Interview by Glenn Sakamoto / Photography by Isao Hoshi
Joe Falcone is a highly regarded shaper based in Rockaway Beach. A native New Yorker, his passion for shaping and steadfast integrity to surfboard design has drawn a legion of dedicated fans to his fish, single fins, and stubbies. Traveling shapers, such as Josh Hall, Ellis Ericson, and Andrew Kidman, have all been to “The Casino” to discuss designs and to trade templates. We had a conversation with Joe to learn more.
What was your childhood like?
As children of divorced parents, my brothers and I were your classic villainous squad. We loved to cause trouble because there was a fair bit of it that gave us comfort. I didn’t realize this until now though. My parents bought and built a home in Rockaway in 1980. While living there they had me and my brother Sal (Joe, Sal and Gianni… typical). At some point after Sal was born we had moved to Florida because my father had an opportunity to open a restaurant/bar. I believe I had just turned 4 when that happened. My brother Gianni was born down there and not too long after that my father’s business had failed along with their marriage, this was when my mom came back to NY with the three of us.
My parents had the house rented out at the time so we couldn’t slip back in there nor could my single mom who didn’t have a job, pay for the mortgage alone. We spent the next 3 years living with my grandmother and grandfather in Gravesend Brooklyn which was/is 4 exits away from Rockaway on the Belt Parkway. We’d go out there all the time while we lived in Brooklyn though, every chance my mom or dad had to take us we’d be there. During our time spent in gravesend we picked up Skateboarding and writing graffiti. Which in time translated to surfing and more graffiti and other mischievous behavior. Every Cop in Rockaway knew us by first and last name since we were early teens (laughs).
My mom had finally gotten a teaching job in the 3 years we spent living in Brooklyn and was prepared to be on her own. That’s when we moved back home. I’ll never forget the sensation of carrying my things back into that house. I felt like my life was no longer in limbo and that it was finally beginning. It felt like that’s how it should’ve been the whole time. From then on it was ON!
When did you get your first surfboard?
I got my first surfboard in Florida but not when we lived there. My grandmother on my father’s side, lived down there so my Pop would take us down there a few times every year to visit her. That’s where I spent the most time with my father in the water. My parents didn’t speak more than they had to, to organize the “every other weekend” visits with Pop so even when we moved back into Rockaway there was no older male stewarding us into the surf. We also didn’t have boards yet. It was in Florida where we began our journey into surfing. My brothers and I got a taste during our trips down to Grandma Violet’s place in Florida but it wasn’t until I was about 14 until my dad bought us all our own boards to keep in Rockaway. Any surfing I’d done in Rockaway as a kid, prior to owning my first board was on borrowed boards or Morey Boogie Boards.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I was enchanted by the feeling. Only a smattering of random words could puzzle it together but they wouldn’t make sense in consecutive order.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
I looked up to the men around me who lived by a code. There’s too many of them where I’m from to begin. I just gravitated toward quiet, humble, powerful dudes who kept the things that are sacred to them, Sacred. I’m a passionate guy – so it’s easy for me to spot real passion. I like seeing when things mean something to someone as it makes me alter my focus on it and look with a sharper lens.
Who/What inspired you to begin shaping?
His name is Dennis Farrell and he was my portal into shaping. He was the only Rockaway local shaper that I knew of at the time that did it in his backyard. All the gnarliest locals rode his boards when I was growing up. The label he shaped under was Dakota Surfboards and the logo was an Omega Symbol which was fitting because he was the Alpha Omega to us kids who grew up in that part of Rockaway. Dennis was a fireman and a waterman raising 4 kids with his wife just a few blocks away from me. His sons all ripped and were much older than me or so it felt. I learned a lot just watching them surf, how to pump, floaters, cutties etc... I remember the day the shaping spark was lit, like it was yesterday.
I was 15-16 when Dennis rocked up to our local, as he always did, pedaling a bike with a board under arm, a crew of us sitting on the wall talking. Dennis was toting a board that I’d never seen before. It was a thruster that looked much like an early 80’s Merrick Flyer with the heavy hips and a baby swallow tail. There was a triangular section in the nose that was scooped out like a Greenough spoon and completely see through. At the time I had no idea who Greenough was, never mind a Velo spoon! The only spoon I knew of was the one my grandmother would stir the sauce with because it’s occasionally meet our faces! The triangular section that was removed and reinforced with glass was completely "see through” and the theory was "to reduce swing weight”. That day it dawned on me that I could make boards and manipulate them to create results I can feel in the water. This would surely enhance my connection to surfing as well as my abilities. I couldn’t think of anything else for a while and it was a slow start but I had finally set up a shaping room a a couple years later.
“Surfing is the most sacred thing to me for more reasons than just it being fun. I’m passionate about it in ways that make me feel as though I need to protect it. Surfing has always provided me with a different sense of connection and disconnection to things. All the right amounts of both. There’s nothing else in the world that makes me feel that way.”
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
Iceland stood out the most because it was the first place I’ve been to where ALL of the native people understand and respect nature. It’s hard not to there because there’s only 350-400k population total and the landscape is so overwhelming. I really like to see when humans are on the same page and have respect for the earth, no matter their professional or political position. The common factor is that we all live here and have expectations from this planet. We can’t keep on as we are without cleaning up the mess we’ve already made.
Who/what inspires you?
People who express themselves really well and anyone who puts their money where their mouth is.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Pay attention to the signs.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the relationships I’ve built throughout the years of shaping surfboards. I feel truly blessed to be able make boards for people that enhance their experiences in the water as well.
What meaning does surfing hold for you and how has it changed your life?
Surfing is the most sacred thing to me for more reasons than just it being fun. I’m passionate about it in ways that make me feel as though I need to protect it. Surfing has always provided me with a different sense of connection and disconnection to things. All the right amounts of both. There’s nothing else in the world that makes me feel that way. Actually working in my garden has similar parallels but its not nearly as exhilarating. When you get up to top speed on a board, when you’re racing down the line it’s incredible how fast the rest of the things going on in your life end up behind you. If only for a few fleeting moments...
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Surfing with my freinds in my backyard and spending quality time with my wife. Both are a tough measure but surfing is better than the best sex you can have
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Everyone always likes to forget about Andrew Kidman and Richard Kenvin and how important their work has been to our culture. Much of what those guys focus on has not only kept certain things sacred but are part of the ingredients to why certain things in surfing has become popular. I bet most people who’ve shaped the globally loved “mini Simmons” design have no idea that Richard Kenvin is the reason why. The rest of surfing is a blur to me. I pay attention to the cultural icons and preservationists.
What is your favorite board? Your favorite surf spot?
I love all boards mostly ones with two fins. My favorite surf spot is the one you and your friends can’t get to! Hahahaha
What's your favorite meal?
What music are you currently listening to?
I’m back on a heavy Nas kick right now. I like, and listen to almost everything but I grew up on Hip Hop and that will always remain to be the most played Genre coming from my speakers
What are you most grateful for?
The ability to experience life in the way I’ve been able to. I see people less fortunate than myself everyday, I’m hyper-aware of things like that, I get lost in my head about it all the time. Whenever I look at someone I wonder what their going through or what it’s like to live in their world for a day, week etc. Those thoughts serve as a constant reminder to me about how lucky I am. I could have more but I could also have a lot less.