Reflections of a Sea Panther

Part I:

As a spoiled surf star (in my own mind), I thought I knew what was best for the design of what slid underneath my feet, a total ego trip deriving from the insecurities of a mid-twenty-something-year-old mentally going on 16.

In an era, before there were quantifiable factors of social media followers, likes and what-not, all I had was the B.S. coming out of my mouth. Fortunately, Adam Davenport believed me and added me to his team. Before you think I’m playing the old self-condescending “Yeah, I’m a total kook but I really I want you to validate me as not a kook" schtick, Adam wasn’t that far off. I could always turn a surfboard.

In the shaping room during the creation of the original On The Rocks model.

In the shaping room during the creation of the original On The Rocks model.

So, it’s spring 2011. While attending a Christmas party hosted Adam’s then employer, we hit it off. After the fiesta, Adam’s boss, myself, and my BFF (another fine surf specimen) hit the Purple Orchid Tiki Lounge. It was like a surf shaper double date/courting session. Adam and I began discussing a new model, and so the “On the Rocks” model was poured. The problem was, the new board model only appealed to one palette. Mine. 

I’d become obsessed with an old Hansen with no model identification, upturned rails, a narrow and parallel outline, flat, no concave, and lots of belly -bordering on a hull design. (Ironically I was “anti-hull” at the time, which was also part of my ego trip.) It was some sort of experiment (perhaps a team board prototype due to its resin colors). Its design evolution was cut-off as the v-bottom became en vogue.

Adam went ahead mixing the design cocktail as I had requested, like a bartender who abides by a patron’s wish for the fourth or fifth unnecessary Long Island Ice Tea. And man, it was pretty close to the original Hansen minus a few artistic liberties in attempts for function. It was the nicest board ever made for me at that point. Did it work? Sometimes. 

On The Rocks number one with the author sporting the infamous leisure suit.

On The Rocks number one with the author sporting the infamous leisure suit.

For fast zippy waves, the OTR couldn’t help itself to make sections. As for nose antics, nothing locked you in. Nothing. You picked your line, set up trim as close to the curl as you could and let it run. The OTR was also cold, lacking forgiveness since it was a rocker-less plank. But it made for great shots when you got the 10 feet of foam slapping a lip. Maybe I liked the challenge or it just floated my big head well, (remember, I had “my own model.”) At the time, I swore by it, but looking at those old photos I cringe at the OTR’s tendency to outrun every section in daily conditions. But hey, it did have my own “On The Rocks” model! 

The OTR fully-engaged in a drop-knee turn by the author. Photo by Kiyo.

The OTR fully-engaged in a drop-knee turn by the author. Photo by Kiyo.

Adam humored me and shaped a second OTR, a more radical approach to the original OTR. But thank God, it didn’t make the light of day, nor the glassroom. It was for my own good.

Fast-forward a year or so, my wild lifestyle of irresponsibility contributed to a string of poor decisions. Numero Uno, getting married in Vegas after a whirlwind fling with the deadly vixen of the bottle. Adam, under the guidance of his then-boss, was advised to not partake in the festivities, with the threat of him coming home to an unemployment line instead of a sanding bay. Still, he supported me, even through my youthful indiscretions (not really, as I had just turned 30), and thought a wedding gift of a new board was inline. 

That marriage, err, that not-a-marriage (as deemed by the California Court System due to the verdict of annulment due to “temporary insanity”) lasted a week. Adam was still was willing to shape me something new. But this time, I was to stay outside a ten-mile radius of the shaping bay. 

And there’s a reason Adam holds the planer and I hold, well, yeah, I got nothing. (I was going to say something inappropriate.) The third OTR, (as originally deemed), has a super secret tail rocker, no concave, and a fuller-in-the-right-places outline. If I was in the shaping bay, I most likely would have barked orders for narrower, hipper, and more user-unfriendly. I’m sure Adam would have taken a planer to my face. In actuality, it was a squaretail version of one of Davenport’s more popular models, the California Classic. Looking back, man, Adam had the patience to deal with my shit. To not hurt my feelings, he called this the next version of the OTR.

Adam laying down the ICBM-themed resin panels.

Adam laying down the ICBM-themed resin panels.

On the glassing end of the spectrum, Adam went all out: Three cedar stringers, his now trademark cutlaps, and a very distinct resin color scheme.

“It’s going to look like an ICBM missile,” Adam said to me with his black pigmented resin-dipped brush before applying his first stroke to the taped up.

On the first ride, I remembered how setting up for a noseride shouldn’t be a project. Turns came effortlessly and the rollercoasters always returned to the tracks after a spiral or two. 

It was the nicest surfboard ever. The craftsmanship was simply superb. 

Then Adam took the board back.

Part II:

Much like a Mike Purpus rollercoaster, my life was going off the tracks. One fall Sunday morning, I got picked up while driving home from a wedding in Santa Barbara with a warm Coors in between my legs. I tried drinking off the previous evening by having a few shots at the brunch. Of course, I was thrown in the slammer in my wedding garb: a light blue polyester leisure suit, pink butterfly collar undershirt, and white cowboy boots. My cellmates included La Colonia gang members coming down from a tweaking binge.        

The beginning of the ICBM era coincided with the tail-end of the black turtleneck era.

The beginning of the ICBM era coincided with the tail-end of the black turtleneck era.

On top of that, late nights and morning beers seemed to occupy my time. A shame as I had this beautiful surfboard that begged to be ridden.

While still a card-carrying member of Davenport Surf Team, I took a free board from another board builder without consulting Adam. I should have asked Adam before an arrangement like this went down. I took advice from another ego-driven surfer, who told me to not say anything to Adam and just accept the board. He of course, later reversed his advice saying that he “told me to tell Adam.” Needless to say, it’s still was my fault. Adam came over to my apartment and took back the ICBM-themed board. 

I was off the team. 

A knee injury kept me grounded at Naja’s Place amongst the 88 beers on tap. Closing time meant late night runs to Old Tony’s to whomp with the infamous “fire chief”, a 151 doused concoction that in pre-fire code days, was served with a flame. I was working hard on my Redondo Beach Pier rat status. When I felt even more adventurous, I’d chase the last call at Pat’s II, the worst of the worst. The following day, I was almost always bedridden and cuddling a pizza or a greasy sandwich with a couple of Gatorades on the side. Or I’d simply crack another beer.

Of course, my knee wouldn’t heal. Finally, after not being able to walk for a week I had to make a change. I couldn’t surf, but I could walk a paddleboard down to the beach. So I did. I was living in a best-described surf bohemian apartment just a block from the beach. Before you question how the hell I was affording all of this? My roommate happened to live in the same apartment for over 30 years, which kept the rent low. My drinks were normally taken care of by my bartending buddies since I’d drink whatever beer they wanted to get rid of. Perfect example, I drank so much pumpkin beer after the fall season, I turned into a pumpkin that winter. I can’t drink that stuff ever again. 

With my attention turned to paddling, of course, I had to self-promote on social media to validate myself. In one of my paddles, the endorphin high kicked in halfway. Delusional, I envisioned myself as a pouncing panther on the hunt for prey as I dug into the ocean mid-stroke. Hence, the Sea Panther nomenclature began.

It seemed as though I was getting my shit together, well sort of. I went on hiatus from the bar and shaved a bit off of my outline in the process. My knee felt better and I was looking to get back in the surf. Then the perfect opportunity to make amends; the Davenports were invited and attended my parent’s annual New Years Eve party. I apologized to Adam for how things went down and I was back on the team. Well sort of. More like placed on probation.

Part III:

I thought I’d be reacquainted with my old stick, nope. In the time since she was passed around to a few other team members who introduced her to a few Rincon rocks. Adam repaired her and sold her off just like any other used surfboard, perhaps as my much-needed punishment. Since I was the lowest on the team totem pole, my choices were to dig through Adam’s design library. I picked up the original OTR.

Besides a mishap of whiskey-induced poor behavior at the 2015 Boardroom show, where Adam traded ding repair work for me to be escorted home in the back of a Volvo station wagon, since then I think I’ve been on my best behavior.

I took a liking to a 10’5” triple-stringer BKNR prototype Adam had shaped many years before. It was Adam’s first board built entirely by himself. While an amazing testament to Adam’s craftsmanship, Adam felt that the Rick Rudder fin was a tad heavy, and she was shelved. She reappeared after Adam took a grinder to thin out the fin. I’m stoked to be caretaker of such a special board. I actually had some of my best contest results were on this stick. I fondly remember taking her out during an overhead day for a total gas session but still scored some memorable rides. It’s been given a second life as the choice surf vehicle for my good friend, the manager at Naja’s, and his 250+pound frame.

After my probation period, (let’s be frank, most likely I'm still on it), Adam shaped me a beautiful 10” BKNR, an 8’6” V-Type, and a full-on tube shooter gun that gives me chills every time I look at it. The original OTR is also still in my surfboard collection. I plan on revisiting her one day. But still, something was missing…

Part IV:

Flash forward to a couple of months ago. I’m now approaching mid-30s and I actually have responsibilities; a house in Torrance, a fiancée, a toddler, with baby number two coming in the not so distant future. One of my streams of income is publishing magazines for events and organizations. While working on a summer project, I was led into the local South Bay surf shops. While thumbing through a used board the distinct ICBM color scheme shot out at me screaming, “save me.” 

The ICBM-themed California Classic Squaretail locking in on the nose. Photo by Rick Bickford.

The ICBM-themed California Classic Squaretail locking in on the nose. Photo by Rick Bickford.

The story was she bought by a high school student and was a bit too much board. Ridden maybe a handful of times and then tucked away until Dad said to sell it to fund the next board purchase. I had to shake up the funds (see above list of responsibilities). Luckily, I had an old but brand new never-ridden board I had given to my dad sitting in my old surf shed at my parents for at least a decade. So I painted a black comp stripe, listed it on craigslist, sold it, done and done with cash ready for the ICBM. I told my dad about the transaction (as it was his board), and said I’d take him out surfing on his new-to-him Davenport Surfboard and he was stoked.

Pump the brakes! Before I became reacquainted, I made sure I got the approval from Adam. I wanted to make sure of what works best for the brand and on what board I should be riding. Adam gave me the okay, and me and my California Classic Square were back in business. The ego in me wants to push this as the ICBM model because it does go like a damn ballistic in every wave-riding situation. But maybe it just pertains to this board. It’s so special.