Master Class: Honoring Al Merrick at Icons of Foam
I got my first Channel Islands surfboard in 1999. Prior to that, I was riding the 'potato chips' of the time and my surfing had hit a plateau. And not in a good way. A friend convinced me to try the new Flyer model that Al Merrick had just released, and after my first surf on that board I immediately felt a change in my surfing game for the better.
That Flyer is unfortunately long gone, but still remains a board I reference as being pivotal to my growth as a surfer. Since then, I've always carried an appreciation for Al Merrick and have always had a Channel Islands board in my quiver.
This weekend (May 6 - May 7), Merrick is being honored at the Icons of Foam Shape-Off at the Boardroom show in Del Mar, CA. The team at the Boardroom have assembled an eclectic group of shapers from across the globe to participate in the event; Wayne Rich, Nick Palandrani (2016 defending champ), Ryan Sakal, Gary McNeill, Johnny Cabianca, Jon Pyzel, Rex Marechal, Zack Flores, Matt Kinoshita and Chris Christenson. Each will replicate one of Al's classic surfboard designs within a 90-minute time frame.
The catch? They won't know which board design it will be until the day of the show. Awesome.
To say that each shaper competing this year is stoked and humbled would be an understatement. As you read through some of the shapers' own words below, you'll realize this event holds a deeper meaning for everyone involved. This year's Icons of Foam should be one to remember.
- Mike // Editor
Wayne Rich // Wayne Rich Custom Surfboards
"When I had been asked by Scott Anderson - aka Ando - if i’d like to be in the Icons of Foam shape-off honoring Al, I was floored.
Al’s accomplishments are unprecedented and for me, this will be an honor to the highest degree as a surfer-shaper.
Having always looked up to Al, Terry, Britt, and everyone in the “CI” family for most of my career, they have set the benchmark for design ideas that have helped shape modern day surfing. Together they have created the most influential company of hard working, good local people that I’ve ever encountered. They personify the true definition of, "The American Dream."
The love and respect that I hold in my heart for the “CI" family runs very deep. We have all surfed together for decades, forging a bond that is insanely powerful. Our mutual bond has been built on riding waves and constantly evaluating the cause and effect; never settling and always moving forward. They have taken this to the highest level. The world titles that they have amassed are absolutely incredible and for Al, this must be humbling to say the least.
It will be my most humble honor to go into that room and represent the entire “CI” family with all of my Heart and Soul."
Wayne Rich's roots run deep where he lives and shapes in Santa Barbara, CA. Learn more at www.waynerich.com
Nick Palandrani // Source Surfboards
"Santa Cruz is a pretty close-knit community, and we’re passionate (some would say crazy) about our local shapers and brands. But growing up in the 90’s, if you didn’t have an Al Merrick Channel Islands thruster in your quiver, there was something wrong with you. I never had an opportunity to meet Al growing up, but I respected the hell out of his innovative board designs and willingness to work with the world’s best team riders to craft some of the most progressive boards of that era.
The Al Merrick name is synonymous with 'the best.' The best pro surfers of our heyday rode Channel Islands, and they did it at the highest level and on the biggest stage. And even with all that exposure and hype, Al remained a consummate professional who put everything he had into his boards. Like Al, I put a lot of pride into my craft, and I’m stoked to be back as the defending champion of the Icons of Foam Tribute to the Masters Shape-Off.
As shapers, we’re fortunate to do what we truly love every day, so it’s an honor to participate in the Boardroom Show, share some of our hard work with the surfers who keep pushing us, and then pay tribute to the master craftsmen who came before us."
- Nick Palandrani
Source Surfboards are unique, superior designs, built with the highest quality craftsmanship out of Santa Cruz, California. Nick operates with an insane work ethic and understands the importance of producing a board that will progress his customer’s surfing and keep their stoke alive. Learn more at www.sourcesurfboards.com
Ryan Sakal // Aryse Surfboards
"Other than my father who taught me how to shape, Al's boards have been the biggest influence on my shaping. I grew up in the 80's looking up to and emulating Tom Curren - who rode Al's iconic Red and Black Beauties - and watching him at the OP Pro in Huntington Beach. Then along came Kelly Slater who blew my mind not only with what he was doing surfing-wise, but also with what he was riding.
At that time, I had just started shaping (at age 14) and I was not only trying to emulate the way Kelly surfed but the boards he was riding as well. Coming up the ranks in the California amateur surfing scene I was competing against quite a few kids who rode Al's boards. Between heats I would check their boards out, making mental notes about how they were shaped.
As the years went by, and I continued to shape and surf, I couldn't help but be influenced by Al's boards. Almost every top pro has been on his boards at some point and customers use his models as reference all the time.
Although I do not know Al personally, he's also influenced my life in more ways than just my shaping. One good look at one of his boards and you see the Christian fish next to the dims. I have always taken pride in sharing my faith in common with him. But over the years, what has inspired me the most about Al is the way he's lived out his faith through his shaping; building lasting friendships with so many of his team and even taking on the roll as a father figure to some is something I admire and aspire to in my own life and my business as a shaper. I am so honored to be selected to this tribute to Al Merrick and I can't wait to see what board he selects for us to shape. I'm hoping for Kelly's 1st Lowers winning board!!"
Aryse Surfboards is based out of North County, San Diego. Learn more about Ryan and his surf crafts at www.aryseco.com
Gary McNeill // Gary McNeill Concepts
"This year’s shape-off is like being asked by Michael Jordan to come throw hoops. I think for as long as I can remember, Al Merrick has been the benchmark for high performance boards, and the guy ahead of the design curve. That’s why he has attracted guys like Tom Curren, Dane Reynolds, Kelly Slater, etc.
The first Al Merrick I rode was a Bobby Martinez model. My friend Steve, who runs Mick Fanning’s Rip Curl store in Coolangatta, kept talking them up every time I’d collect wax from him at the shop! So, I took one for a spin and it made me look at deeper concave and bottom edge differently. Also, his apex setup really made sense to me after that.
Being a no name shaper from Australia, I’m very humbled to be asked to be part of something special and look forward to Del Mar and bringing my interpretation of modern hybrids as part of the next board evolution of design."
- Gary McNeill
Gary McNeill hails from Kirra on the Australian Gold Coast and is well known for his collaborations with long time team rider, Dave Rastovich. Learn more at www.garymcneillconcepts.com.au
Matt Kinoshita // Kazuma Surfboards
"Al Merrick is the father of modern surfing as we know it and there is no other shaper that has formed the direction of board design and surfing style as Master Al has."
- Matt Kinoshita
Based in Hawaii, the Kazuma Surfboards factory and showroom is located in Haiku Maui. Learn more about Matt and Kazuma Surfboards at www.kazumasurfboards.com
Johnny Cabianca // Cabianca Surfboards
"When I started making surfboards professionally in 1980 with my own glass factory in Brasil, the Channel Islands boards were a reference for everyone because Tom Curren was the “God” of surfing during that period. In the 1990s, it was Kelly Slater, Rob Machado and Bobby Martinez... and they were all surfing on Channel Islands boards. Al Merrick was leading the design in high performance surfboards and influencing all shapers during that time, including myself.
I first heard about Icons of Foam when Matt Biolos won it a few years ago. Since then I’ve had many friends participate in the event. I am honored to be invited to this year’s event in honor of Al Merrick. I only met him once in person, briefly. But I’m looking forward to getting to know him because he is not only a great shaper but also a nice person."
- Johnny Cabianca
For the past 35 years, Johnny Cabianca has been mowing foam and studying the art of surfboard making. Johnny currently shapes out of the Basque region of Spain and builds boards for WSL World Champion (’14), Gabriel Medina, among many others. Learn more at www.cabiancasurfboards.com
Jon Pyzel // Pyzel Surfboards
"I grew up in Santa Barbara so I was always around Al Merrick and his boards, as well as his family and his team. Al was always just a really nice guy and even in the mid-80's he had most of the best guys in the area riding his boards. It wasn't really 'till later on when I moved to Hawaii and started looking at the bigger picture of surfboards that I realized how strong his influence was on surfboards all around the world.
He also built some really good relationships with great surfers, and that ended up being something that led to his success. I would say that some of the things I admire most about Al are his humbleness and the way he has worked hard at what he loves; to build something he can be proud of."
- Jon Pyzel
Originally from Santa Barbara, CA, Pyzel now calls the North Shore of Oahu, home and shapes for some of the biggest names in Hawaii including 2016 WCT WSL champion, John John Florence. Learn more at www.pyzelsurfboards.com
Rex Marechal // RMS Surfboards
"As a shaper, I have been able to experience many successes and failures throughout my career. And while I would like to hope to think I’ve had more of the former than the latter, One shaper sticks in my mind as having the most success in the history of our craft, Al Merrick. His innovation, clarity of vision, and craftsmanship have stood the test of time. All of the shapers invited to re-create one of his iconic shapes have been touched either directly or indirectly by his knowledge and advancement of surfboard design. I’ve never actually met Al so to be able to finally do so will be such a treat.
My two connections to him was having finished off many of his boards over the years in which I worked for the Channel Islands Australian Licensee, Onboard Industries. Over those years I was able to gain some insight into some of his unique designs which enlightened and inspired me for some of my own creations. Another was during the heyday of the NSSA, when I competed and had my ass handed to me by many of his team riders.
It is truly an honor to be able to pay tribute to Al in the Icons of Foam at The Boardroom Show. I’ve been shaping since the late 70’s and never thought I would be given this opportunity, so when I was asked, I had to make it happen. I’m sure it will be a humbling and fun experience with all these great craftsmen participating. I don’t hand shape much these days, so I hope I don’t make a fool of myself and I can pay my respect to Al with a shape that is deserving."
- Rex Marechal
Rex Marechal currently lives and shapes in the Central Coast of NSW, Australia. Learn more about Rex at RMS Surfboards at www.rmshapes.com
"Al Merrick inspired me to shape my first short board. When I was twelve I would go into shops just to look at his boards, and I would stay for hours examining the rails and rockers. The first 30 to 35 boards I shaped were modeled after the Deep Six or the Proton. I watched Kelly and Andy in Changing the Subject and they blew my mind. I had never seen anyone going so fast on a surfboard before, and I loved the way Kelly and Dane could ride such small boards in big, heavy waves.
It’s pretty special for me, and quite an honor to be in this year’s shape-off honoring Al Merrick. He was a huge inspiration for me, and always will be. His progressive board design still pushes me to make more high performance boards."
- Zack Flores
The youngest shaper in this year's event, Zack Flores started shaping when he was eleven years old and currently lives and surfs in Encinitas, CA. Follow Zack on Instagram: @zack_floress