The Coast News Group
Sea Notes

The surf was good, but the industry was calling

Scott Bass got it right. Again. If you were at the Del Mar Fairgrounds on Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, you know that this year’s Sacred Craft was the best surf show since the 1964 Surf-O-Rama. If you weren’t there, you were probably doing what we should have all been doing, surfing the first good swell in weeks. Those of us stuck indoors weren’t that bummed, however. We were looking at your future.
Honoring La Jolla born surfer/shaper/designer, Carl Ekstrom, Sacred Craft peeked at one of the most significant and misunderstood designs of our time, the asymmetrical surfboard. Ekstrom, who learned to build surfboards before he could drive a car, was one of Windansea’s best surfers through the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The idea of asymmetry occurred to him while surfing Windansea in 1964.
“I realized that I liked one board for going right and another board for going left and decided to combine the two into one surfboard,” said Ekstrom, on an invention that has taken nearly half a century to catch on.
Ekstrom is as unassuming as the home he lives in, tucked quietly beneath a eucalyptus grove. He is therefore not a great one for self-promotion and, subsequently, has not garnered the attention he deserves, until now. It would take fellow La Jolla surfer Richard Kenvin to bring Ekstrom to the forefront of the surfing world. According to Ekstrom, “Richard is one of the best surfers in La Jolla and I am so stoked to have him as my test rider. He has helped so much in the refinement of my boards and given them great exposure.”
Through Richard, Carl was introduced to North County’s latest phenomenon, Ryan Burch. Burch began riding Ekstrom’s boards a few years back, but is now making his own asymmetrical surfboards, which are so radical that according to Ryan himself, “The noses sometimes resembles Gumby’s head.”
While in his fifth decade as a surfboard builder and designer, Carl Ekstrom is not yesterday’s man. He’s busy tinkering in his shop, designing boards for the future. This morning he called to talk about controlling the flex in fins and tails of surfboards, something that has proven elusive since the legendary George Greenough first shaped his fiberglass spoons, and something that helped Australians Nat Young and Bob McTavish launch the “Shortboard Revolution” in the late ‘60s.
Carl and I go to lunch about once a week at La Especial. It is here he can let his creativity slump, and the waitresses know what to bring before he even orders. More days than not it’s huevos rancheros, something that, on occasion, will be followed by a large Coke. We generally outstay our welcome and discuss old friends and surfboard designs over Cokes and chips.
My idea of surfboards sprouting collapsible rail fins is a recurring theme as Carl offers instruction into building them. But my hands don’t link up with my mind as they do in exceptional people like Carl Ekstrom. For now I continue mind surfing my boards while his boards materialize beneath the feet of some of our coast’s best surfers. Try asymmetry, but know this, by the time those designs hit the mainstream, Ekstrom will be on to the next thing. In the future you may see controlled flex, snapping and popping on a wave near you. If you do, you’ll know that Carl Ekstrom has been at work.
Carl Ekstrom is building a few custom surfboards. He can be contacted at