Skip Frye

by Glenn Sakamoto on August 2, 2010 · 13 comments

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.

Top photo by Gavin Joule. Other photos of Skip Frye provided by the makers of the film One California Day.


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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Gross August 2, 2010 at 9:29 am

I worked as a fin grinder in the G&S factory during the early 70′s. During that period, I had the great fortune and privilege to spend some time around Skip. It was a great education to see how he achieved a balance between shaping and surfing…and how both aspects of his artistry benefitted from one another.

But it was Skip’s quiet generosity that was even more imressive than his talents in the water and in the shaping room. Truly a special person.

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Jonathan Steinberg August 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm

God bless Skip Frye. A fine example for all of us.

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Nathan Oldfield August 2, 2010 at 8:04 pm

Skip is my hero on many levels: surfer/shaper/Christian/tribal elder. What a wonderfully articulate, honest, gracious, gentle human being. People like Skip Frye make me very proud to be a surfer.

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Carlos Pacheco August 2, 2010 at 8:28 pm

From Chile Pichilemu-Pta de Lobos writing this comment. Skip Frye is the best shaper all time. In the film the Seedling and Sprout this all stye great. Skip go to Chile, man. Perfect left and cold water.

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Cher August 2, 2010 at 11:56 pm

Skip is a shining example for all of us in so many ways. God bless you, Skip, we love you.

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Tim Kessler TK August 3, 2010 at 10:28 am

I just feel compelled to say a few words about Skip.
Skip Frye is the single most important human influence on and in my life. When my brother Corky and I were little fatherless surf rats in PB in the late 60′s we just attached ourselves to him. I guess he figured we weren’t going to go away, so he took us under his wing and started taking us on surfing trips to spots up north, the cliffs, Mexico etc.

It was so great that he did that for us and through him we were able learn about nature and spirit, to meet all of the famous surfers of the era and became inspired in so many ways. He was the pack leader of what he referred to us as “Surf Scouts”. I can’t even begin to explain the “Cross-Country Surfing” he taught us
.
A few years back when my Mom passed; Skip spoke at the service and talked about some of our adventures and some misadventures that my Mom wasn’t too happy about at the time. That was (as I recall) the first time that he spoke of being our Dad; and I love him for that too.

He inspired me to accept Jesus into my life, be a better man, and to advocate for the Ocean. Not to mention the “K” Model…

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Tim Jones August 3, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Right up there with The Duke in my book.

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Jake Weeks August 4, 2010 at 11:54 am

I was so glad to hear that his favorite board is the 11 footer. I have a Skip Frye 11’0″ Eagle and it is the most magical board I have ever ridden. Skip really knows how to shape boards and is the prime example of a shaping maestro.

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Karel Rodgers September 11, 2010 at 11:03 am

Skip, I have an 8×10 black & white matte photo of you, Marcia and I taken on Feb 4, 1968 at the RB INN. Maybe you already have a copy of it. I was 14 at the time. If you do not have it, would you like to ? Please contact me. Thanks.

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Kirk Rodgers September 15, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Skip, when I was a youngster (13-14) living in San Diego I had been surfing for 3-4 yrs. I used to hang out with the older guys because I wasn’t old enough to drive. We would go on weekend safaris from OB to San Onofre. Stopped at Wind-an -Sea one day, it was breaking overhead and you and Butch were out. I decided if you guys could do it so could I. I paddled out and immediately shoulder hopped a nice wave right in front of you. You gave me a scolding I’ll never forget. I think you guys were in your twenties. Needless to say I rode that wave in and watched you and Butch rip it up. I learned a little respect that day. So good to hear you are close to God as am I. Say Hi to Mike Lovell the next time you see him. Used to live with Mike in Hawaii. Another great guy. Aloha

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peter.j gonzalez May 24, 2011 at 10:21 am

SKIP……hurry up w/my board!!!!!!ha ha ha…just kidding take your time,like the sign used to say at harrys…if you want it badly!!!!! hee nalu

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LG November 16, 2012 at 6:40 pm

I was 13 years old surfing at PB cove off of Archer Street (since changed) was having fun but those beaver tail wetsuits, no leashes, and cold water took it’s toll. As I was climbing up the cliff I noticed some blood from the rocks and shivering I thought about devoting more of my time to baseball. I wasn’t going to quit surfing; just hang it up for awhile, in my mind. I also knew reality was it was probably my last time. As I reached the top I turned around for one last look at the ocean. I saw Skip Frye making one of his insanely beautiful round house cut-backs and to me it looked like so much fun I went back down the cliff for one more try. I am 61 years old now and surfed the glory days of the early 70′s Southern California where one stop light was all you had from La Jolla to North County and the overcast and kelp kept Pipes clean when Law Street was always blown out and finding an empty peak was always somewhere. I have told that story to Skip and Donna. I think they’ve heard it many times. Skip has always been my mentor, someone to treasure in your mind. Of good times of a long ago era. I feel especially blessed to still be alive after several strokes, seizures, and heart attacks. His boards saved me. Having a new Frye under my feet (will be my 4th) is reason to look forward to living. Thank you Skip, I have loved every second watching you surf. Even more now that you are an old man like me. With treasured and priceless memories. Keeping the Blues alive for 29 years at fm 88.3 every Saturday night 8-midnight with T’s Every Shade of Blue. I’ll play some Tito for you too. I am a Lucky Guy to have met you and Donna, all my best, LG

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Erwin A. Dence Jr. October 30, 2013 at 9:19 am

Hey, I have a sort of start-up website called realsurfers.net that features some stories and some drawings and photos of real surfers I’ve run into, and continue to run into. Two of my latest entries feature Skip Frye. I wrote one previously on Joe Roper, who I surfed around in the early 1970s when I was a PB local, another about Chris O’Rourke.
I have tried to contact some of the folks I’ve written about; had no real success in contacting Mr. Frye.
My idea for the site, subtitled “Name-droppers and shoulder-hoppers didn’t start out to be what it seems to be turning into; I merely wanted some ownership on the ‘real surfers’ wording as I work on a novel about a particular time and event.
Still, I do appreciate a site such as yours that profiles some of the leaders in our sport/lifestyle.
Now that I’ve written this much, I see it’s a comment on Skip Frye. Fine. I’ll leave it at that.

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