A respected observer of the surfing community, Cardiff’s own Devon Howard is a surfer/writer who has written for publications such as Longboard, Surfers Journal, and Surfer magazines. As a surfer with a “ride everything” philosophy, he has appeared in numerous films as Single Fin Yellow, Sprout, One California Day, and The Present. We spoke with Devon to learn more.
When did you get your first surfboard?
Like most, I started on my belly—sponging it from age 3 until 7. Then, my folks got me a 6’6” Mason & Smith single-fin soft top. My mom knew Floyd Smith and took us to his house down the street from us in University City. A few years later I got my first “real board,” a 5’10” Tony Staples tri-fin from Mitch’s Surf Shop in La Jolla. Still have it.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
Fear and thrill—all in one. I loved sponging but my mom insisted I get on my feet. She didn’t want to be a little league parent, so my younger brother, Bret and I had little choice but to surf. Thank God. We grew up surfing in La Jolla. I moved to Encinitas area in my mid-20s.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a grommet?
My folks, of course. But surfing-wise? So many. Surfer magazine was always in our home. So it was Tom Curren, Carroll, Potter, etc. I loved the ’80s. Pre-teen to early-teen years, the Tudor family was pretty influential. Josh and Joel Tudor lived a few blocks away and their house was the cool place to hang out and talk surf, fix boards, and hear new music. That experience contributed a lot to how I learned about longboarding, style, history, culture.
When did you start riding mostly longboards?
It pretty much took over at age 14. Seemed like such a punk rock move at that time because kids simply didn’t ride them. My mom (Karen Adams) rode for Hobie on the East Coast before moving to San Diego in 1970 with my dad, Harry. She kept her 9’6” Yater and I still ride it from time to time. In fact, it was among the very first 60s logs Joel Tudor ever rode. Ever since that time, I have always leaned more toward traditional lines and equipment.
Your thoughts on longboard surfing today?
Depends what you mean. Overall, high performance longboarding in the 90s took it in the wrong direction, not giving a super rad, traditional part of our history and culture a chance to be embraced as something cool. Instead, high performance longboarding turned out to look and feel like bad shortboarding. I did the ASP longboard tour events in 90s and early 00s and in my opinion, it never got off the ground with any significance because the majority of guys thought hitting the lip and doing wheelie airs was the best form of expression on big boards like that. Joel Tudor, Kevin Connelly, Erik Sommer, Cody Simpkins, and guys like me knew noserding and clean style are what gave it an identity and coolness. But we were a small voice in the wilds. Thankfully the real essence of longboarding still lives on through a more grassroots approach. Dudes like Alex Knost, Tyler Warren, Jared Mell, etc. are on the forefront of riding traditional equipment, while vets like Tudor, Tyler Hatzikian, Dane Peterson, etc still hold it down, preserving a piece of our cultural traditions that should not be lost or forgotten. So, I’d say it’s in a better place now.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
It’s super cliché, but Indonesia. Hands down. Boat trips are kind of pretentious and a bit bubble boy-ish in nature. But if talking surf quality only, it’s the best. I dragged longboards with me there a few times and surfed everything from flawless waist high empty points to triple overhead Sunset beachesque waves like Bawa. Culture-wise, my favorite is the Basque region in South France. I could live there.
Who/what inspires you?
My dad was a carpenter so I tend to be inspired by people that take pride in what they do. People with integrity inspire the heck out of me. Not a fan of half-assedness, or lazy people. I dig creativity, too. A lot my friends over the years are artists, writers, filmmakers and photographers. Surf-wise? It’s all about style. That’s everything to me. Frye, Dora, Hynson, Young, Farrelly, Riddle, Curren, Ortner. Guys like that—through old bootleg film clips and magazines—shaped how I surf today.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Relationships are like plants. If you don’t water them, they wilt.
What meaning does surfing hold for you, and how has it changed your life?
Answering this will unavoidably sound cheesey. But here goes: It hasn’t changed my life. It is my life, and has been since I can remember. Since third grade, when I told my teacher I wanted to be a pro surfer, there was no doubt in my mind I’d be involved personally and professionally with surfing for my entire life. Who wouldn’t be stoked when their avocation becomes their vocation? It has provided me a great life. I have filled two passports because of it, all the while working in retail, media, and now marketing – roles built around my passion for riding waves. I am thankful for the joy it gives me and for all the friends I made through it over the years.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
From a pure performance standpoint, I am really pumped on John John Florence. He is primed to be our next Slater. Dane Reynolds is exciting because he is the next Slater talent-wise, but he has a fun personality that keeps me interested in what he’s going to do next. Shaping-wise, I love what Danny Hess is doing with materials. Ryan Burch is refreshing: a real thinker and ripper—as is Daniel Thomson. For traditional longboarding, I am inspired by Tyler Hatzikian. He’s made me a few logs recently that are mind blowers, especially the step nose and tail model.
If you could only take one board around the world, which would it be?
I have a 7’2” egg design that Donald Takayama calls the Howard Special Mini. It’s a low rocker egg with a mid-volumed template. Not speedy, not bulbous like a mini-tanker. It has pinched rails and vee. Can be two-plus-one widowmaker, single or tri, making it super versatile. The perfect board.
Your favorite surf spot?
For a decade I lived and died by the tides and swells at Windansea. It was super important to me to earn respect in that lineup. A fan of reef culture, I was drawn to the wave because of its lore, and that only kooks wore a leash. I learned a lot through that process of becoming a local, especially being on the most hated equipment ever during that time. As a result of my time at Windansea, I since gravitated toward big peaky rights. So my other favorite waves fall in line with that: Swamis, Lowers, Cardiff Reef, Sunset Beach, Pupukea and Haleiwa. My boards are long railed and those spots allow you to use it all to set up big bottom turns, sweeping cutbacks and threading the bowl sections.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
So many things, but if I hit shuffle you might hear things like: Mulatu Astatke (Ethiopian Jazz circa late 60s); Syl Johnson (70s soul); Ghosface Killah; The Seeds; The Kinks; A Tribe Called Quest; Slum Village; The Cramps; Grant Green; Joy Division; El Michel’s Affair; The Velvet Underground; Stooges; Wu Tang, GZA & RZA; The JB’s; The Roots; Guru; Tame Impala; The Zombies; Big L; EPMD; Dave Brubeck; De La Soul; Lee Perry; The Animals; Johnny Cash; King Tubby; Stan Getz; Pharcyde; Junior Reid; David Axelrod. S–t, don’t get me started, I would fill this page. I love music, especially old stuff that is funky, jazzy, drum and bass line driven. I like to groove. I love dub reggae when I am writing. I dig old rock and early punk when I am in a peppy mood. I don’t listen to pop music or country or hip hop post 1993. If you have good music, send me a mixtape and I will reciprocate. I dig sharing 25 tracks of goodness with my bros.
You were with Patagonia for many years, launching their surf retail program at Cardiff and other stores internationally, but you recently took a new role as Director of Marketing for Spy. How is that going?
I am really excited about my new gig there. SPY is an eyewear brand that started nearly two decades ago in my backyard of San Diego, CA. It makes high quality products that go on your face, but it also has a fun and irreverent point of view. Essentially, SPY’s approach will always be to have a healthy disrespect for the usual. It’s under new leadership with Michael Marckx at the helm, who is injecting a lot of renewed energy, focus, and fun ideas into the brand. So expect to see a lot more of SPY in the coming months and years. I am also joining at a time where we are launching a really cool new line called the Crosstown Collection. It’s a vintage style line of shades inspired by the same things that inspired my surfing: style, music, and art. We have some legit surfers backing it like Nate Tyler, Jared Mell, Ryan Burch and Joel Tudor.
What’s next for Devon Howard?
Aside from my new SPY job, I will continue to work on designs with Takayama and my buddy Tyler Hatzikian. I am really inspired by Tyler’s shapes. We have similar interests and are having fun trying to refine Hot Generation style equipment—boards those guys were riding just before Vee bottoms came out. Basically, they are really refined longboards. But the bummer is they disappeared and now guys like Tyler are continuing that line where those dropped off, and seeing where we can take them from a performance standpoint. I am 37 now, so I am interested in staying healthy, fit and flexible. Guys like Jock Sutherland, Wayne Lynch, Gerry Lopez and Michel Junod—who are still ripping into their 60s—inspire me every day.
Photography credits: 1) Todd Glaser, 2) Rubin Pina, 3) Film by Eric Durnam, 4) Todd Glaser, 5) Jeff Johnson, 6) Cyrus Sutton, 7) Jeff Johnson, 8) Todd Glaser