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.