Gordie Duane, whose boards were prized for their craftsmanship and design, helped turn Huntington Beach into a surfing capital
By Valerie J. Nelson, Los Angeles Times
August 4, 2011
Pioneering surfboard maker Gordie Duane was helping to transform Huntington Beach into a surfing capital when he received the city’s first ticket — for surfing illegally.
The surfboard shop he opened at the foot of the town’s pier in 1956 also served as a hangout for local kids who skipped school to catch waves. Huntington Beach took aim at the behavior by banning surfing after 10 a.m., then made a statement by singling out Duane as the first official scofflaw, he later recalled.
“Back in 1956, they didn’t want surfing in this town. Man, that was a bad element,” Duane told The Times in 1997, the year he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame.
Duane, whose surfboards were prized for their craftsmanship and design, died July 27 of natural causes in Huntington Beach, said Jim Amormino, a spokesman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department. He was 80.
“He was sort of the Mr. Big of board making in Huntington Beach when Huntington was the board-making center of the world,” in the late 1950s and early 1960s, said Matt Warshaw, author of “The Encyclopedia of Surfing.”
When Duane opened Gordie Surfboards, dozens of other surfers were making and selling boards, but only his good friends Dale Velzy and Hobie Alter had similar storefront retail operations in Southern California, Warshaw said.
As balsa wood gave way to polyurethane foam-core surfboards, Duane was among the first manufacturers to strengthen them in 1958 by incorporating a thin strip of wood — called a stringer — down the center from nose to tail. The look endured.
“They’re still like that,” Duane told The Times in 1980. “I have a reputation for being a rebel, okee dokee, but history is still history. God, if I’d have patented that!”
The surfing community nicknamed him the Compton Cabinet Maker, a nod to his beginnings. Regarded as a talented surfboard shaper, he originally honed his skill with wood while working at his uncle’s cabinet shop.
“Gordie was a supreme craftsman and his shapes were better than most,” Steve Pezman, publisher of the Surfer’s Journal, wrote in a remembrance.
In the late 1950s, Duane was also known as the “King of the Abstracts” for dramatic designs that ran the length of the board, according to Pezman.
After a 1958 fire destroyed Duane’s shop, he reopened nearby on Pacific Coast Highway and remained in business until 1988.
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