Dan Forte is a California surfer/shaper/musician and is the owner of Dano Surfboards. Equally talented with both a planer or guitar, Dan serves up beautiful shapes and sounds. We spoke with “Dano” to learn more.
What was your life like growing up?
Pretty easy. I grew up in New York… Brooklyn, New York ‘til I was 12 and then I moved to California. It’s been good.
When did you get your first surfboard?
When I was probably 13. I bought an eight foot yellow single fin gun from Infinity. At the time, Terry Senate was actually working there selling boards. That’s who sold me my first board.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
“Holy s**t!! I’m doing it!”
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a young man?
Oh, my dad 100%. Surfing-wise, growing up surfing Salt Creek a lot, there were a lot of underground guys that kind of ruled the place—Kevin Billy, Mike Cruikshank, those kind of guys. And then, on the international thing, guys like Rabbit, Mark Richards, Terry Fitzgerald.
When did you start shaping your own boards and what inspired you to do so?
I think it’s been about 23 years now or somewhere around there. But, I actually bought a blank for a neighbor kid to do a school project and he never used it. It sat in my garage for months on end. Then, one rainy day when the surf was bad, I just decided to go for it.
How did that turn out?
Not so good. (Laughs)
When do you think you became truly proficient at shaping surfboards?
I’m still trying. (Laughs) Oh, I think it took a couple hundred until you actually had a consistent thing going. I started… about my 10th or 11th board, I already had a couple of shop accounts and started going for it. There were a couple of shops down in the Dana Point area and then Surf Plus up here in Newport.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Australia. The waves there are really, really fun and the people are good. They have a lot of life to ‘em. It’s pretty cool. Definitely like going to Kauai. I try to do that once a year with my family. The North Shore of Kauai is probably one of my favorite places.
Who or what inspires you?
I definitely am inspired by things from the past. I like old boards, the culture around them, the lifestyle that they lived back there and just am kind of super into old stuff.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Live each moment to its fullest.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
No. I think it’s all been good; it’s all turned out pretty good so far.
What are you most proud of?
My family for sure. Also, just being able to run a business, come to work and just be a good person. I try to be as good a person as I can be.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing… I find just to be a good escape from a lot of things. Being able to go out there every morning, kind of do your own thing your own way… you see everyone going to work in their suits and ties, and you’re going in the opposite direction to go jump in the water.
I think the whole meaning of surfing is to be an individual and do your own trip. That’s probably one of the coolest things about the whole surf scene.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Oh! My kids!!
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
It’s been a good few years where just anything goes. People are just shaping stuff that’s like… you can’t even keep up with the trends: no fins, pieces of wood, mat surfing, handplanes. Everything goes. It’s actually a really cool time to be a shaper. People come to you and are like, “Hey I want to do this!” And you say, “Alright! Let’s do it!” It’s cool.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
Favorite surf spot? I’d get in trouble if I say. It’s a very long right and it’s not in Southern California. Favorite board? At the moment, I’ve been riding an 11 foot hog that I shaped. I’ve surfed it off and on for the last three years. I’ll make myself something, ride it for awhile and then go back to that one. I always ask myself, “Why haven’t I ridden this one the whole time?” I really enjoy riding a bit longer board and kind of pig shapes.
What’s your favorite meal?
My wife makes vegetarian jambalaya. That’s probably my favorite.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
I just listen to a lot of old blues stuff. I’ve been turned on to a few, like Bo Carter, Doctor Ross—the kind of stuff that I stumbled across on other people’s websites. I’ve been really happy to find some new stuff.
Which bluesman or woman from the past would have made the best surfer and why?
Oh, man!! You’ve got to think probably Muddy Waters would be a pretty cool character out in the water. He always had good composure. He’d probably be a pretty good longboarder.
In your next life, will you be a professional musician who shapes on the side or will you come back as Dano, a shaper who does music on the side?
I’m pretty much a shaper who does music on the side now, so we’ll try it the other way next time.
What causes/organizations do you support?
I like to support stuff that helps keep the ocean clean and things that help the environment. If you say an organization, everyone jumps on you that you should be in another one. I have events every other year, and I get Surfrider involved. I like to do what I can to help them.
There’s an organization called Graceworks Kenya. When I have those parties, I actually have my sons class draw paintings. We sell them and donate the money to the kids that have been orphaned in Africa from the AIDS epidemic.
What are you most grateful for?
Everything I have.
What’s next for Dano?
I don’t know. I haven’t really been thinking about that. I’m at a loss for words for once in my life. I guess what’s next for me is finishing the backlog of boards and playing some music.
Find out more about Dan Forte and Dano Surfboards here. Action photography by Jason Hall. Board and portrait photography by Ken Samuels.