My first ever surfboard — which is still in my possession, thank you — is an oversized Channel Islands thruster from the late 1990s. It still bears many relics from a time when the Momentum generation was the coolest thing since sliced bread, including an outdated On A Mission traction pad and what I thought at the time was a small, tastefully done Volcom sticker. I may not have realized it at the time, but buying that board planted the seeds for what has bloomed into a fascination with Channel Islands Surfboards as well as Al Merrick, the board making maestro behind the marque. Thus, today’s post particularly special, as it features a beautiful late 1970s vintage Al Merrick Tri Plane Hull in pristine condition. The board featured here comes courtesy of Shred Sledz reader Kenny G, who was generous enough to share this stunning sled. Many thanks to Kenny G for spreading the stoke!
Alright, enough appetizers — let’s move onto the steak! As you can see, the vintage Al Merrick Tri Plane Hull pictured above is clean and it is most certainly mean as well. Kenny bought the board in 1978 from the Channel Islands Surfboards store in Santa Barbara when he was a grom. Since then, the board has avoided any significant repairs, as you can see in the pictures. Señor G was also kind enough to provide dimensions: the board is 5’11-1/2″ x 19-3/4″ x 2-5/8″, and then 13-1/4″ in the nose, and 14-1/2″ in the tail.
Oh, and the hits just keep coming! There are a million details on this board, each more killer than the last. I love the super simple black pinline, and then the unusual Channel Islands laminates on the rails. The logo on the rails looks like the same font used in the Channel Islands logo on the “Tri Plane Hull” laminate on the bottom of the board, but with the words placed on a single line instead. It’s a logo placement you don’t see too often. The double wings in the tail are absolutely gorgeous, as well.
And in case you were starting to worry that this board didn’t have enough good things going for it already, why yes, it also has a pristine original Rainbow Fin. Do your best not to drool all over your keyboard while reading this post.
Kenny provided a close up photo of the board’s tail. The photo above is a wonderful illustration of the namesake of the vintage Al Merrick Tri Plane Hull. In the picture above you can clearly see the double concave in the tail, which is one of the critical elements of Merrick’s pioneering tri plane hull design.
Kenny’s vintage Al Merrick Tri Plane Hull has a signature from the man himself. I wrote two earlier posts dissecting Merrick’s signatures on various Channel Islands surfboards, which you can find here and here. The board is clearly numbered #6044. I featured #6106 in one of the earlier Al Merrick signature breakdowns, and the appearances of both boards suggest that they were shaped within short time periods of one another during the late 1970s.
Once again, many thanks to Kenny for sharing his incredible vintage Al Merrick Tri Plane Hull and the story behind the board. I know we’re not supposed to play favorites here, but this is one of the coolest boards I have had the pleasure of writing up on this blog. As always, if you have a board you’d like to see featured here, please drop me a line or slide in those Instagram DMs.
A Channel Islands Tom Curren Al Merrick shaped personal rider!
Season’s Greetingz! I hope each and every one of you is having a great holiday season. 2017 has been a wonderful year for Shred Sledz, and as we draw things to a close, we have a truly special board brought to you by one of our earliest readers. When it comes to high performance shortboard shapes, Al Merrick is a man without peer. Thanks to Merrick’s collaborations with not one, but two of the all-time greats, the Channel Islands steward is the closest thing to Phil Jackson that surfing has to offer, minus the Zen Master’s disastrous third act at Madison Square Garden (can you tell this blog is written by a Knicks fan?). Even if Al Merrick had only worked with Kelly Slater, the eleven world titles won on Channel Islands boards would have been enough to reserve a spot on the Mount Rushmore of surfboard shapers. But years before Kelly even qualified for the tour, Merrick was the Obi Wan to Tom Curren’s Luke Skywalker, providing the sage advice and cutting-edge shapes that helped propel the young Californian to three world titles and a legacy as one of the most influential surfers of all time.
Channel Islands Tom Curren Model
Simon Anderson invented the thruster in 1980 and won the prestigious Pipe Masters the next year, putting to doubt any lingering questions about the validity of his new tri-fin design. And while Anderson invented the thruster, one can argue that Tom Curren is the surfer who best defined high performance surfing during the 1980s — aided, of course, by a quiver of Al Merrick-shaped Channel Islands sleds.
Channel Islands capitalized on Curren’s competitive prowess by releasing a number of Tom Curren signature models. The Red Beauty is a replica of the board that Curren surfed in the 1984 OP Pro held at Huntington Beach. The Red Beauty takes its name from its airbrushed rails, as seen below.
Many consider Channel Islands Surfboards’ Black Beauty model the definitive Tom Curren Al Merrick shape. The Black Beauty model is still sold today. Black Beauty is the nickname for the board that Curren surfed on the way to his maiden world title in the 1985 / 1986 season, so named for black airbrushed rails. Most famously, Curren rode the board to victory in a semi-final heat against nemesis Mark Occhilupo in the 1986 Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, which is regarded as one of the finest heats in competitive surfing.
At some point during the 1980s or 1990s, Channel Islands released a branded Tom Curren model. There are a few different variants of the Channel Islands Tom Curren model, as I have seen examples of the board with channels on the bottom, and some without. From what I can tell, though, all of the Channel Islands Tom Curren models have a bump squash tail and a thruster setup. I suspect the Channel Islands Tom Curren models were mass-produced, but I’m not certain. (See here for a quick rundown on how to identify Al Merrick hand-shaped boards.) Pictured below is a killer example of a Channel Islands Tom Curren model that was originally sold on usedsurf.co.jp.
Tom Curren Al Merrick Contest Board
The real reason behind this post is the emergence of a truly special board: an honest-to-goodness Tom Curren Al Merrick hand shape. First, a quick bit of background on pro boards. Pro surfers go through surfboards faster than Kobayashi mows down a pack of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs. Sponsored surfers receive dozens of boards a year, then ruthlessly whittle down their quivers to a handful of magic sticks that will be counted on to perform during high pressure contest situations. Surfboards made for pro surfers boast high performance but super light glass jobs, and as a result, most boards that achieve keeper status are surfed until disintegration. Generally speaking, whenever pro boards pop up for sale, looking brand new and sporting recognizable arrays of laminates, it’s because they weren’t part of the regular rotation. This isn’t to pooh pooh any of these boards — they are still awesome! — but the point is that it’s rare to find boards that belonged to pro surfers that also were surfed on a regular basis.
The board you see pictured above, however, is the real deal: a board shaped by Al Merrick and surfed by Tom Curren. This board is currently owned by Matt Johnson, an early Shred Sledz reader (thanks Matt!), who originally posted the board to the Vintage Surfboard Collectors group on Facebook. You’ll notice the laminates reflect Curren’s sponsors at the time — Ocean Pacific, Rip Curl wetsuits (ah, the innocent days when pros had separate clothing and wetsuit sponsors!), Channel Islands / Al Merrick, and The Surf. The spray job along the rails is a Tom Curren staple, including on his Red and Black Beauty surfboards. The Tom Curren Al Merrick personal rider above has a bump squash tail, which you can see in the third picture, and a glass job from Santa Barbara glasser extraordinaire Bob Haakenson.
You’ll also notice that the stringer bears Al’s distinctive “fish” signature, along with measurements. The board is pretty narrow, measuring 18.75″ at its widest point, and the rails clock in at 2.75″.
Oftentimes, dating a board can be inexact, at best. Luckily, there is a whole bunch of photographic evidence with the Tom Curren Al Merrick board pictured above. The board was surfed in the summer of 1988, and likely made around the same timeframe. Unlike many pro boards, Curren actually did work with this bad boy! In fact, Tom Curren surfed the Al Merrick shape to victory in the 1988 Marui Japan Open, held at Habushiura Beach on Niijima Island, over Gary Elkerton. For the next stop on the 1988 / 1999 ASP Tour, the Gotcha Pro at Sandy Beach on the South Shore of Oahu, Curren took a second-place finish, losing to Derek Ho in the finals. See below for some pictures from a 1988 issue of Surfer Magazine:
You can clearly see the board is the same Tom Curren Al Merrick shape featured here, from the fade to black airbrush on the rails to the placement of the logos. The pictures on the left are from the 1988 Gotcha Pro — note the sleeveless pink singlet on Curren in both pictures. (And need we even point out that Derek Ho’s two-tone stonewash boardshorts are incredible?) The picture on the right is Curren surfing during the 1988 Marui Japan Open.
So why did Curren ditch a board that propelled him to first and second place finishes to begin the 1988 / 1989 ASP season? Your guess is as good as mine. But given Curren’s reputation for mysteriousness and gentle unpredictability, it’s only fitting that he would turn his back on a magic contest-winning board. Either way, it’s a thrill to document such a special surfboard that represents the Curren / Merrick pairing, one of the few duos that truly can lay claim to having changed the sport of surfing.
As always, I cannot thank you, my readerz, enough for your support. Looking forward to sharing some more stoke in the New Year.
Seasons’s Greetingz! Nothing says holiday cheer more than a neon wetsuit and a vertical backhand attack. Actually, that’s not true at all. But I figure if you’re a regular Shred Sledz reader, there’s no better way to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year than with another Sagas of Shred entry. The 1980s Channel Islands Surfboards ad pictured above originally ran in a 1988 issue of Surfer Magazine. If you look closely you’ll see the surfer pictured in the ad is none other than South Bay pro surfer Ted Robinson. Robinson was recently inducted into the Hermosa Beach Surfing Walk of Fame. For all you fans of 80s Channel Islands Surfboards — and I can’t imagine you’ve made it this far if you aren’t — stay tuned for a big post coming out before the end of the year. It will be worth the wait, I promise! I hope your holiday cups have runneth over with tasty waves and quality time with loved ones.
Al Merrick’s greatness is undeniable. What else is there to say about the guy who shaped boards for Shaun Tomson, Tom Curren and Kelly Slater, and forever changed high performance shortboards? As an added bonus, every interview with Merrick indicates that his talent was matched only by his graciousness and humility. I continue to be amazed that Merrick’s hand-shaped boards aren’t in higher demand. I wrote an earlier post about how to identify a genuine Al Merrick signature. The post focused on boards made between the 1980s and 2000s. Today’s post will feature Channel Islands surfboards made during the during the brand’s early years (1970s through early 1980s), some of which pre-date the brand’s now-famous hexagon logo. Continue reading below for an unnecessarily detailed journey into the boards from Al’s early years…
Channel Islands Mid 1970s Single Fin: Al Merrick Signature
This might be one of the coolest vintage Channel Islands boards I have ever seen. First, check out the Channel Islands ad above, which was taken sometime in the mid-1970s. You can see that none of the boards in the ad have the now-famous CI hexagon logo. Second, the swallow tail board with the fish airbrush is clearly visible in the center of the ad. The airbrush was done by Jack Meyer, who was a Santa Barbara legend in his own right. Miraculously, this board has survived, and it belongs to the owner of Pig Dog Surf Shop. You can find the original Facebook post about the board here, which has many more pictures and info. The second picture is a close-up of the stringer, where you can see an Al Merrick signature with his full name, in addition to longtime glasser Bob Haakenson. The fish design, which appears on so many of Al’s boards, has an outline, which is unlike any other example I have seen on a Channel Islands board.
Channel Islands Early 1970s Single Fin: Inconclusive Al Merrick Signature
Pictured above is a Channel Islands single fin that was dated to 1971. This board originally appeared for sale at Mollusk Surf Shop. It is currently for sale on SurfboardHoard.com (link here). There is an inscription on the stringer, and you can see a closeup here. It’s difficult to make out anything in the inscription other than the fish design, which is a near constant presence on CI boards. The verdict: it’s difficult to say whether this is a genuine Merrick handshape, given the lack of an identifiable signature.
Channel Islands Single Fin and 1980s Tri Plane Hull Twin Fin: Al Merrick Signature with Full Name
Unfortunately, I don’t remember where I found this picture. If it belongs to you, let me know so I can give credit where it is due! I believe the board above was made in the late 1970s or early 1980s. You can see the Channel Islands hexagon logo on the bottom. According to Stoked-n-Board, the hexagon logo wasn’t introduced until 1979. This board looks extremely similar to a Channel Islands Tri Plane Hull model I wrote about almost a year ago. There is a clear signature on the stringer that has Al’s full name. The serial number is #6106, compared to #5374 on the CI Tri Plane Hull. The glassed-on wooden fin is interesting: I haven’t seen any other CI boards with a similar fin setup.
See above for an example of an early 1980s Channel Islands Tri Plane Hull twin fin that also bears Al’s signature with his full name, and not the “Fish / Al” combo that is common on later Merrick shapes. If you don’t follow Buggs on Instagram, you should! The serial number on this board is #6383, dating it a little after both of the single fins mentioned in the above paragraph.
Channel Islands Single Fins: “Stamped” Al Merrick Signature
Finally, we have some surfboards that I simply don’t know how to classify. The picture above comes from a late 1970s / early 1980s CI single fin that I wrote up earlier this year. The more I look at the signature above, the more I am convinced that this is simply a laminate. The “Shaped By” is obviously printed, and the signature is either printed or is in dark ink, unlike most of the examples above. Even though I believe the signature above is a laminate, I think it’s still possible the board was hand-shaped by Al. I’m just not sure.
For example, see the board pictured directly above. It is an odd combo: it has a signature that is an obvious laminate, but it also has a clear Al hand signature on the stringer. I believe the board above was likely made during the early 1980s, right before the thruster took off, but I’m not certain.
How can one tell whether or not a board was shaped by Al Merrick? Well, I hate to even say this, but it depends. There are many examples of early Channel Islands Surfboards that do not have a clear Al Merrick signature, but were still shaped well before the brand shifted to mass production of its designs. I suppose it’s possible that Merrick employed ghost shapers, but I can’t say for sure. One trend is also clear: during CI’s early days, Merrick had a habit of signing his board with his full name, before transitioning to the “Al / fish” combo during the 80s and the subsequent years of his career. If you have additional information, please let me know!
See “How to Tell if Al Merrick Shaped Your Channel Islands Surfboard” here.
Greetings, Shredderz! I’d like to welcome you all — yes, all five of you — to a brand spankin’ new series: Sagas of Shred! If, like me, you enjoy the nostalgia from #throwbackthursday but find yourself endlessly confused by hashtag culture, then this is the right place for you. Sagas of Shred is a weekly series, posted every Thursday, that will highlight a small piece of surf culture from the days of old. Today’s post focuses on a vintage Channel Islands Surfboards ad from the 1970s, which you can see below:
This is the first evidence I have seen that Channel Islands produced a sting design in large quantities during the 1970s. We featured a CI sting in an earlier post, but at the time I had assumed this was probably a one-off design. I have only seen a Channel Islands 70s sting for sale once before. I am guessing CI only produced a sting for a few years during the 70s. If you have one in your possession that you’d like to see featured here, please don’t hesitate to reach out!
Shred Sledz’s undying love of vintage Channel Islands boards is well-documented, so I’ll spare you the breathless prose. Let’s get right down to brass tacks: pictured above is a 1970s 7′ Channel Islands single fin that’s up for grabs for $250. It’s listed on Craigslist in LA, and you can find the listing here.
I think this is a pretty good price, with the enormous caveat that there’s no real way to know the board’s condition without seeing it in person. From the pics that were provided, though, it doesn’t seem like there are any glaring issues. These 70s CI boards are pretty rare. Mollusk has a vintage Channel Islands single fin from 1971 that’s currently listed for $450, though the price has dropped recently. The board pictured here looks to be in better shape than the Mollusk board, and I also prefer its airbrush.
Then there’s the other $64K question: was this board shaped by Al himself?
I actually have a picture of the signature on the board, which you can see below.
You’ll notice the example above is very different from the ones I provided in an earlier post I wrote about how to determine whether or not a board has been shaped by Al Merrick. However, I think that the guidelines I offered in my earlier post mostly apply to boards that were shaped in the 80s and afterwards, when CI’s production started to ramp up. My guess is during the 1970s, production was low enough that Al probably shaped a lot of these boards himself. Conclusion: I tend to think the 70s single fin at the top of the page was likely shaped by Al himself, but I’m not 100% sure. (If anyone from CI is reading and has some thoughts, please drop me a line!)
Anyway, while people were off this weekend dropping serious coin for some grails at the California Gold Surf Auction, this is a chance to snag a serious board for a lot less cash. Check out the link here.
Note: This post was edited on 5/9 to include a picture of the signature from the board.