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IB Watermen: Seals, Sailors, Surfers & Shapers

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Posted: Thursday, October 12, 2017 5:36 pm

Shaper - David Craig

David Craig is a shapeshifter - skin walker, not in the SciFi sense, but as a master craftsman in the art of shaping surfboards. His boards can be found in Africa, Australia, Hawaii and around the world. According to an article by Imperial Beach Mayor Dedina, “Dave Craig, Mike Richardson (Electric Duck) and Jay Novak were the shapers of choice for IB surfers (back when IB surfers only rode boards shaped by local surfers).”

Dennis Hanson wrote about Craig in 2014, “Every once in a while, there is someone that sets the standard for good shaping. For me, living in Imperial Beach, it was David Craig and Mike Richardson. Those were the guys that made the sweetest most beautiful boards. My first board was a Craig Fish. I wish I still had it.”

Craig was never in it for the money. It was and is his art. He never wanted fame, and is certainly not the type for grandstanding. Rather, he is a calm observer of how to do it better, every time. He did have dreams of surfing around the globe. But his life took a different direction when he became a father.

Instead of leaving Imperial Beach, Craig stayed. He raised his two sons, Max and Sam on the sandy sidewalks and beach town feel lost to most SoCal coastal cities. Both boys excelled in sports, and their mostly single dad was an active volunteer parent at Mar Vista High School.

I chatted with David Craig at his IB home when his longtime friend, Mike Betancourt, introduced us. Both men, like many of Imperial Beach’s young surfers, were navy kids. Craig’s dad, Jack, served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. While stationed in Alameda, Jack Craig worked out with Jack LaLane, the father of personal fitness.

Last duty station for the family began in 1962 at Naval Outlying Field Imperial Beach. Craig’s dad was Storekeeper Second Class (today’s Logistics Specialist), and had served on USS Bennington, namesake of the gunboat that exploded in San Diego Bay on July 21, 1905, leading to the Bennington Memorial at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery on Point Loma. After service, he worked on North Island as a civilian. His wife, Stella, was a teacher, and later, school secretary for St. Rose of Lima. Both are buried at Fort Rosecrans.

Even though the family was previously stationed in Hawaii, David Craig did not find his love of surfing until he moved to IB. Those were the days of kings of surf, lifeguards and legends, like Dempsey Holder. The large waves at the Tijuana Sloughs drew surfers from all over to build their skills for Hawaii.

Although Mexico’s and the U.S.’s ineptness at managing Tijuana’s sewage all but killed the vibrant surf spot, nicknamed Hepatitis Point, experienced surfers had a special sense of when the water was clean. Craig had this sense, and surfed to improve his craft by palpating the subtle changes in the geometry of his board - and found he could affect its ability to react.

Craig also learned to breathe in the solitude of gentle swells, while anticipating a face-to-face thrill of a sudden rushing tsunami; one man against the strongest force on earth, the ocean. He tended to stay away from crowded surf areas. That remains a part of his nature.

Craig’s talents came naturally. His father and grandfather were musicians and artists. It is in his DNA. In grade and high school, young Craig was selected for contests and presentations of his art and sculptures on a national level. By 1969 he was using those skills to build and shape surfboards.

He and a team of board crafters worked together at TNT Surfboards at the north end of 13th Street. In 2011, that shop represented the city losing the last full service surf manufacturing business when glasser Tim Townsley pulled out of town. It felt like the end of an era. According to Craig, Townsley is again glassing boards on Palm Avenue in IB.

However, shapers, Craig and Jay Novak stayed on in Imperial Beach, creating custom orders and boards. Both are represented on the Imperial Beach Outdoor Surf Museum Walk of Fame, that runs both sides of Palm to Seacoast Drive, for their Swallow Tail and Squash Tail boards. 

Today, his collection of colorful boards and crafting studio, where worn-wood hand tools strikingly abstract turquoise walls rivaled only by exotic flora that make you feel you are in Hawaii, exhibit decades of work and joy.

Earlier this year, Craig survived his biggest wave ever, one that knocked the wind right out of him. True to his nature as quiet observer, he did not react to the wave, only to discover three-weeks later that he had been hit by a heart attack. Riding a different sort of board, a gurney, he underwent heart surgery while observing the procedure, just as he faced every wave in his fifty-plus-years as a surfer and shaping legend.

Craig is shaping for Mitch’s Surfboard Shop, including stand-up paddle boards, and is spending time with his awesome dog, Maverick, a part Aussie Dingo, who is as welcoming as his housemate, Dave. 

Craig is proud to be a part of IB’s legendary surf community. Brett Bender (Natural Selection Surfboards) and Craig worked together to sketch the stunning Waterman/Lifeguard where Seacoast meets Palm. Stu Kenson (SK Surfboards), Coronadoan Dan Mann (Firewire), Paulo Cabral (Marabella Surfboards Brazil/Chile), and Grant Miller (Miller Surfboards Australia), all surfed and shaped in IB with Craig.

David Craig went on to share about the Surf shops that graced Imperial Beach, including Randy Coutts (RC Surfboards) in the mid 1970’s, Tony Delaio, (Wind and Sea Surfboards), and Richard Joly’s shop at Pier Plaza. He and others have much to share and I look forward to writing more about IB’ roots in surf history.

You can keep up with IB surfing on the Imperial Beach Outdoor Surf Museum Facebook Page, facebook.com/IBSURFMUSEUM/.

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