Marc Andreini's Magic Hulls

[Photo by Michael Kew]

Marc Andreini is a surfboard builder with an affinity for displacement hulls, George Greenough, and The Ranch. He caught his first wave at the Sandbar in Santa Barbara at age 11 (somewhere around 1961), and by age 12 he was already fixing and restoring boards. In the next three years he taught himself how to shape his own quiver and was buzzing around Government Point with pioneers like Margo (Godfrey) Oberg, mentally clocking in every detail  - and every feeling - of every ride. By the mid ‘70s, Andreini was shaping alongside his idol Renny Yater, and the two then opened up shop together. Since then, Andreini’s been working and reworking the single fin. In the ‘90s he revisited a hull bottom board from ‘The Innermost Limits of Pure Fun’ and concepted the Vaquero, a board that drives through the water (compared to those that skim) and allows for a deep carving sensation, creating a more tenacious connection to the wave -- truly a ‘cowboy of the waves.’

Andreini’s childhood informed much of his board building practice. His parents were products of the Roaring Twenties, both were originally from San Francisco, and the pair met at a swimming hole near Santa Cruz. After the marriage split, Andreini’s mother packed up and moved to Santa Barbara (partly because the headlands sticking out reminded her of Waikiki in photos). There, she taught her kids how to body surf and belly board, bringing them to the beach every weekend. His mother had learned to surf from Napoleon, one of the original “Beach Boys” and a Duke Kahanamoku traditionalist, while spending some time in Waikiki. She would take her sons back to the island on occasion in the mid ’50s and told stories of how neat it was to ride a surfboard standing up, igniting Andreini’s first interest in wave riding.

Andreini visited Pilgrim Surf + Supply in Brooklyn in the spring of 2014, where he spoke with us about watching Greenough shred on his knees firsthand, memorizing every word of Bill Cleary’s ‘Surfing Guide to Southern California,’ and the self taught age of surfboard building.

[Marc Andreini in Santa Cruz, CA, 2011. Photo by Michael Kew.]

Chelsea Burcz: So it was your mother who got you hooked on surfing?

Marc Andreini: She loved Hawaii, she loved Hawaiian culture, and she was a musician (she played the ukulele, I have all of her ukuleles hanging in my house). She sang in nightclubs in Santa Barbara. She sang Hawaiian music in Hawaiian, she was really good with language. She was French, and she loved all languages, but she could speak fairly fluent Hawaiian. My mom took us to the beach every weekend from age seven, and then when I was eleven, my dad got us a couple of old boards and I started stand up surfing. I rode my first wave at the Sandbar in the Santa Barbara harbor, and then we surfed in Leadbetter which is by the city college and then we moved over to Montecito by Hammonds and Miramar. The first time I ever stood up on a board, it was for only two seconds on a one foot wave at Sandbar and I fell right off the tail. I couldn’t sleep that night, I tossed and turned, all I could think about was the next time I got to do it. I still lay in bed every single night and I dream about surfing and boards, and what board I want to work on next, what it will look like or what kind of waves it will ride. It’s the same, it never changed.

CB: I’ve read that George Greenough is a huge influence for your boards.

MA: That’s my favorite topic. George Greenough is in between my age and Renny Yater’s age. So Yater is really the ‘Golden Generation’ that came from the lifeguard era with wooden boards and they pioneered everything. Greenough was in that band of people that were very few of -- surfing wasn’t popular until my generation and George is about nine years older than me. He’s from an unknown generation, and he was the kid of all the forefathers riding the big, heavy boards. George was just a local eccentric kid from Montecito, he had a trust fund, he never worked. He was just a very friendly, outgoing, genius type of a guy. He surfed Rincon and The Ranch, and he was a fisherman, so him and Yater were good friends, and they fished together and surfed together. He hated longboards and he thought it was ridiculous they had no shape to them and they didn’t go fast. He made his own short small boards and rode his own on his knees, and everyone knows that, it’s well documented.

When I was 15, I was on the White Owl surf team, and my best friend at the time was Margo Godfrey [Oberg], who had moved up from La Jolla. She was already a well known surfer, and all of her friends from La Jolla would come up, and they wanted her to get them into The Ranch. This was probably 1966. She was only 12 or 13 years old, so she looked to me to help her get these guys into The Ranch. This group of guys come up, I believe Tom Ortner was one of the three guys, in a brand new Boston Whaler with twin forty horse power Evinrude motors. These were rich guys. So they pick us up on Olive Mill Road in Montecito, and we drive up to launch the boat, and I told them I knew where every spot is, so they put me in the bow and I managed to get us to Rights and Lefts, and we surfed it until it closed out at low tide. No one was in The Ranch, we were in there by ourselves. What I didn’t tell them was that I’d never been to The Ranch before -- I didn’t tell anybody, but I had memorized every word of Bill Cleary’s “Surfing Guide to Southern California.” It described every spot, the tides and swell direction, everything, so I had it all memorized. I don’t know how I managed to get us to the spots in a boat, but I did.

So when it closed out, it was low tide, we got on the boat and I said, ‘Well you know, when it’s minus tide you go Government Point, let’s go up there.’ And there we were, surfing perfection shoulder to head high waves on a sandy point on our longboards. Up around the corner on the beach, here comes a little Renault with the air out of the tires so it wouldn’t sink in the sand. They drive up around the corner, and it’s Danny Hazard, who’s a well known fisherman, and George Greenough. We’re the only boat there watching Danny Hazard riding his Yater Spoon. When the tide got all the way out, George paddled out at the top of the point where no one would ever ride a longboard because it was two or three feet over head and really hollow. I watched him on his knee board doing full g-force bottom turns, banking off the top, flying out of the barrel, doing a figure eight cutback, rebounding and then back up into the pocket, disappearing, and then getting barreled twice in the same wave. This had not been invented, nobody had ever known it was possible to do, no one had ever seen it done, it never had even been conceived of - I was just awestruck.

I walked up the beach and he had an extra board laying on the beach and I’ll never forget looking at it. I didn’t know what I was looking at, I couldn’t even understand what I was seeing because it was such a round shell, and it didn’t look like it could possibly ride a wave. For me, I think that was the most perspective changing moment. Surfing was everything to me. I knew that I witnessed something that was beyond description. Little did I know that in two years I would be restoring surfboards and doing ding repairs. I had shaped a small belly board when I was 14, so I was already working on surfboards, but I only started shaping complete boards maybe a year and a half later. I built what was the Greenough type of influence of a wide outline stubby with a flex fin on it, and for me that was the most important thing I’d ever seen in surfing, that’s why he is my primary influence. I have many other influences in surfing and shaping, Greenough was a kneeboarder and surfing has all these other layers for me that really matter, like style and approach on a wave on a surfboard. There’s many others, but it would start with him.

["The surf shot is the Ranch in 1972. Photo by Steve Bissel. Bob Haakenson and I had paddled his two man canoe in from Gaviota that day. The boys rolled out the red carpet for us."]

CB: How did you meet Renny Yater?

MA: I’m not sure. When we were kids Renny would never talk to us, he didn’t talk to anybody except a few friends. He was old and unapproachable to us. So when I was little, I had been in his shop, but I never talked to him. And Jeff White, who made White Owl surfboards, he loved kids and was a real mentor to us, he was awesome. I was a White Owl guy. When I was twenty years old, I was building boards for a living in Santa Barbara, and I probably just went over to see if he needed any help, so I would have met him at that point. I glassed for him at the time and there was a real natural relationship for us because we both do everything in a similar fashion. We’re methodical, we do exactly what we say on the day that we say we’re going to do it. We’re the same in that way. So we would never have an argument or an issue in the many, many years that ensued. We eventually became partners in the shop. For me, that was the highlight of my surfboard building career, even if it was only a couple years in the mid ‘70s.

[1971 at Andreini's shop/barn in Santa Barbara. Photo by Barron Spafford.]

[Front of the shop with Yater.]


["This is inside the factory when I partnered with Yater in mid '70s. Me and Renny in center , Kirk Putnam, Jon Marks, Dan Highland at their work stations. We made about 15 boards every week of the year. A lot in those days. This was near the Wharf in Santa Barbara."]

CB: Working with Renny must have had some lasting influence...

MA: Renny is a man of few words and actions, of course, speak louder than words. I would say Yater’s influence on me isn’t any specific teaching. I followed my own path, he had his own path, and I was certainly influenced by what I’d seen him do. I understand what he does because I study it. What influenced me about Yater is who he is as an individual, in his purity of intent in his life - it’s hard to describe it’s just so pure. I think he’s been the influence in a much broader sense in my surfboard design -- with him, it’s just simplicity. Simplicity is the ultimate description of the Yater approach. Simplicity and purity.

Being Italian, I think of things of having to be beautiful, so I have a different look at things, I want it to be beautiful. But I think Italian style is purity and simplicity with a flair and a beauty to it. I’m one of the fortunate people that have been able to spend time with him and surf with him in the Channel Islands and The Ranch on his fishing boat, he’s one of the true great surfers. People don’t talk about it, and he’ll never tell you about it. I got to surf with him in his really good days and so I know how he thinks and why he does what he does.

CB: You came into surfboard design during a time of flux, a time of transition, boards were getting lighter and smaller. How did that inform you when you were thinking about design?

MA: Part of it goes back to Greenough, since I had personally seen him ride waves. I had an idea that a wide outline board with a single fin that was longer than it was wide, with some flex, I already knew that was a good approach and I used that as a benchmark. Anything that was shorter and lighter, I don’t care how crude it was, it was better than a longboard.

I only weighed 130 lbs when I was 16, and when you’re riding a 9’6” longboard that weighs 25 lbs, they’re really just the pits to ride. When you got a 20 lbs board, it was so much better. I would break the nose off my boards in the longboard days, and you couldn’t always find a piece of foam to repair them, so it was easier to cut the glass back and reshape the stump that was left and re-glass it. I had a variety of boards that were traditional longboards that had been shortened, I had one at 7’2”, 8’8”, 8’10”, 9’0” - that was pretty common. I loved all those small boards. I had an O’Neill I bought used with a beautiful flex fin on it, it was a 9’10” and Kenny Tilton shaped it. He was a real renowned shaper from Jacobs and he came up to Santa Cruz. Beautiful, thinned railed, lightweight board, with the nose broken, so I cut it down to 8’10” and it had a good fin on it. I loved that board. Anything lighter and shorter with a good fin on it was fabulous. Whenever you would push on a board and it would respond and it would actually gain speed, you were addicted to that.

["A set of twin fins I was working on in '70. These twin fins were fun in small waves. Built without power tools, shaped and glassed in dad’s San Mateo garage."]

 ["Dave Aronovichi on left, Doug Fletcher on right with 11' hot curl made from a topped 1,300 year-old redwood. Team Santa Cruz Builders Guild."]

CB: What was your process for experimenting with board shapes?

MA: I was smart enough to make notes. I watched films, and in those days you had to go to an auditorium and they would just show it on a reel to reel projector, so you had to go see the film. If I saw a guy riding a twin fin or a down railer or whatever it was, I then wanted to try it. Or you’d meet someone on the beach who was riding something unique and you liked the way it looked when they were surfing it. You’d look at it, you’d take all the measurements and you’d ask them ‘Wow, what’d you do!?’ It was a very open time, everybody was free in sharing information. I tried everything. Every type of fin, the width, lengths, from short and wide to thin and long, and everything in between, all the dimensions. We’d all try them, but the problem was that we’d jump around too much. We’d go to extremes. We’d make a board and it would go left but it wouldn’t go right. There was a lot of zigzagging through that era, it was very unstable. I remember when natural rocker came out, we had made them as straight as possible because Greenough’s boards were dead straight rocker out the back. Rocker is a huge part of shortboard experimentation, as well as the rails. The outlines all were pretty good when you look at all surfboards from that era, but it was the rocker and the rails that were the key that we had to figure out.

We were trying all different rockers, there were no blanks, they were pretty much blobs and you were pretty much creating something out of it. I kept notes and if I put a half of an inch of rocker in a board one time and I thought it was too flat, I’d try five eighths the next time or whatever. So I was methodical to that degree, it just took five or six years to sort out the difference between wide, short with up rails, and long, narrow with down rails -- and how much rocker, we didn’t realize that you have to scale them up and scale them down, that took us a little while to figure out.

Volumes were another big part of the transition. We went from knee paddling to small boards - well, do you try to compress all that volume into the small board? Not a lot of guys prone paddled, that’s a forgotten fact, very few people prone paddled a longboard. So that whole dynamic was a real adjustment. I never prone paddled into a wave in my life until the first shortboard I ever rode. That was a big part of adjusting everything - the volume and the rocker and the rails. By ‘75 the boards were pretty darn good and sorted out, I thought.

[Marc Andreini, 2010. Pacifica, CA. Photos by Michael Kew.]

CB: Did anyone teach you how to shape?

MA: I’m one hundred percent self taught. I don’t think I saw anybody shape a surfboard until I was in my twenties. I started restoring and repairing boards when I was 12 years old, so I just would fashion with whatever was in the garage - a coping saw, a hacksaw, whatever was there. I’d get scraps from the shop out of the dumpster and I’d splice pieces together to make a nose. I’d make a fin out of plywood and glass it. I’d already built complete surfboards before I’d ever even seen it done, so when I finally saw some professionals do it I just learned how to do it better.

Board building is about understanding what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, building a board that works a certain way. It doesn’t matter how you do it, you could spend a week doing it or an hour, and it doesn’t matter, it’s the result that matters. So you have to know what it is that you’re wanting to accomplish -- that’s what makes somebody an accomplished board builder.

I believe you have to ride all your own boards. I can’t ride some of my small ones anymore, but all of my models I evolved from my own surfing on those boards. I also have three or four core people who ride them as well, including Kirk Putnam, my brother Peter, Bob Leonelli, and then in recent years I’ve worked with Mike Kew, Mason St. Peter, Jon Kitamurra. There’s a handful more, but those are the kind of people in recent years that validate what I’m doing and it’s fun working with people. My idols that really progressed board building, they were just basically making boards for themselves and figuring out how to make them work better. So you have to have your own vision of surfing to do that. My boards are my vision of how I want to surf. My boards actually make you surf that way to some degree. Instead of just making what somebody wants, I’m building boards that capture a certain style of surfing that’s within my vision, so if it matches what a person likes, then it’s a match, and if doesn’t, it’s better to have somebody else make the board anyway.

I love it when I see a guy riding a board he built because I’m just a guy making my own boards. I only make boards for other people because I never say no. They like the boards I make so I’ll make them one, that’s why I became a board builder, I never intended to be one. I wanted to be a teacher. My grandfather was a teacher and my oldest son is a teacher.

CB: Is there anything specifically in board design that gets you excited? Hulls?

MA: I love hulls. I love any type of surfing that engages you in the waves, where it’s all about the feeling. If you can have a style of surfing that connects you with the experience of riding the wave, I think that’s what is key. I want a person to be connected to that power zone of the wave and the fall line of the wave where they’re really enveloped in the water. You might actually just been standing there, and you made this wave with very little effort, but you just feel like you’ve just conquered the world.

CB: You mentioned her earlier, but what was it like surfing with Margo Godfrey (Oberg) as a kid?

MA: Today, people don’t know who Margo is and what a significant surfer she was at that time. Joyce Hoffman, the niece of Flippy Hoffman, was the top female surfer. In those days, most of the women surfers, except for Linda Benson who is very feminine, modeled themselves after Phil Edwards. Everyone did, he was the king. Even Joyce had a Phil Edwards style and she rode for Hobie, she was connected with that whole group. Little Margo was a tiny girl and she lived in La Jolla, that’s where Hansen was and she surfed for Hansen. They made her a Doyle model but it was only 8’10” and really thin and 20 ½” wide. At 12 years old she was considered one of the top female surfers behind Joyce Hoffman, Joey Hamaski, Phyllis O’Donnell and a few others. Those other females, other than Linda Bensen, took a more masculine approach to surfing if you will. But Margo had this delicate grace about her style, and still did all the maneuvers of the men, but she did it in a graceful way, a feminine way. There was something really magical about the way she surfed. We all knew about Margo because that was our whole world -- everything surfing. So when the word is out that Margo’s family was moving to Montecito, it was around 1965 if I had to guess. I believe I was in my first year in high school, I was 15, that would have made her around 12. And the whole talk of the town was, ‘Oh my god, Margo is moving to town. This is unreal.’

CB: So you were well aware of her before she moved in?

MA: Absolutely. She was well known. As a twelve year-old she was an accomplished surfer. We surfed every day after school and every weekend. So we’re out at Hammond’s and it’s the first day she’s in town and Margo Godfrey is in the water. Me and my buddies were thinking this was big time. I was always very shy. I’m out there thinking I’m going to stutter if I try to talk to her, I didn’t know what to do. We were just in awe, we were mesmerized. She’s a fabulous surfer.

At some point she loses her board and I was inside of her and I thought ‘this is my chance.’ I saved her board off the rocks and I take it out to her and I start chatting her up. In that short conversation, I basically asked her if I could take her to Stanley’s (Stanley’s was our best beach break in the day, it’s gone now, they built a freeway over it, but it was a beach break in Ventura where everybody surfed on the weekends). I said, ‘Hey you want to go to Stanley’s this weekend? I’ll drive you over there.’ And she said, ‘Yeah, sure that’d be great.’ I was only 15 years old, which meant I didn’t have a driver’s license, but because I repaired surfboards I had my own money and I bought a $30 car. All our cars in those days were just jalopys; it was a 1950 Chevy and I had bullhorns bolted to the hood and we painted a racing stripe with flowers on it. My mom used to think that Billy Edwards, who was sixteen, would drive me around in it, but really he’d drive me out the driveway and then get out of my car. I would jump in and go driving all around without a license. So I had Billy get me out of my driveway, I drive over to Margo’s house and I pick her up and we go to Stanley’s to surf. Anyway, that’s how we met and after that we surfed together every week, wherever she went, I went and vice versa.

CB: Is there anything contemporary that’s exciting you surfing?

MA: This last ten years of surfing has been my favorite era of surfing because of the people. The people are so awesome, they love surfing, they don’t have all of that horrible selfishness that was permeating surfing for so many years, I’m happy that has declined. I love that the culture has embraced the roots of surfing, the history of it and a lot of alternative ways of enjoying the ocean.

["Zero groundswell in the Santa Barbara Channel didn’t keep Marc Andreini from milking some tiny windswell on a cold, blustery afternoon somewhere along the Gaviota Coast." - Photos by Michael Kew]

See Andreini's boards at Pilgrim Surf + Supply and order your own!

- Words by Chelsea Burcz