Kris Hall and the Virtue of Self-Reliance in Surfing
Interview by Todd Prodanovich
Photos by Bryce Lowe-White
For the up-and-coming South Bay shaper, building boards is more than a means to an end, it’s a way to connect to surfing’s past while molding its future
When Kris Hall first picked up a planer as a teenager, he thought he was just making himself a new surfboard. What he didn’t realize was that he was opening up a Pandora’s box of rockers, rails and templates that would quickly come to define his life. Fast-forward a few years—and a lot of finished boards—and Kris Hall is one of the South Bay’s most dynamic young shapers, focused on reinterpreting the pinnacle designs of longboarding’s past in new and exciting ways. And in the process, he’s inserted himself into a proud lineage of surfer/shapers who realized that making surfboards with your own two hands can alter your perspective on surfing in profound and unexpected ways.
Has anyone ever told you that you’ve got a lot of Phil Edwards your cutback? I’d imagine he’s someone you really studied growing up.
Yeah, for me, my favorite surfers were probably him, Miki Dora, Dewey Webber and Lance Carson. But mostly Phil. I always appreciated that he surfed the same in small waves as he did in big waves. When the waves got bigger, he never seemed intimidated at all, he looked just as comfortable as when it was small. My dad always told me that was the sign of a great surfer, when they can make any wave look the same.
What about the local crew in the South Bay? Who did you grow up watching and looking up to in your community?
I guess shapers like Dan Cobley and Tyler Hatzikian. Otherwise there weren’t really very many longboarders to watch at that time where I grew up in Hermosa. Still, there’s really no longboarding scene here—it’s pretty much just a couple people. Typically we’ll ride longboards when it’s small, then ride a shortboard and pull into closeouts when it’s big.
There’s a lot of closeouts to be had there, huh?
Yep, that’s Hermosa [laughs.] But yeah, I was the only one in high school who rode longboards, really, but I think it’s starting to grow a little bit now.
What are your go-to boards? I know you shape all of your own stuff.
I usually ride my Jazz Pinn model, which is a Phil Edwards/Lance Carson-style pintail with a pig outline that is just a driving board for anything from 2- to 20-foot waves. When I’m riding shorter boards, it really depends, but I’ll ride anything from a fish to a high-performance thruster to an egg to a 7’0” mid-length. I really like the mid-lengths, because they have a good edge and feel good when it’s a little bigger.
How’d you get into shaping? You’re pretty young to be doing it full time.
I was in high school when I started. My surf coach was friends with shapers, and he took me to a surfboard factory and they helped me shape a board and I just really liked doing it. From there, I’d just try to hustle, making people boards so that I could keep shaping for myself. It didn’t really start as a business, it was more that I couldn’t afford to just make myself boards otherwise, so making boards for other people was how I could fund the habit. It basically just evolved from there and now I’m shaping full time.
I know that every shaper has the boards they have to shape, and the boards they want to shape. What’s the latter for you at the moment? What designs get you excited?
I’ve actually tried to only come up with models that I like making, and I don’t do very many customs, so that cuts down on making boards I’m not super excited about. But I make a lot of Jazz Pinns, and that’s probably my favorite to shape because that’s the board I ride the most. I’ve been really stoked on making those for people.
A lot of the best surfers back in the early days of California surfing did the same thing, making boards for people to sustain their shaping and experimentation with their own boards. Do you find a lot of inspiration in that history?
Yeah, definitely. The guys back then were trying to figure out how to make the best logs that they could, and that all took a backseat to the shortboard in the transition era, so now my focus is trying to take boards from that mid-‘60s period and make them better. I try to imagine if the shortboard didn’t happen, where would those shapers have taken their boards? To me, that means little adjustments in rail shapes and rockers and foils and bottom contours—just really all the little details you can change and blend while still keeping an overall classic shape. It’s really fun messing with all that stuff.
How do you think that’s changed your own surfing, just learning more about the fundamentals of how surfboards work?
Yeah, I think that’s helped me understand what certain boards want to do and where they want to go, and how to fit a board into a certain wave properly. I definitely feel like it’s made me a better surfer as a whole.
Do you think it says something about surf culture that there are more mass-produced boards than ever with companies like Firewire, but then, perhaps as a response to that, there are also all these young people rejecting that, picking up planers and doing it themselves?
Yeah, there’s just such a variety of people who surf now. Originally, surfers were pretty much just beach bums who hustled in whatever ways they could to keep surfing and having fun, and a lot of them made their own boards because they had to. Now there are all kinds of people who surf, some of them with a lot of money, and they’re happy to just walk into a shop and buy whatever the newest, hi-tech board is. But it’s cool to see it come full circle with a lot of the kids who are taking up shaping. I think that mentality of wanting to make your own stuff and understand what you’re riding is rad.
Do you think the way you surf ends up defining the kind of boards you make and the way you approach shaping?
It’s funny, because I think it always starts off with you trying to make your own version of other boards that you’ve seen, but over time you start to realize what you like as a surfer and how you can make your own boards specifically for that, and then shaping really becomes your own thing. That’s when it really gets fun.
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