By Thomas Takao
Sitting in Tony Channin’s office on a Wednesday afternoon with the parking lot full and the day’s business swirling all around. I happened to find a moment with Tony Channin a glasser in the surfboard industry known for his quality glass jobs. We didn't have much time this day, but I was able to get a glimpse of his achievements. We began by talking about his early beginnings and then proceeded down the line of his surfboard building career.
Tony started surfing in the San Diego area in the mid-1950s, places like Wind an Sea, South Mission Beach and Ocean Beach. A time when the city of San Diego was growing and vacant lots were abundant and a time when balsa ruled and foam was in its infancy.
His first surfboard was an Allen Nelson Balsa Surfboard shaped by Bobby Patterson. Tony recalled that day in the shaping room watching Bobby shape the board with a drawknife. When Bobby hit a hard section and took a big chunk of balsa from the board. Bobby looked at Tony and said “ It won’t hurt the ride nothing none”. Afterwards the glassing room filled in the indentation and that was that. It was a great board for Tony and he liked it. The model was called the Nelson Cigarette board.
Tony began glassing in 1963 under the guidance of Frank McCleary of Challenger Surfboards. Frank was co-owner / glasser, along with Carl West who was the shaper and who would start Challenger Surfboard East in the mid 60s in New Jersey. Bill Bahne was also a co-owner / shaper of Challenger Surfboards. Bill started Bahne Surfboards shortly after Challenger and would go on to develop Fins Unlimited and KKL.
Tony glassed at Challenger Surfboards for about half a year and after Challenger he would glass for Carl Ekstrom Surfboards, learning a lot from Carl a gifted craftsman and designer. It was around the spring of 1964 when Tony moved to the Island of Oahu. He was living in town and glassing for Greg Noll Surfboards at Charlie Galento’s shop in Honolulu.
After being in town for about 9 months, Tony went out to the country for 3 months and was surfing the North Shore. Once there he would see a few of his fellow San Digeans that he had grown up with. Tony lived in a small bungalow that was a part of Combs court whose backyard faced Arma Hut, otherwise known today as Pupakea.
During the summer of 1965 Tony made a trip over to Maui. While there he ran into Mike Diffenderfer who was shaping for Surfboards Maui. They started talking about the current state of surfing and the demand on the West and East Coast for surfboards. Both were thinking along the same lines, that they wanted to start their own business.
After coming to an agreement, the Channin / Diffenderfer Surfboard came to be. The first factory was located in Mission Beach where the retail store was in front and the factory was in the back. The factory soon relocated to Del Mar to accommodate the increase in orders.
In 1967 Channin Diffenderfer developed the chambered balsa surfboard that improved the lightness of a balsa surfboard. After making surfboards that were well known and sought after, the partnership ended in 1970. Mike went to France and Tony started Channin Surfboards.
The new location for Channin Surfboards was located at the old auxiliary airport behind the Del Mar Race Track which is no longer there. Donald Takayama had his shop there along with Jack Popoff of Popoff foam. After one year Tony moved his operation to Encinitas and has been there since.
At first Tony was glassing his own boards, but after a while the quality of his glassing became much in demand and contract glassing developed into part of his business. Tony continued glassing full time until the early 1980’s after which he focused more on managing his business and glassed part time.
In the latter part of the 1990’s Tony got a shaping machine and has been involved with the process of computer aided design and computer aided manufacturing of surfboards. The initial investment is a substantial amount compared to a skil 100 and the learning curve of the software is much longer than squeezing the trigger of the planer.
Looking back the people who Tony said influenced his glassing were Carl Ekstrom, Rennie Yater, and Dan Tarampe, “They were quality minded guys who put their heart and soul into what they were doing”. After looking around Tony’s shop and seeing the quality of work that is on the racks, the same can be said about Tony Channin.