Skip Frye is a legendary surfer/shaper from the San Diego area of California. Skip is well known for his smooth style, affable personality, and his tremendous skill as a shaper. We spoke with Skip to learn about his life and love of surfing.
What was your childhood like?
I grew up in San Diego when it was small and quiet. I lived east of Mission Bay right on the edge of jackrabbits and horned toads before a tract of homes were built in my teenage years. As Southern California grew up, a lot of the wildlife was eliminated. We really didn’t do anything exceptional. Just the standard stuff like camping with my folks in the summer. The Boy Scouts and the YMCA were great training in swimming that I could lean on and are important for young people who have an aspiration to doing the surfing thing.
When did you start surfing?
In the spring of 1958. I am in my 52nd year of surfing! It’s hard to believe, man – I don’t know where it went. It just went by.
Do you remember the first time you stood up on a board?
Pacific Beach. I had a friend who loaned me a balsa board. This was a year or two preceding the advent of foam. The feeling was unbelievable – that’s why I’m still doing it! (laughs) It just grabbed me. I never really had something I really gravitated to before. As soon as I stepped on a surfboard – that was it.
What is it about surfing that appeals to you?
Riding Mother Nature. The ocean. Just the freshness of it. It’s such a unique thing. Even to this day, I am still in awe and wonder when I am watching someone slide down the face. I still get amazed by it.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young boy?
Mike Hynson. I grew up with him and we were best buddies. He actually shaped my boards for three or four years before I learned the craft and started doing it myself. He was a real go-for-it guy. A real forward thinker and he always wanted to know what was going on and was into meeting the who’s who of the sport. I was a wallflower, a shy kind of person so I kind of tagged along with him. Because of him, I was exposed to the great people and places in surfing. I owe a lot of my exposure to surfing to Mike Hynson.
My first real influence as far as a hero goes, would be Dewey Weber. He was flamboyant and flashy and quick. But probably the main influence would be Phil Edwards. In fact, everybody globally was influenced by the way Edwards rode. He was also complete in that he surfed and shaped.
There were other people that came along,too. There were the Hawaiians like Paul Strauch. He was my favorite surfer of that time period. He’s still an avid surfer over at San Onofre with the Hawaiian Surf Club over there. He and Joey Cabell were two of the main people from Hawaii that I really liked to watch and learn from. And George Downing definitely. Downing was a little older than I was and I didn’t really experience him when I was in the islands, but I know of him and his influence. I really respect him as much as anybody in the sport for his contributions.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
The greatest thing I have learned in my life would probably be my relationship with Jesus Christ. The realness of who He is, and what He is and His influence in my life. That’s it – there is nothing else that is even close.
What are you most proud of?
I’ve been blessed. God gave me a relationship with the ocean and I am blessed in spite of my early behavior. My first marriage suffered because surfing interfered with my work ethic. I had to re-learn what my priorities are in my life. Now, I try to reflect God’s love and light with everything around me. It’s not easy – human nature goes against all of that. The water is a great way of seeing all of that. Like a crowded day at Malibu. (laughs)
Tell us about term “aloha”
It’s getting more and more crowded out there everyday as the sport grows by leaps and bounds. We have to learn about the aloha spirit. One thing that goes against that is competitive surfing. It’s in the media forefront so to a lot of people that are in the water – they act like it’s a heat.
I used to compete and in fact I have benefited from competing in two different eras. But I am not so much into that anymore. I don’t really attend any of the competitive format things just because I just don’t like that aspect of surfing. I just like it when you go out with your friends and have fun and everybody is number one. In the competitive format, there is only one person that really feels good about it.
How important is style?
To me, I was nurtured that way through my surfing. I just tried to emulate the people that were stylish and had style. I really think that no matter what you are doing or how you are doing it, as long as you are having fun in the water. To me, the best person is the one that is having the most fun. You don’t necessarily have to be stylish.
It’s the guys that are really flowing with the ocean and are really smooth are the kind of people I like to look at. Edwards, Hynson, Cabell, and Dora. And Strauch in the islands – oh, those were the years! Unbelievable. So flowing and smooth and beautiful to watch.
Who do you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
You got to go to Joel Tudor. A lot of the style and articulation of a surfboard with the surfers of the 60s – has kind of been lost. Tudor was one of the first guys in the modern era. I really enjoyed his whole presence in the water and his approach. Jimmy Gamboa of Malibu is really smooth, a lot of surfers at San Onofre like Colin McPhillips – I like his approach and attitude. We also got a young guy here, Josh Hall – I really like his approach.
What about up and coming shapers?
Josh Hall. Jeff McCollum. Michael Miller. These young guys are together. Way more together than I was at their age! And especially in this day and age with everything – society being the way it is. It’s pretty exciting to see the way these guys are honed in.
What’s your favorite board these days?
The 11 footers. It was March of ’90 when I first crafted those blanks. It was the most stoked I have ever been – just the speed and glide on those boards was such a feeling. It is the 20th anniversary since making those boards.
What was the inspiration behind your famous winged logo?
I think I saw it in a magazine. Duke (Kahanamoku) had shaped this one redwood board that had a “V” with wings that were coming off of it that was chiseled into the deck. I worked at Gordon and Smith learning my craft and in ’66 I wanted to make a model. It was the model era – everyone had to have a model. The graphic artist at the time was an older lady. I told her to draw me up some wings and that what she came up with. I’ve had it ever since. I think it conveys what surfing is – like flying along. And I’ve always been told I surf like a pelican!
What kind of music do you listen to?
Well there are two genres of music that I like a lot. One of them is gospel – the African-American portion of it. I actually sponsor a gospel radio station, 1040 AM in San Diego. This station keeps my faith. And I also like the energy that is in the African-American churches.
I actually got in trouble when I was being interviewed and I should have answered the Beach Boys but that never really did anything for me. It was always Otis Redding or Wilson Pickett. And James Brown was the ultimate. The other genre that is my favorite is Afro-Latin, or Cuban music. People like Pancho Sanchez or Tito Puente. Tito Puente was always a favorite. In fact, the day my shop closed, he died.
Of all the places you’ve been, which is your favorite and why?
I’ve gotten to go to a lot of places. I like the Caribbean a lot. I got to go to Puerto Rico for a World Contest back in ’68. Australia and New Zealand are fantastic. New Zealand especially because the people are the most hospitable I have ever encountered. I’ve been to Costa Rica. And I want to get over to Hawaii before I get too old and surf Waikiki on a big board at all the breaks. On a big board it would be epic. Like the Duke.
What’s your favorite meal?
I like Mexican food a lot but I’ve been trying to eat a little healthier. I eat salads a lot. I like sushi. You know, you get to a certain age and your weight becomes a problem. If I didn’t have to watch my weight, it would probably be a couple of beef tacos and a bean and cheese burrito! (laughs)
What’s next for Skip Frye?
Just keep doing what I am doing. Surfing and shaping. Getting closer to God. I’ll be 70 in little over a year and just want to live out my life in the right way.