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WORDS w/ WILL ALLEN

Modern Flair, Steeped in Tradition
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Interview by Todd Prodanovich
Photos by Bryce Lowe-White, Ridge BenBen, Cory Gehr
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For 18-your-old Bend ambassador and Redondo Beach native Will Allen, the best parts of modern surf style give a subtle nod to the South Bay’s rich surfing history

 

For someone born in 2000, Will Allen knows a lot of surf history. That’s because he grew up in the Redondo Beach area, split peaks with legends like ‘70s icon Mike Purpus and found inspiration in boards and approaches from long before his time. Will already knows something that takes most surfers a while to figure out—good surf style knows no era. Below, Will talks about his evolving style touchstones, why he’s grateful for his South Bay roots and how the way we ride waves can speak volumes about who we are.

 

So you ride a bit of everything these days, but what did you start on? Were you always into longboarding?

 

I started on a longboard, but then I was riding fish and shortboards and everything else shortly after that. I pretty much always rode everything, because my dad always told me, “Ride whatever you can—whatever works—because that’s how you have the most fun.” Yeah, he was right about that.

 

What was your home break growing up? Did the community there share your interest in a range of surfcraft?

 

I guess that would be Torrence Beach, which is pretty much just a closeout, but all of our buddies would go down there together and hang out and surf and it really created a good sense of community. There were probably four other guys riding longboards back when I started, but now there are way more people my age and younger who are super into riding logs, which is really cool to see.

 

Yeah, I’d imagine you’ve seen a pretty big shift toward traditional longboards since you first started.

 

Yeah, there really wasn’t much of a traditional longboarding scene before, but it’s grown so much. And as more people get interested in more traditional boards and styles of surfing, they’re starting to realize how far back that goes in the South Bay and how rich our surf history is. We’ve got Hap Jacobs there, Bing started there, Velzy started there, David Nuuhiwa used to go surf there—George Freeth even taught surfing at the Redondo Pier. It’s funny, because it’s actually not the best location for waves, and that caused a lot of people to head south toward Orange County and San Diego, but there was a time when it was all happening in Hermosa. I thinks that’s what’s cool about what Bryce [Lowe-White, co-founder of The Bend] is doing, reminding people of the surfing tradition there. It ties into how people are rejecting things like pop-out boards from overseas and some of the new things in surfing that might not really speak to what surfing has always been. People want to go back to surfing’s roots, which I think is super sick.

 

There was a time when 22nd Street in Hermosa was the epicenter thanks to photographer Leroy Grannis. You were looking through some of his old photos recently, right?

 

Yeah, I was with Mike Purpus at his house and he was showing me all these Grannis photos, which were incredible. Plus it’s really cool hearing Mike talk about them. He’s probably one of the most amazing humans I’ve ever met—he has such a big heart and is just an absolute legend.

 

That guy is the real deal. How did you two cross paths?

 

I know him through him being a judge at local contests when I was growing up. My dad had told me that he used to be a pro, but I didn’t immediately realize just how deep his story goes. I found out later that he invented the cutback and the 360, and when you go to his house he has the most insane photos from Pipe and all these Duke trophies. He doesn’t have a driver’s license, so he gets rides from people and you run into him sometimes in the area and he’s always such a classic dude. When you surf with Mike, you can’t help but smile.

 

When you look at old photos, like those shot by Grannis back in the day, do you think that good longboarding style has changed? Or is there something fundamental and timeless about it?

 

I love those old photos and I have so much respect and admiration for the way that people surfed in that era, especially considering their boards were so much heavier and more difficult to ride. They never flailed their arms, they were so smooth, and they were all about keeping their movement in sync with the ocean. You know, a lot of they time they didn’t even go to the nose, they’d just trim and it looked so good. There’s something timeless about that, for sure. And also about the way they looked at surfing. They built these communities and just had so much fun surfing with their friends. I feel like there’s kind of a reemergence of that sense of community now, especially in the traditional, single-fin longboard scene—you look at San O or Doho and the crews there are really tight knit and really good surfers and good people.

 

What are your go-to boards right now?

 

I have a 9’8” Bing Elevator and a 5’11” Bing Spork, which is a swallow-tail quad co-designed with Chris Del Moro. That’s one of the most sparky boards. It’s kind of an alternative craft—thicker and wider with a fuller nose—but you can really do anything on it. It’s so fun.

 

What’s the feeling you love most about surfing traditional logs? What do you find yourself chasing when you’re in the water?

 

When you’re longboarding on a 3- to 4-foot day, and you take off on a wave and you’re right under the lip with the scoop of the nose putting you in the perfect spot, so you’re planing and just completely weightless—that’s the best. Joel [Tudor] is the master of that, and you see him do it all the time in videos when he gets really elevated on his nose. When you’re nose is in the air like that, and you’re just trying to keep your body quiet and peaceful, that’s as good as noseriding gets.

 

Do you think the way a person surfs tells you something about who they are? Does some aspect of their personality shine through?

 

It actually totally does. I’ll watch a guy like Bryce surf, and he is exactly how he surfs. That guy has one of my favorite styles around. He’ll ride a thruster like he rides a longboard—his hands don’t move, his arcs are smooth and nothing looks forced. But on land, he’s also just that guy. So yeah, I’m a full believer that how people carry themselves in the water is an extension of who they are on land. That’s also why I try to avoid people with aggro style in the water—odds are they’re going to be pretty chippy [laughs.]

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