leave anything alone in the car for it would have been stolen. When you left your hotel room the manager would be going through your stuff. When they went surfing, someone would have stay and watch the car, rotating every so often to let everyone get waves. After surfing Morocco, John, Kevin, Robin, and Gary headed back to Spain. It was a rough ride back on the Ferry when the winds were blowing. With an air of apprehension that things could go wrong as they made the crossing. Having made the crossing in one piece, they took the road along the Mediterranean side of Spain before returning back to Biarritz.
The winds category during the crossing would be classified as a gale force with winds of 40 to 55 mph. With such winds there were swells breaking along the coastline for some distance. Having travel some 100 miles along the coast of Spain on the Mediterranean side as mentioned previously they came to a cove where the winds were block by the terrain. In the cove were glassy waves breaking around 4 to 6 feet. After seeing those waves the guys were out in the water in no time.
A crowd of a few hundred would gather and watch them ride the waves. The guys were uses to the crowds as they surfed on. John and Kevin trip was coming to an end. The ride through Spain and on to Biarritz happened without a hitch. So John was at the Paris Airport boarding his flight back to LAX while Kevin was waiting for his flight back to New Jersey. Resting back in his seat, John with his eyes closed and his thoughts of the waves he had ridden. Having been treated like celebrities by the people they met while surfing Spain and Portugal.
Getting back to Cardiff John still had adventure in his system. He worked for a couple of months at Koast before flying over to the North Shore in January of 1972. His friend Murph had gone over to Oahu’s North Shore the same time John went to France. Murph was living in a Tent on an empty lot, keeping cost down. This was John first time over to Hawaii and was anxious to go visit.
Having made it to Rocky Point, John couldn’t find Murph, looking back and forth all day and no sign of Murph. So John slept on the beach with his sleeping bag for a couple of days. Surfing Rocky Point and asking around for any vacancies, John found a place at Rocky Point on the third day. The rent was $50.00 a month for a shared bedroom. He was less than 75 ft. from the beach at Rocky Point. He was enjoying his stay and had settled in and getting use to the lifestyle, John had forgot about Murph. One day about two weeks later at Rocky Point Murph was paddling out. John was surprised and asked him “where were you”. Murph showed John the place he was staying at and it was well camouflaged in a vacant lot. No wonder thought John as he walked into the tent. Inside was a picnic table, the area was organized to fit the space.
John stay on the North Shore was from January to May of 1972. In May John went back to Cardiff and was working back in sales at Koast Surfbaords. This is where we left off when he was about to go back to Cal Western College after summer. Koast Surf shop was busy, so John recommended to Allen to hire Marc Adams his friend that he glassed a board for. Mark was in sales and things worked out. John began shaping more and was in charge of the Koast’s factory in Leucadia.
Louie Foger and Chuck Bersee were the glassers, Steve Clark was the pinline and glosser, Gary Beecher was doing the rub-outs. The factory was making Koast surfboards, Atlantis Guns, and Country Hawk surfboards. In John senior year at Cal Western thing became very busy. John needed extra help with the shaping because of his class workload. So John hired Rusty Priesendorfer for a couple of months until school was out. John happened to see Rusty a few years back and both recalled the time.
John finished school in May of 1975 with a Business Degree from Cal Western. He worked all summer and got married in August. John planned on working in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. He and his wife packed everything and moved after quitting Koast Surf Shop. It had been 3 years since John saw Murph last. He was still living in the same tent at Rocky Point. John looked up Murph and suggested that he move into a house that John had rented. Their neighbor was Rick Iron a very good and well known shaper on the North Shore. Rick would let John use his lawn mower, his templates and tools. John would become friends with Rick’s younger brother John. Kies and John would surf together whenever the opportunity happened.
John Kies was looking for a job all this time and after 3 months thing was becoming serious. Meanwhile Marc had quit Koast a month after John. Marc writes John telling him Koast went out of business and suggested opening up a new shop and getting the old customers back. It made sense to John, he was back in Encinitas in December and figured it would take $12,000.00 to open a new shop at the old location. John and Marc became partners and open up in December of 1975 at their current location which was the old Koast Shop.
Encinitas Surfboards was started and John had 12 boards made for the opening. The day they opened the old customers showed up and the shop have been busy since. Back in 1976 Sunset Surfboards was the one whose boards were considered the tops in the area. After a couple of years Encinitas Surfboards was on equal grounds with Sunset Surfboards.
Changing sports I asked John when he got re-interested in golf. John’s answer was when he was looking for a job on Hawaii. The surf was blown out and Murph who happened to have played golf when he was younger just like John asked John if he wanted to play golf. Neither one knew the other played. They rented some clubs and played 18.
They had a blast, not that they were in the sand traps all day, but enjoying themselves. After the first time they began golfing once a week, if the surf wasn’t any good. John continued to played after that and in 1981 Murph calls up and tells John, He and some golf friends are going down to Myrtle Beach, North Carolina to play golf for a week for a golf vacation. So John did and had a great time with the guys playing 36 holes a day. The same group of guy have been doing it very years since then.
John’s business was growing and space was at a premium. The shaping room in the shop was taking up to much space, so Kies moved to the Hill and began using a shaping room that was available. While on the Hill in 1983 Kies got to know Mike Diffenderfer, who had a shaping room next to his. Diff was a very good golfer at this time and had won the Waikaloa Open tournament in 1980. John and Diff would play every 2 weeks, even though Diff played every day.
Mike was practicing to go to the qualifying school for the Senior Tour. It was expensive getting to and being in qualifying school. John had caddy for Diff during qualifying school. If you were one of the few to receive your card then it was worth it. If not, then you would have to do it again the following year.
You had to do good at all the tournaments before being accepted at the qualifying school. Diff’s first attempt was close, but missed the cut by 7 players. The second try was further down the leader board. After the second attempt Mike lost interest in getting a Tour card. There was this one occasion where John, Danny, Chris and Diff were playing together at a tournament in Tijuana. After the tournament the Awards were held at the Tijuana Country Club. The winning foursome got totally intoxicated on Margarita’s after receiving their trophys for lowest score. John had also won a trophy for the longest drive and Diff got a trophy for closest to the pin on a par 3 hole.
Totally happy the guys approached the Border check point going back into the U.S. with the 6 trophy on the dash of John’s van. The Border Guard asked if they were bringing anything back? Diff responds “We’re bringing nothing but gold back” pointing to the trophy. Traveling on I 5 relieved of the pressure of waiting to get across, the foursome felt good after stopping at the gas station.
Before Mike went to Costa Rica he gave John his templates and calipers as a gift. Mike felt it appropriate after being in a shaping room next door and having played golf together. Mike Diffenderfer was an influential shaper / golfer and was a good friend to John Kies. John will always cherished the times he got to share with Mike Diffenderfer. John would continue to play golf, surf and shape the boards that many of his customers and friends would ride.
JOHN KIES WITH HIS MIKE DIFFENDERFER SHAPED SURFBOARD