Waterspot: Watching a pelican glide

Waterspot: Watching a pelican glide
Skip Frye, left, presents the gift of a lifetime, a Skip Frye board, to Philip Castagnola Jr. Photo by Chris Ahrens

Much has been said and written about Skip Frye, and the amazing and unique surfboards he builds and operates. I have contributed to those printed words on more than one occasion, the last time being in a recent edition of the Surfer’s Journal where I had the privilege of describing Frye’s ever expanding quiver of surfboards.

The boards in his possession could sell for thousands of dollars each, and similar boards made by him often rank among the prized possessions of the world’s top surfers. What makes these surfboards so valuable is not the foam and fiberglass, but that they are not machine made, that Skip Frye himself handcrafts each one of them. Nobody but Skip Frye has ever made a Skip Frye Surfboard.Most of the boards in his possession are long gliders made for his subtle, soulful style.

I don’t remember when I first heard of him, but by the mid- 1960s, still photos and films had him ranking highly on my list of favorite surfers. But I have written about Frye’s surfing and surfboards before, while somehow omitting to mention the man’s generosity.

The first day I met him at P.B. Point in the early ’70s he gave me something, a slice of orange, which I quickly swallowed, instead of having it bronzed as a memento of my introduction to my surf hero. Since then it has been more valuable items: towels, T-shirts and one of my favorite surfboards, an 8-foot Fish he gave me on my 55th birthday.

Today he proved himself yet again; reaching deep into his wallet and handing me a substantial amount of cash for a volunteer project I am working on. Nobody in the room noticed as this was done smoothly and quietly, without making me feel the least bit awkward. If anyone had noticed they would not have been surprised. Like his surfing, his gifts are always presented with unparalleled style.

The accompanying photo is of Frye flanked by one of his creations that he had just given to Philip Castagnola Jr. If you’ve lived in the San Diego area for long, you may have known Philip, or his father, the late Phil Sr. who owned and operated Select Surf Shop in Pacific Beach from the late 1960s and all through to the 1980s.

Frye and the Castagnola family go back more than half a century, and Frye is never one to forget a friend or their children. Phil the younger had fallen on some hard times, and Skip knew it. As usual, he timed it until he thought nobody was watching, and then he slyly unveiled something that for a surfer is the equivalent of a Stradivarius violin.

The smooth curves of that, and each of his surfboards, resemble those of a windswept beach or a reeling point wave. The tinted glass is like a windless morning on the ocean. I’ll quit typing, but before I do, check out the smile on Philip’s face. It says what no words can.

Note: The photo of Wade Koniakowsky and Woody Ekstrom that ran with my Feb. 23 column was taken by Morgan Mallory.

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