California Gold Vintage Surf Auction Recap

Greetings, Shredderz! Another installment of the California Gold Vintage Surf Auction is in the books, and here are some thoughts on how everything went. You can still view all of the auction lots here, and I also wrote a previous post featuring some of my favorite boards in the auction.

First, classic 60s longboards blew it out of the water. Some of the prices were downright staggering, starting with a pair of Greg Noll Mickey Dora “Da Cat” Models. The paisley Da Cat went for $24,000 (pre-auction estimate was $7-$9K), and the black Da Cat went for $17K (versus a $7-$9K estimate). A 1962 Greg Noll Elephant Gun went for $14K, again higher than the initial estimate of $10-$12K. All of these boards were fully restored by Randy Rarick.

One thing seems clear: high end collectors are paying top dollar for brand name boards, and are not deterred by examples that have been fully restored. One has to think these boards are being bought mostly for display. (Note: Randy Rarick had a comment on a Facebook thread expressing some similar thoughts, which you can find here.) This rankles some, but I personally can’t find the energy to get bent out of shape over the fact some stranger might not get around to using a brand new toy. On one hand, while it’s worth noting everything happening at the high end of the collectible surfboard market, I cannot fathom ever dropping $20K on a board.

It’s clear that Lightning Bolt, like the aforementioned 60s boards, is on the short list of trophy boards for deep pocketed collectors. An all original 1971 Gerry Lopez & Reno Abellira-shaped Lightning Bolt fetched $19K. Per the paragraph above, I’m shocked that there doesn’t appear to be any sort of premium given the board is all original. By contrast, a Gerry Lopez-shaped Lightning Bolt Maui single fin went below the estimate, landing at $6,500. For many of these collectors, I imagine the iconic red and yellow colors with the classic logo likely trumps most of the other details. (Similarly, newer boards Gerry has shaped under his own label don’t seem to get anywhere near the prices of his Bolts.)

I’m also a bit taken back by some of the prices for newer boards. A 2003 Yater Spoon limited edition reissue went for $6K, whereas a hand shaped 1977 Yater single fin topped out at $2K. A 1990s Skip Frye Eagle sold for $7K. I personally love the board, but my God, I can’t figure out why you’d pay this much. The rare Select Surf Shop Skip Frye single fin makes far more sense at $4,200, and ditto for the 1967 G&S Skip model at $6K. I was a bit bummed to see some legendary Aussie boards land flat with American collectors. A 1970s Michael Peterson single fin went for way under estimates, as did a sick Hot Buttered single fin with an amazing Captain Goodvibes airbrush.

I also think that the auction itself — whether it’s the competitive bidding, or the visibility, or some combination of the two — drives up prices in a way that you don’t see in one off sales. That’s great news if you’ve got a legendary 60s longboard stashed away in your garage, but if you’re looking to buy one, I hope you’ve got a killer job, a very understanding wife, or some combination of the two.

There is no doubt the auction, like previous installments, contains important surfboards that help illuminate surf history. And truly, more power to the people who can afford these magnificent boards. But I’d also like to get on my soapbox and advocate for the good old-fashioned hunt for vintage sticks, whether it’s on Craigslist, at garage sales, or anywhere in between. I can’t help but think there’s a little more soul involved when someone puts in the time and energy to unearth a hidden gem. Yes, I feel a little silly writing that — as if there’s anything soulful about refreshing Craigslist multiple times a day — but I stand by it. If you’re patient and you put in the time, there are some incredible bargains to be had. Part of the beauty of collecting surfboards is you only need a few hundred bucks to score something exceptional. Besides, when’s the last time someone’s vintage Rolex enabled anything half as memorable as riding a wave? Happy hunting, and as always, if you score some heat you know where to find me.

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