Jed Noll

by Glenn Sakamoto on October 6, 2011 · 7 comments

Jed Noll is a talented California shaper whose name doesn’t easily escape the shadow cast by his father, big-wave pioneer Greg Noll. Setting up shop in San Clemente after years shaping with Pearson Arrow in Santa Cruz, Jed has carved out a reputation all for himself. We spoke with him to learn more.

What was it like growing up?
Growing up in Crescent City with a well-known father who is such a part of surfing history is probably different from what people might think. Surfing was pretty much non-existent to me when I was a young kid. Dad was a commercial fisherman and nobody really recognized my father as a surfer. I came from a town of 1500 and they just didn’t think too much about surfing. I did a lot of fishing, hunting, and motorcycle riding. It was a pretty simple, normal kind of kid life. As a family, we would drive down and visit Gumby (Pat Ryan) and Eddie Talbot at ET Surfboards to get some boards and then we would go surfing down at San Onofre.

Tell us what it was like being the son of Greg Noll.
The first time I realized that my dad had some connection to surfing, was the movie “Ride The Wild Surf” that showed on television. I remember watching that and seeing him surfing and he would go, “Oh, there’s Mickey”… “or look there’s Dad!” It was a Hollywood movie and he hated it. It wasn’t until I was about 12 or 13 that I really even began to have a concept of maybe some of his accomplishments.

Being in the surf industry now, I totally get why my Dad is so much a part of surfing culture. He tells a great story, there is no doubt about that. Even to this day I get a deeper understanding. Listen, I’ve heard the stories as many times as anybody! But I still listen to them because every time I hear them, it means something different to me as I’ve gone through life. In the beginning, the stories were just funny, exciting and off-the-wall.

As I listen to the stories today, I am paying more attention to the cultural aspects of them and how the stories relate to where we are today in surfing. It’s a common thread that started in the mid-sixties up until today. Things such as manufacturing, materials, and attitudes all helped forge the surf culture we have today and it is amazing to think that most of those things have remained the same.

Do you remember the first time you stood up on a board?
I do. It was at San Onofre. Somewhere between Old Man’s and Dog Patch. It was in early morning and I must have been 10 years old. The water was glassy, green, and overcast. It was low tide and it was a right. I remember my Dad and sister always telling me to get going at an angle, and turn hard, and to do all these things. But for that one wave, it all came together. I slid across that thing and it probably took about 6 or 7 tries to even get close to that one initial experience. It was the sensation of hearing the wind in your ears. I had a smile on my face for sure. I was elated that I had finally done it after everyone else had told me it was so great. Super excited at the glide – that’s what I remember most – the glide.

Who did you admire when you were younger?
My big deal was Potts (Martin Potter). He was the first guy I really felt attached to. As a kid, you are always interested in what’s new and cool and different. Seeing Potts surfing quad-type, trippy Blue Hawaii’s with flames on them, and him being a guy that was really aggressive – he was just someone who clicked for me.

When did you decide you wanted to shape surfboards?
12 or 13. My brother started shaping and he would hang out with Gumby down in Hermosa. He came back up North and built his own shaping room in Crescent City. His focus at the time was shortboards, so he asked my Dad to come down and shape a longboard. I watched the two of them shape this board and in that moment, I knew that this was it. I saw the foam fly and the stoke that the two of them had making this board. The process, the lingo – I was into the whole thing.

When I got to Pearson Arrow at age 18, I was green. I swept the floors and cleaned up the rooms. And I took every opportunity to learn everything about surfboard making from anybody I could. I was fortunate that all those guys were around and they were great. I spent about 4 to 5 years with them. I learned the most from my two professors: Bob Pearson, a contemporary shaper who was doing 2500 boards a year and from my Dad, an old school craftsman who was only doing 10 boards a year. They each shared with me a love for shaping that I will never forget.

What made you move down to San Clemente?
I was having a hard time getting the quality glassing I wanted up in Santa Cruz. Many of the guys who were good at it were all working in-house. They were busy doing their own boards so that when I dropped mine off, they ended up just sitting in the racks. So I started making some trips down here to The Waterman’s Guild from a tip from my Dad’s friend, Sonny Vardemann. I was traveling back and forth and it was then that I finally took a hard look at the numbers. Blanks, shipping, and resin — all were less expensive down here. The quality of work I received was better and the market is tremendously bigger. That’s when I decided to move down here.

What do you love about shaping?
To be honest, it’s the alone time (laughs). Especially if I can close the door and put some headphones on. With shaping, the better that you get at it and the longer that you do it, the less of a job it becomes and the more it becomes more second nature. It starts to free up your head space. I can be thinking about my family or anything I want to. It’s kinda like meditation.

What do you love about surfing?
It’s hard not to get a charge out of it. Getting sunburned and a feeling a little crispy with the sore shoulders – nothing helps me sleep better at night than that.

Who do feel is shaping the path of surfing today?
I tend to look to the past for people who have done great things. People like Paul Strauch comes to mind. A classic individual and a legend who is still a great influence on the community to this day. Tom Morey – I mean, he made the Boogie Board! He has always been innovative in his use of advanced materials. When it comes to contemporary guys, it would have to be Joel (Tudor) and Wingnut. They made the sport of longboarding pretty cool. And Kelly Slater, I mean the guy has won 10 World Championship titles…

What are you most proud of? I am proud of my family – my wife and my little girl. It is a pretty awesome thing to bring life into this world. The best part about being a father is watching my child experience something for the first time. Like the time your kid tastes something new. It’s so much fun to watch them experience a strawberry or a macadamia nut for the first time. Recently I took my three-year old daughter on my back while surfing. We caught our first wave together. To hear the squeal – I mean, it was amazing!

What’s your favorite meal?
Oh, I’m a big fan of food! What immediately comes to mind is Southern Fried Chicken made in a skillet and home made potato salad, paired with a Newcastle. I usually eat clean and healthy – skinless chicken, fish, etc., but man, that’s good comfort food!

What kind of music do you listen to?
Everything. Everything from classical to jazz or anything that is on that day. Since I don’t have a long commute in the car, it’s when I shape that gives me the chance to listen to music. The kind of music has lot has to do with what kind of board I’m shaping. If it’s a true tri-fin it’s gonna have to be fast. And when it’s a classic three-stringer longboard, the music needs to be slower. Right now my channel on Pandora is Guns and Roses.

What Golden Rule do you live by?
Be honest and do what you say you are going to do. And if you are going to do something, do it the best that you can. Whether it is business or family, those rules thread through everything.

What is your favorite board at the moment?
It’s a 9’6” “Da Cat” model. Single fin, channels on the bottom, scoop deck – the whole deal. It was one of the 250 limited edition boards that were made at the time. I got it because it was a mistake or blem. After holding on to it for about two and a half years, I finally took it to Lowers on a Thanksgiving Day. It has all the bells and whistles and I just didn’t expect it to perform. But it worked really, really well.

What’s next for Jed Noll?
I’ve always been interested in using newer materials for building boards. After spending a lot of time and energy getting our retail space going, I want to focus on concepting new surfboard designs and integrating modern materials. I’m a huge fan of the Marko recycled foam concept with epoxy resins. And I’ve got some ideas in mind for boards from the transitional era – some flextail and Greenough concepts but using today’s modern materials. Should be interesting!

Find out more about Jed Noll and Noll Surfboards here. Principal photography courtesy Jed Noll. Additional photos by Glenn Sakamoto.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Inferior Glassing October 7, 2011 at 9:10 am

” I was hav­ing a hard time get­ting the qual­ity glass­ing I wanted up in Santa Cruz. Many of the guys who were good at it were all work­ing in-house. They were busy doing their own boards so that when I dropped mine off, they ended up just sit­ting in the racks…
I was trav­el­ing back and forth and it was then that I finally took a hard look at the num­bers. Blanks, ship­ping, and resin — all were less expen­sive down here.
The qual­ity of work I received was bet­ter and the mar­ket is tremen­dously big­ger.”

Well, good luck in your new endeavors… from Northern California.


Jed October 14, 2011 at 5:14 pm

Everyone who was doing any glassing for me knows who they were, what i was asking for and how grateful i am for the work they did. My whole point in the above story was that i was able to get more boards done with a high quality job, faster. There are great craftmen up north no doubt.


Inferior Glassing? October 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm

“So I started making some trips down here to The Waterman’s Guild from a tip from my Dad’s friend,”

What about Fatty Glass in Fort Bragg, and yes I know she moved to Alaska recently Jed. And Almar Glass in Santa Cruz? Not good enough for you I guess.

Waterman’s Guild is a production line, and they have the attitude that if you find a mistake, too bad, you already have the board so go back where you ordered it from. Fin boxes come back off line, chunks out of the foam, poorly matched colors, and once they get your blank, good luck, anything can happen to it in their shop, as happened to several of my boards. And most importantly, one of their largest, if not their largest client in So Cal, they state that they HATE doing his boards because of the primadonnas who order them. And they’re NOT less expensive down there Jed.

So all I can say is what was said above, “Well, good luck in your new endeavors… from Northern California.” And, I’ll NEVER order a board that uses Waterman’s Guild again.


Jed October 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Glassing in Fort Bragg? I lived in Santa Cruz, and i dont think that i remember Almar glassing during those days. I will just say as i did before- Anyone who was doing my boards knows who they are and how grateful i was for the work they did. I still respect all those guys.
Sounds like you’ve had some bad luck down south, and i never said Watermans Guild was less expensive- the blanks, resin, shipping and other materials i was using was less expensive.
Finally, I will put Watermans Guild’s quality up against anyone in the world any day of the week. I am not saying that they are better than everyone else, but i am saying that they are as good as anyone else in the world any day of the week. my boards or any others that they do. They do a great job in my opinion and everyone else that i speak to in the industry agrees- except you, which is ok, everyone gets to choose who to work with.


Inferior Glassing? October 14, 2011 at 10:04 pm

I realize I came off a little brash with my comments, and I’m posting this to rectify that they weren’t directed at you. However, my bad experiences with Waterman’s Guild were only part of the equation. And yes, there ‘was’ a glass shop in Fort Bragg, and the reason I mentioned it was because of your Dad’s close proximity in Crescent City. As for Almar Glassing in Santa Cruz, Michel Junod uses them.

I have been surfing for decades before you were born, had a Greg Noll T-Shirt in the 60′s, and remember your Dad when I lived in the Islands in the 70′s and surfed with Gerry Lopez and the North Shore Crew.

You have been described as one of the best up and coming shapers by many in the industry I have kept in contact with, and I wish you all the best in So Cal. My hopes for you, is that you sometimes take the time to hand shape some boards for surfers who don’t want the CAD/computer generated boards, but the original hands on shape by talented shapers as you are.

Keep The Stoke!

Jed October 15, 2011 at 5:20 pm

Thanks for the words of encouragement. I will continue to hold the craft in the highest regard.


Hugh March 11, 2012 at 10:26 am

Hi Jed,
welcome to San Clemente! In my travels up and down the coast I came across the sleepy town of Crescent City. Some how I parked my van and looked up and saw the Noll shop right in front of me. Well I surfed Pt. St. George a couple of times, it was fun and a great experience for me.

Back here at home, in San Clemente, I’m driving down El Camino and see a new Noll shop right here in town. It just seemed like a crazy coincidence to me. Small world.

I have a board I’ve been riding for the last couple of years and want to replace it some day. It’s a pretty unique design (9’6″ 6 channel thruster) and possibly the best board I have ever ridden in my 40+ years of surfing. I’d love for a shaper like you to look at it and discuss the riding characteristics of the board with you as well. I’ve never seen another board like this one and I have a lot of feed back regarding it’s performance, strengths and weaknesses. Shoot me an email if you would like to talk a little board design.


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