New York's Finest: Joe Falcone
[Photo by Julien Roubinet]
There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1973 NYC classic “Mean Streets” where Robert Deniro’s character Johnny Boy explains to his cousin Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel) that he can’t make his weekly payments because he lost all his money in a card game at “Joey Clams’s aka Joey Scallops on Hester Street.” The movie ends in Brooklyn at the foot of the Williamsburg Bridge, not far from where I first met Joseph and began referring to him as “Joey Clams” (for reasons not related to gambling or loan-sharking though). Eight years later it’s become synonymous with Joseph William Falcone. The shaping bay Joe built at his mom’s house in uptown Rockaway was nicknamed ‘The Clams Casino,’ referencing both the film and popular bivalve dish assembled with breadcrumbs and bacon. It’s become a pre/post-session meeting ground for the cognoscenti, you might bump into San Diego surfer historian Richard Kenvin, photographer Ari Macropoulos or graffiti writer Earsnot of the IRAK crew. If you’re really lucky, Joe’s grandma will be in the kitchen stuffing an artichoke or breading some cutlets and you’ll be invited for dinner.
This interview was conducted in early April by phone and email.
[Photo by Keith Sherwood]
Michael Machemer: Let’s start with Rockaway legend Dennis Farrell, you’ve mentioned him being an early influence. Didn’t he help you with your first set of racks?
Joseph Falcone: Yes he did. I made my first set of racks out of lumber bought from Home Depot and Dennis made sure I had the geometry right. Getting your racks right so you can work on a board at the right angle is very important. I essentially made them myself but Dennis would come by and observe what I was doing, giving me the thumbs up or thumbs down and always giving me pointers on what not to do. To be honest I never spent time with Dennis while he was shaping a board. Never even saw him use a planer. He just opened my eyes to what shaping was with his backyard experiments that he’d bring to the beach. He was more of an inspirational figure. I guess you can say I was mostly self –taught, trial and error. The older guys were always kind of distant to me. Showed me things and taught me about the water but kept me at arms length. Maybe they thought I was an annoying inquisitive kid but they always kept to themselves for the most part. The old guys I grew up around didn’t really nurture or pay mind to the young guns in the same way that I make it a point to today. It was more about proving yourself and paying your dues, so I didn’t really feel too welcomed as a kid. The scene was always very cliquey. You had to be out there on the gnarliest fucking days of the year if you wanted any of the salty dogs to even remember your name, which didn’t happen until high school. I learned by listening to what they said to each other, seeing what they did, where they’d paddle out and how they’d get into position. There was probably more learned from what they didn’t say though. It wasn’t until I’d shaped and glassed my first twenty-five to thirty boards that I was placed in a different light. A light that was closer to the level of respect I had for them, guys like Dennis and Pat Reen.
MM: Underground legends who grew up surfing Rockaway during the early 1960s and started shaping their own boards in the 1990s. Both were FDNY and are still fit and surfing well into their 60’s. Real New York surfer/shaper guys. While we’re talking about the Rock Underground who’s Mark Anaya? You’ve mentioned him as being one of your favorite Rockaway surfers.
JF: Mark was always an anomaly to me. A fireman married to one of Tom Sena’s daughters. He helped Tom run the business (Rockaway Beach Surf Shop) on his days off. He was OG Rockaway, just like the rest of the clique of dudes his age but he never rolled with anyone yet had all of their respect. Maybe because he could out surf most of the guys in his sleep. Still to this day I’ve never seen him rolling with a buddy, his passenger seat is always empty. He always kept his head down, conversations short and surfing turned up to an explosive level. He was the dark horse of my neighborhood and I was very aware of it, he almost seemed introverted which was precisely what made him so interesting to me. We had the introverted thing in common. I wasn’t impressing anyone with my surfing ability so I was still able to remain under the radar. Not like him.
[Clams going right, photos by Andrew Kidman]
[Clams refoil cutting Brewer fins, photo by Andrew Kidman]
[Franco and Clams cutting out in the Clams Casino, photo Andrew Kidman]
[Big ‘n’ thick, Franco and Clams, photo by Andrew Kidman]
[Photos by Andrew Kidman]
MM: When we spoke the other day you said that Tool Depot had been in touch and we started talking about your trip to San Diego a few years ago and how important that was. Hanging with Richard Kenvin, Mike Eaton and Joe Bauguess…
JF: The whole Eaton thing was incredible, I’m so appreciative to have seen that factory and met him and Joe Bauguess. I recently heard from an old friend at Tool Depot in San Diego that Mike Eaton had a stroke and is not doing well. That makes me sad because I remember him being a badass and can’t imagine him any other way. Eaton was a total Clint Eastwood/John Wayne kind of scenario for me with a gritty mustache, an individual who demands your attention, is cool, confident, funny and outspoken. My kind of guy! RK took me to the factory to hang out with him. I brought my camera and this 5’5 keel fish I made for myself and had just surfed at Windansea. The board still had water droplets on it. I put it on top of a garbage can just as Eaton walked into the room. He shouted “You’ve almost got it, don’t stop there…put that piece of shit right in the can!” I was scared at first and he definitely made sure to keep me on ice for a couple of seconds before bursting out into laughter. We chatted for a bit and I told him my story and he showed me around the factory. They were making really high-tech prone paddleboards for racing wrapped in black carbon fiber. After all that I was introduced to Joe Bauguess who was hesitant to trust me at first. He thought I was going to rip him off for the Mini-Simmons design and start making them and using the fact that, “I’d been in the shaping room with Bauguess” as a validation, like a few shapers had already begun to do locally. I just quietly sat observing Joe and shooting photos of him. At this point RK was gone so long I thought he’d surely forgotten about me. I was so young then, I’m not talking age-wise so much as being a shade of green. I had already been in the shaping room with a few guys, Manny Caro and Josh Hall, so I knew my etiquette. However, Bauguess had no issue telling me if I was out of line and that he did, a few times actually. “No photos of tools and no photos of techniques” he’d say. Told him I was just there to experience something not to learn his methods. I watched him shape a few boards and shot more photos as he loosened up. All of those photos were on my old laptop along with photos of Manny and Josh when they came to shape and got destroyed during hurricane Sandy. That laptop was my biggest loss personally. It had ten years of photos on it, all stuff that would’ve been perfect for this piece.
[Goin’ left in 2010]
[Clams in the foreground at the Eaton Factory in San Diego, Mike Eaton and Joe Bauguess in background]
JF: That was a great experience for me. It was during one of the NY Fish Fryes, definitely in May because Manny shaped an extra custom for my birthday. They both stayed at my place, both made over ten boards and I sat in for every single one. I was really into Speed Dialers at the time and so I got the full run down from Manny on those boards. He always made sure to really explain everything to me in detail. An open door policy, I thought that spoke volumes of him as a person. He was also a fucking surgeon with the planer, Josh too! I learn best and absorb the most by watching someone do something, seeing their hands do what I’m trying to do. In other words, the twenty-something boards they collectively shaped was like boot camp and the kick-in-the-ass I needed to learn and start making real surfboards. No more guessing, I knew what I wanted and knew how to go after it. From there on out, every time I approached a blank I had a plan mapped out and began to start seeing the form in the blank.
MM: Now let’s flash forward to 2015, you’ve reportedly stopped making quads, which is interesting because that collabo-quad you made with Josh Hall is a magic board.
JF: People have been asking me a lot of questions about this lately. The answer is simple and reasonable. I don’t want to make boards for people that I’m not riding myself. I haven’t ridden a quad in about six years now. For a small segment of my early 20’s, when I was spending time with Josh and Manny, I was riding them almost exclusively. I found that my surfing had always made its way over to the shoulder and most of my rides consisted of big pumps and long drawn out cutbacks. There was never any lip bashing action or drop of a dime pivoting like you can do on a single fin in the pocket. Its hard to recollect the subtleties of how my quads felt because its been so long, but I live by the belief that “its the surfer and not the board.” I could’ve figured out a better quad fin placement to promote a different style of surfing but I was feeling stagnant and didn’t care enough to keep experimenting. I wasn’t on a mission to be the next Brian Bulkley thats for sure! No disrespect to Bulkley at all. It takes balls bigger than the pair I’ve got to drop in at third reef Pipe on a quad. My surfing ability wouldn’t allow me to get the board to do what I wanted it to do so I needed to expand my vision and cleanse my palate. Over the years I just got bored and was looking for a different feel. All the fin arrangements beyond quads felt like a challenge to learn and I wasn’t at home with the feeling. Any respectable shaper or waterman needs to know his designs better than I had at that time and I was making every kind of board. That meant I wasn’t as confident that my thrusters, single fins and twin keels would work as good as the quads.
[A New York Historical Landmark… The Clams Casino, Photo by Julien Roubinet]
[AK single, Photos by Julien Roubinet]
Andrew Kidman was also heavily influential in this transition. During the three months I spent with him back in the fall of 2009 he really opened my eyes and my mind as to what I was missing out on. The waves were so good nearly the whole time, in fact I can’t remember when the waves were that consistent through the fall since then. The first time I saw him surf I was beyond impressed at the effortless yet explosive style of his surfing. He was riding Franco’s yellow Swift Movement 5’10 keel shaped by Larry Mabile and just blowing minds in waist to chest high slop. He wouldn’t bother with quads and told me that my surfing would get heaps better if I stopped surfing them. That really resonated with me. With Andrew, you just take his word for it, he’s that kind of guy. It all became pretty evident during a two day trip we made to Jersey, where it was bombing both days. Andrew was riding his 6’1 Steve Lis keel, Franco was on a contemporary single fin shaped by the masterful hands of Tom Parrish and I had borrowed a 5’4 Pavel Creekfish Quad from Chris Gentile because all my boards were thrashed from the weeks prior. A Patagonia rep was towel changing back into his clothes while we were suiting up. He made some foolish remark to Andrew that went something like “Pssshhh, You really going to ride that thing?!” I stood by while Andrew shook his head, laughed and said “Pray for me mate.” He paddled out quickly and was in the lineup before I knew it. Andrew spun around and grabbed the first set wave headed right for him. I was still in the car park getting my shit together, so was the Patagonia rep. Andrew drops into a bomb, bottom turns into the pocket and the wave jacks up and he got swallowed whole. I’m not talking a bullshit barrel like most of us claim. He was deep, so deep we couldn’t even see the nose of his board. Completely behind the curtain on a violent one. We both thought Andrew was going to eat shit for sure. He was in there for so long, I kept my eyes on the wash looking for that blue Lis thinking he’d bailed and was tumbling around out the back. Right as the wave started to fold at the very end Ank comes blasting out like a bat outta hell! The rep’s jaw dropped to the floor. I looked over at him and said “Now would be a good time to put your foot in there.” Everyone got their fair share of amazing waves that day. I caught a few good waves making the best of the equipment I had but when I look back at that day, I wish I had been on something narrower with less fins. In any event I started surfing thrusters, single fins and keels from that point forward and I just can’t get off of them now. After a few years of primarily riding thrusters I began to get slightly bored of those too so I bounce around between the designs that I’m interested in surfing and shaping. I’ve recently had the last three or four sessions on my Mick Mackie flex-tail twin. That board is a dream. It’s pretty remarkable how much energy is stored when the tails are flexing hard. It feels like a turbo boost of speed right after you’ve come off the bottom, compressed and extending towards the lip. It’s an expensive ordeal having a board shipped from Oz but if you can afford it, contact Mick and have him make you a flex tail. It’s one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had on a surf craft.
[“From ’09, the first day I received the board in the mail from Richard Kenvin via Kirk Gee the legend behind Consafos Press.”]
[“After being blown away by the feeling of this board back in 09′, I made these fins for it in order to compliment the idea of ‘stored energy and flex’ and that they did…really well.”]
[Goin’ right in 2010]
MM: What have customers been ordering lately? What have you shaping for yourself and riding?
JF: I’ve been making a lot of fish and single fins. I think between those two designs you’re covered in New York. Put it this way, if you can’t make it work with those two designs then I reckon you should really take a deeper look at your surfing, it also might be time to take up another sport entirely. Occasionally I get requests for quads but I’m not making quads anymore or the five-fin convertible setup. It’s just a personal choice and I think most guys ringing my bell for a board have a pretty good understanding of what I do. My quiver is always fluctuating in size and I currently have about eighteen personal boards. Some are mine and some were made for me, boards shaped by other shapers who’ve inspired me. I actually have two computer shaped boards in my quiver too, a 6’0 Channel Islands Red Beauty and 6’3 Black Beauty. Heavy Tom Curren respect! I love both of those boards and always found it necessary to keep them in my library for referencing purposes, hand shaped or not. Getting back to my quiver, I actually need to pump the brakes a bit. I’ve been making myself more boards than I can afford to glass at the moment. I might start glassing my personals to cut the cost down! I currently have three boards waiting to be glassed right now, one 5’11 channel bottom single fin which will be part of an artist collaboration with Lance De Los Reyes, a 5’7 thumb tail thruster with channeled ears which was a collaboration with Andrew Kidman and Ida Faye Gentile, and the “Matahari Twin Sting” as Ellis Ericson calls it, a pseudo collab with him. Ellis left a bunch of templates on his last trip to New York. The template for that one is radical, twin fin with two large IPA-esque stingers. It’s such an interesting, weird looking board — two huge stings, one close to the center of the board and one further back towards the tail. I told him I was going to make one for myself. I’m not making them for the general public though, if anyone wants one contact Ellis!
[Ellis Ericson putting some time in at the Casino]
[Kidman/Ida Faye collabo board, photo by Julien Roubinet]
[Clams variation of Ellis Ericson’s Matahari Twin Sting, photo by Julien Roubinet]
MM: Where are you getting your boards glassed these days?
JF: I’ve been bouncing around a bit over the past two years. Really just been looking for someone to work with consistently and someone I can have an open, honest and constructive dialogue with in order to keep elevating the level of both of our crafts. My buddy/mentor/colleague, Mark Petrocelli of Faktion surfboards has been a triple threat craftsman ever since going out on his own and leaving his post over at Nature Shapes a few years ago. He’s shaping, glassing and sanding all of his own boards, as well as glassing and sanding all of mine. Being responsible for glassing all of his own shapes, Mark has been rapidly elevating the quality level in his work. Working at Pilgrim I stare at what’s arguably the best rack of surfboards by some of the most respected shapers in the world, on a daily basis, so naturally I’ve got a raised level of expectation not only for myself but for my friends involved in the craft as well. Mark’s shapes are looking better than I’ve ever seen them. A force to be reckoned with, he’s a one man show with a burning desire to make the best work he can and is doing it quite well. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and for me, Mark is one of the best shapers/craftsman on this entire east coast. Mark doesn’t do contract work for all the other shapers in town. He likes to keep a certain level of focus and consistency in his rotations. I greatly admire that about him. I’ve been fortunate enough to find myself in his good graces and in his rotation, ever since then, my boards have been looking tighter as well! I get by with a little help from my friends!
[The Dove, photo by Julien Roubinet]
MM: Ok, let’s get down to real business. Where’s the best slice of pizza in New York?
JF: The best slice in New York is indisputably DiFara’s Pizza. Dominick is like the Steve Lis or Skip Frye of making pizza. Anyone who has anything else to say on the matter can talk to my answering machine! I also need to mention that the Seafood Pie aka “The South Brooklyn Bake” at Papa Leone’s in Manhattan Beach Brooklyn is mind blowing. I’m pretty sure it isn’t on the menu (it might be at this point) but don’t let that stop you from ordering it. I’m equally sure that if they were cooking that pie in a brick oven I’d have trouble maintaining my figure. Just go in there and ask for Sal, tell him Joey Clams sent you and you want to order the “South Brooklyn Bake.” You can thank me later!
[Keepin’ it real with Naughty by Nature.]
[The fuel behind the force! Joe’s mother and grandmother.]
[Special delivery… Photo by Richard Kenvin, 2008]
[Photo by Susannah Ray from her book ‘Right Coast’]
[Photo by Manny Mandog]
– Words by Michael Machemer