Michel Junod is a California surfer/shaper from Santa Cruz. He started shaping in the 1960s, and for 4 years he lived on the North Shore where he honed his big-wave skills at Sunset Beach. He recently starred in Thomas Campbell’s latest film The Present, alongside Alex Knost. At 61 years old, Michel is still charging.
What was life like growing up?
I was born and raised in Santa Monica. From an early age, I took to the beach and started bodysurfing. I started board surfing in 1962, when I was about 12 or 13. I did other sports, but growing up in a beach town once I found surfing, everything else fell to the wayside.
What was your first board?
My first board was a custom 7–10 Jacobs. I was small for my age and couldn’t get my arm around a standard board. As I grew, I got an 8–10 Dave Sweet and then an 8–10 Dewey Weber. My first 9–6 was a custom 3-stringer Challenger.
Tell us how you got started shaping.
Surfing led to shaping. I was a team rider for Surfboards by Challenger, which was run by Carl “Tinker” West in San Diego. In the summers of 1966, ‘67 and ‘68, we would go to the East Coast in the summer, to Belmar, New Jersey. Tinker saw moving to N.J. as a smart business move to capitalize on the growing East Coast market, where he changed the name to Challenger Eastern Surfboards. During those summers on the East Coast he taught me to shape. By 1968, the shortboard revolution was on. Although there were many kinds of shortboard designs, I went for the “gunnier” shapes because I liked bigger and faster waves.
Who inspires you?
Carl “Tinker” West, who taught me to shape. Later on it was Dick Brewer and Mike Diffenderfer. Now it’s my friends and customers, whose feedback is an inspiration to me. Hand shaping surfboards is a hard job, and I want people to enjoy the energy I put into shaping them a board, so making custom boards really means a lot to me.
Do you shape your boards by hand or do you use a machine?
Both. Most are shaped by hand. Some models I’ll do on a machine if they are stock boards for a shop. For a custom board, I’ll shape it by hand. If you’re shaping by hand, there are a lot of little features that you can add that reflect the custom nature and the desires of the customer that you don’t get from a machine shape.
How did your Pumpkin Seed model come about?
I lived in Hawaii where you want a narrower board. I wanted a singlefin feel and I wanted a beak nose, but I also wanted something a little wider. It’s real user-friendly. You don’t have to think about it — you just go surfing. It’s really a great all around design for most surfing conditions. Recently, I got a cease-and-desist letter from another company that said they had a trademark on “Pumpkin Seed.” So I had to change the name. It’s now the Sunbeam.
What is your favorite board? And favorite surf spot?
They go together. My favorite spot is Sunset Beach and my favorite board is a 7–8 to 8–0 gun. I love going fast. If I’m on a noserider, it’s for one-to-four foot surf. But when it’s 10 to 12 feet and pumping, I like the speed of a bigger wave. Sunset is the perfect wave for me.
In Thomas Campbell’s “The Present,” you are shown charging on a massive right in Africa. What was going through your mind at the time?
I was on a 7–0 single-fin star tail, a modern template mini-gun. We were in the Cape Verde Islands, 400 miles off the coast of West Africa. That was one of the last big swells we got. I was excited to get some big waves and to be able to catch as many waves as I could. I was like, “Yeah, gimme another one.” In big surf like in Hawaii, my approach was always to try and catch a wave before a set wave caught me inside. I don’t like to sit, so I always try to keep moving and get a lot of waves. I hate wasted waves.
What do you love about surfing?
One of the issues is getting in the water, just rinsing your head out and getting a few waves. But I also love that speed and weightlessness. It’s really addicting, especially when you’re pumping down the line.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
That I’m a sinner and Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior, and that I belong to my Maker, and I’m not my own.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of my wife and kids and the things that are long lasting. Even the greatest athletes and MVPs go on and see that all the glory disappears in a couple weeks. My daughter is getting into roller derby and is on the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. We saw her first match the other night and she really ripped. She got a standing ovation. She goes by the nickname “Fleetwood Smack.” My son works in IT in the Silicon Valley and is a guitarist. They really make me a proud daddy. Jodi is my best friend and business partner. She does all the books, shipping and phone calls from our home office. I couldn’t do it without her.
What’s your favorite meal?
Anytime Chef Paul Figliomeni is cooking. We’re good surf buddies and I never miss a men’s event when he is cooking, or when he invites us over to his house for dinner.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I listen to everything. I’m a jazz fan and I grew up on Rock & Roll. In the 1950s, my parents listened to KMPC in L.A., so a lot of Swing music and Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Louie Prima. In the late ‘60s and ‘70s, I got into Miles Davis and jazz fusion. I’m also into R&B, blues, rock, but also some country like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash. I have a huge CD collection. In the factory, I blast these big Bose speakers in the shaping bay on my 6-CD changer. If anyone comes by, we have to step out of my shaping room to communicate.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m most grateful for my family and for my friends. In Santa Cruz, we have a great surfing community, but also great friends in the Christian community who super-cool people who I can always call on for help and support.
What’s next for Michel Junod?
Hopefully, grandchildren (laughs). Just to be able to continue surfing and to shape. We have a small place here that’s paid for, but I really can’t retire because of those monthly bills and unexpected expenses. I don’t have the same energy level I once did, but I can still surf for two or three hours straight. I’ve been shaping for 44 years — I’m not inventing anything new, and I don’t shape many boards for professional surfers. I really just enjoy shaping custom boards and making my customers happy.