50 Years of surfing North County

By Rob Morton,

Guest columnist

Rob Morton (left) with a surfboard made for him by Steve Clark. Photo courtesy of Jim Phillips

Soft-spoken lifetime Encinitas resident Steve Clark is a respected surfer and custom surfboard builder of Clark Custom Surfboards. His established presence at Swami’s can help local residents stay connected to their community’s surfing heritage. Steve achieved a triple AAA ranking with the U.S.S.A. in 1967, and was on the prestigious Surfboards Hawaii Surf Team.

A graduate of San Dieguito High School in 1966 and the University of Southern Oregon with a B.S. in art and education, Steve taught briefly at the university in the early 1970s before returning to Encinitas and his first love, building surfboards. A multi-faceted craftsman, his accomplishments extend beyond surfing, to art, music and amateur archeology.

I met with Steve in early June at his shaping room in Tony Channin’s surfboard factory building on Westlake in Encinitas. As I arrived, Steve and his wife Melissa were preparing to take 25 little handshaped foam surfboard models to Capri Elementary School, where their grandson is a student, for the second-graders to hand paint as an art project.

Q. What was the best surf ever at Swami’s?

A. December of 1969 the surf broke everyday between 5 and 8 feet with beautiful weather and mild offshore wind. The surf finally peaked after Christmas at 12 to 15 feet.

Q. When did you start surfing in Encinitas?

A. I started surfing at Moonlight in 1959; I was in the sixth grade.

Q. Who was making surfboards in the North County area in 1959?

A. Dale B. Woodward was in Cardiff. He then bought a shop and made boards on the Berryman property in Encinitas. He later shared this shop with Rennie Yater and Bob Copper.

Q. Who was inspirational to you when you started surfing in 1959?

A. Rusty Miller, L.J. Richards and Linda Benson were my leading inspirations, especially at Moonlight Beach. They later became Hansen Surf Team riders. For those new to the area, these were leading luminaries of the time, all three had major surfing titles. In 1963, Swami’s Surfing Association was formed. A few of the members were Steve Bernard, Bill Browne, Syd Madden, Steve Annear, John Price, Don Hansen, Al Merrick and of course others.

The following members went on to create their own surfboard companies. John Price took over the Surfboards Hawaii label from Dick Brewer and became the area’s leading competitor with Hansen. Al Merrick started as a glasser at Surfboards Hawaii and went on to found Channel Island Surfboards. John Smith started Op, Ocean Pacific surfboards and clothing line. Later on, Ed Wright started Sunset Surfboards and one of his shapers Syd Madden started Pineapple Surfboards.

Q. Any others who stand out in your memory from the 1960s?

A. One of the best and most unheralded surfers ever was Doug Erickson. He had a smooth style like Phil Edwards. Also Syd Madden, and Peter Johnson who was from Oceanside and on Surfboards Hawaii Surf Team.

Q. As a surfboard designer what is your current preference?

A. The quad fin, I’ve been getting very favorable feedback from accomplished surfers such as veteran contest surfer Ken Bernard.

Q. How long has your family been in Encinitas?

A. Since the 1940s. They were in Santa Cruz California since 1847, and moved to Encinitas in 1946. Both sides of Santa Fe surrounding the high school were open flowerbeds of carnations from Crest down to where Scripps Hospital is now, with a strong pungent perfume in the air. This was pre-1964 and the freeway. Leucadia was all poinsettias from Saxony past Leucadia Boulevard. Future Farmers of America was an active organization at San Dieguito High School in the 1960s. Encinitas was really a farming community.

To learn more about Steve Clark’s Surfboards, please visit




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