I’m not sure if I should refer to the hand shaper of board #14 in the 15 Surfboards by 15 Shapers project by his name, Jim Phillips, or his alter ego, ‘The Genius.’ In actuality there is little that differentiates the two personas, though I do believe there is a transformation that happens when a piece of wood or foam is placed in Jim’s hands. It is at that time that one witnesses a true genius at work.
Prior to meeting and working with Jim I asked the previous shapers in the project to suggest a top shaper/craftsman from Southern California, the Mecca of surfboard manufacturing. The name most mentioned was that of Jim Phillips. I was surprised since he was unknown to me and because some of the world’s leading shapers and surfboard brands, names I was familiar with, reside in Southern California. Some research revealed a basic, somewhat difficult to navigate web site but within it I saw enough to warrant a phone call to The Genius himself.
Jim was gracious on the phone and very accommodating to the idea of collaborating with me on the surfboard project. Nonetheless he wasn’t too forthcoming on what he’d like to shape. It wasn’t until I learned more about him and his valued skills with wood that it became clear that I needed to showcase this capability. With that in mind I told Jim I wanted a multi-stringer board, the first in the series, with a hand made wooden fin and possibly a wooden tail and/or nose block. As for the image the final decision came down to one that accented the wood characteristics of the board. Pismo Pilings shows the underbelly and old wooden pilings of Pismo Pier in Pismo, California. It is an image that makes a statement on its own but at the same time ties in perfectly with the wooden accents in Jim’s board.
There is nothing tidy about Jim’s workplace, especially his wood shop, which sits at the far end of the Bing Surfboard factory next to his shaping bay. Much like Jack Reeves, the laminator of Jungle Fall and someone else deserving the alias of ‘Genius,’ Jim and Jack both share the capacity of knowing where everything is among a chaos of tools and piles of discarded material. No matter, it’s what comes of the chaos that means something and in the case of Jim, as with Jack, its true artisanship.
Seeing Jim slice a foam blank into thirds, cut and mill long pieces of cedar and then glue them onto the blank to create a tri-stringer blank was an educational experience. The education continued in his shaping room. There his work and refinements with multiple templates I had not seen before as with the manner in which his hands and eyes skillfully transformed the blank into beautiful flowing lines and curves. Later he would cut off a small portion of the tail and in its place glue a piece of wood made of white pine and cedar which he then shaped to fit the contour of the board. His final lesson was left for the fin. Gluing together pieces of redwood, mahogany and white pine he sanded the fin foil from the block of wood that later would be glassed on to the board.
The lamination and glass work were done at the Bing factory where some highly skilled South of the Boarder amigos, with years of experience and admiration by those who know, work quietly and with out much fan fare. While they may be unknown and seldom seen, their work is quite beautiful and very professional. They suggested a complimenting light blue resin tint on the opposite side of the print, and though at first I thought against it, afterwards I was very grateful that they had convinced me otherwise. This allowed them to put their well deserved stamp on Pismo Pilings and further the collaborative effort that went into creating a true masterpiece.
Jim Phillips’ surfboards won’t be seen in the glossy ads of surf publications, won’t be known by the masses in surfing, and is seldom featured among the highly publicized names of Southern California shapers. However, The Genius will be known, highly respected, and much admired by those that matter most, his peers. As one of his contemporaries said to me after seeing the finished board, if there’s one board in the collection you should not sell and keep it’s this one.
One more board will end this long-winded project that began four years ago. This final board might be the most challenging of all to create. I want it be truly special both in shaper, board design and image. I am also thinking of giving the project an international flavor by working with an Australian shaper. The project doesn’t necessarily need this, nor do I need the logistical, time and expense concerns, but the calling, for whatever reason, is there. This project has been self-commissioned and self-funded, is not assured of success, notoriety or even accepted in galleries (my ultimate goal), and has no purpose other than it somehow took a life of its own soon after the second or third board was done. Yes my name and work is on it but so are the names of worthy craftsmen that are equally if not more deserving than I in receiving recognition for these sculpted master pieces. I am just the custodian of these boards and as such want to make sure that I give them, their creators and the project a small place in the history of surfboards and surf art.