Adam Davenport bucks the trend of the LA County, pop/punk, thruster/quad riding foam jockeys, and follows a linear legacy that goes straight back to Velzy. His whole operation could be described as roots rock-and-roll with a heavy dose of blues, with a tiny bit of surf guitar used as the catalyst.
A native of the South Bay, born at Torrance Memorial Hospital and a fourth generation Southern Californian, his first board was fittingly an 8′ 6″ pintail shaped by legendary Pat “Gumby” Ryan, head of the shaping helm at ET Surf.
“My feeling of first being upright was the best sensation ever,” Davenport said, “I was truly immersed, hook, line, and sinker, and I still can’t get enough.”
Like a lot of cats and kittens with a Southern California upbringing, his parents plopped the young Davenport into the Junior Lifeguard program, keeping him on the beach and fortifying his skills in the soup. “I remember my first hang ten,” Davenport said,“It was at 34th street on my Dad’s old Bing Noserider.”
He soon picked up the planer as he was not able to afford the boards that fit the kind of surfing he was jiving for. “I had a picture in my mind, and I still do – a golden era/generation of pure longboard surfing, and I wanted to somehow translate that into the boards that I rode, and the style of which I surfed.”
With this inspiration, the prepubescent Davenport was driven to the old Walker Foam Factory in Wilmington by his mother. He purchased seconds and discarded blanks and promptly went to work in his mother’s garage, sauteing and shredding foam, and generally wreaking havoc in foam dust all over the place. Needless to say, young Adam was stoked to be finally have the correct equipment that would eventually help him with his own interpretation of wave riding. “I always looked up to the way my Father and Uncle surfed, the guys in the Bruce Brown, Dale Davis, and MacGillivray/Freeman movies,” Davenport said, “I wanted to be a part of what they were during that particular era, too, as I grew up with a absolute disdain for the modern thruster.”
His home base is in the “Cen-Bay,” an area that encompasses Playa Del Rey, El Segundo, and El Porto. His father and uncles grew up surfing Ballona Creek and were on the Roberts Surfboards surf team with boards shaped by Robert Milner.
“Growing up and hearing stories from my Uncles and Father,” Davenport continued, “Wayne Miyata’s Glass Shop and that whole mystique/fraternity of boards that inhabited the area caught my imagination. When I was in Elementary School, I used to daydream about being the sander for Bing Copeland and sanding noseriders shaped by Dan Bendickson.”
The atmosphere of El Porto “line-down” feeds the young Davenport in his ultimate expression. “El Porto – home of surf takers and snakers, surf jocks and bros, with their lifted trucks in the parking lot, cluttered with Body Glove and Channel Island Stickers on the windows, paddling for every wave with their homely aggressive flailing arms, with no substance and about all trends. “Yeah, that’s my checkpoint for surfism,” Davenport said.
With the South Bay of the ‘60s as his major influence, and with Hermosa Beach being the center of this surf culture, Davenport gives credit due to his influences.“Hermosa Beach and the South Bay were the hubs of the surfing world,” Davenport said. “Bing, Noll, Jacobs, and Rick were all located here and Weber was up the street in Marina Del Rey (and not Venice) – five of the world’s biggest surfboard manufacturers.”
Once Davenport shaved a few blanks here and there, he had time to graduate with a BA in History from Cal Lutheran, where he was also their starting center and offensive tackle. He even turned down his aspirations of being an attorney after being accepted into Loyola Law School.
He was first employed by Aquatech Glassing in Venice Beach, CA doing board restoration, ding repair, and polishing. “Scott [Anderson] and Sean [O’Leary] taught me the fundamentals of using a power sander, resin, and other disciplines,” Davenport explained,“Love those guys and will always be grateful to them for giving me a shot.”
Along the way, Davenport was also influenced by Fineline Surfboard’s Brian Hilbers and Mike Gibe of Cigars of the Pharoahs. “(Hilber’s) is one of my all time heroes,” Davenport said. “He grabbed me by the neck and showed me the basics of using a Skill 100 power planer, board design and theory, and helped me design my own version of his own model, “The Zombie,” which bacame my “The Thing” model.” “Gibe helped me take my board building to another level. For proper finish work, functionality and form, Mike is the constant detail oriented mentor that has smoothed out the rough edges and steered me in a direction that only he and Tyler are in.”
El Segundo’s Tyler Hatzikian of Tyler Surfboards, our generation’s Dale Velzy, is Davenport’s father figure in the world of shaping as well as his boss. Davenport spends a lot of time sanding Tyler’s latest “advanced traditional design” concepts and products. “What can I say about Tyler – he has taken me under his wing and made me what I am today,” Davenport said. “Everything I do, and how I do it, is because of him, his techniques, work ethic, and skill. I just want to make him proud and represent his label and boards in a way that reflects his class and craftsmanship.”
Currently, Davenport’s catalog includes ‘60s inspired equipment with model names like, “The California Classic,” “4065” and “The Pig.” On the quirky side, other models like “El Cadejo,” “On the Rocks,” and “The Thing,” separate Davenport from other shapers that sometimes rely heavily on names and archaic board designs from the past.
“The pig is my take on a classic early ‘60s design with a f(lipping) D-fin and no god da(rn) leash apparatus,” says Davenport.” The ‘El Cadejo’ is more of a mid-’60s noserider with parallel rails and slight hips for speedy points. ‘The Thing’ is a small wave noserider with a ten-inch tail block and a massive V, The ‘4065’ is the bastard love child of a mid-’60s Weber Performer and a Rick UFO, and the ‘On The Rocks’ is all about the jive, being a cool casual cat in critical sections, to maintaining correctly timed noserides in the pocket, and ripping Dewey Weber-esque cutbacks.”
With his surfboard lineup being solidified, Davenport’s goal is keeping his scene small enough to cater to his clientele and to be able to “build a core group of enthusiasts and friends who have a like-minded outlook on surfing, make great boards for my family, and keep doing a good job for Tyler, and never, ever letting him down.”
He is grateful to his family for their support and encouragement, without which he feels he could not have become the person that he is today. His special lady Mel, is always by his side. “Every year I raffle a couple boards for charity during the South Bay Film Series Festival that takes place in early September,” Davenport said, “Well, one of the winners happened to be Mel – it was then that I met the love of my life.”
Davenport lists a nice juicy medium steak, a baked potato, salad, and a tall can of ice-cold beer to his favorite food list. What’s bouncing in the corridor of his white van from the tape deck? Freddie King, Albert King, Paul Butterfield, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and T-Crit. Things that bum Adam out: Shortboards, San Diego’s obsession with Bob Simmons’ shapes, SUP’s, inlanders, Surfer Magazine, clothing companies, leashes, booties, and hipster-claiming hulls.
Tyler Surfboard’s test pilot and South Bay surfer, Mike Siordia, agrees with most that Davenport is the right fit to continue the South Bay shaping legacy and the culture around it. “Adam gets it. Davenport represents craftsmanship and functional hotdoggin’ vehicles.”
What’s next for Mr. Davenport? “Become the second best board builder next to Tyler, follow in his footsteps, and continue to craft his boards. Make him proud.”
For more information on Davenport Surfboards check out his website here and his blog here. His boards can be found at Mollusk Surf Shop, Venice, CA, Wave Front Surf Shop, Ventura, CA, and Surf Country, Goleta, CA.
Principal photography by Mellisa Neff. Photos of Adam doing a floater and holding the green board shot by Kiyo Okada of Classic Wave.