The Sierra foothills seem an unlikely place to find a surf
legend. But an "Endless Summer" vibe fills the Rescue workshops of Floyd Smith.
Four converted sheds built in a El Dorado County hillside pasture - one for foam, one for wood, two for finishing - serve as Smith's artistic studios. As he's done most of his life, Smith transforms large, plain "blanks" of foam or balsa wood into wave-riding art.
By hand, he shapes them into surfboards and inlays intricate detail. His works are coveted for their beauty as well as their dynamics.
World-renowned for his contributions to surfing, originally through his Gordon and Smith Surfboards and later with his signature brand, Smith is a shaper extraordinaire.
His relocation to the small town near Shingle Springs came as he tried to reshape his life.
After decades on the ocean, Smith brought his family inland for safety and sanity. That was 1985, and the San Diego beach scene - overrun at that time by what he remembers as thugs and drugs - was far from paradise. He bought a small country ranchette where he planned raise his children along with his family's food.
Smith, now 73, said he intended to leave surfing behind him.
"I quit," he recalled. "I wanted to do something else. But people wouldn't let me. They kept asking me to make boards."
So Smith complied. And he has continued making boards, enjoying every minute of it, never losing the love of his craft or the sea. Many consider his boards to be works of art, which he sees as a blessing and a curse.
"Most of the people who buy my boards now only ride them once," he lamented. "They give them a christening in the ocean, then hang them on the wall."
They're too pretty and too valuable to risk to the waves. A new Floyd Smith board costs $1,500 to $5,000.
Longboards - the 9- to 10-foot "big guns" favored by big-wave riders - are his handcrafted specialty.
He has made almost 8,000 signature boards.
"All my life, I've tried to perfect the longboard," said Smith, who makes at least one surfboard a month. "The longboard has a glide to it. When it goes over the water, there's no friction, no sound. It's just like riding on a sheet of ice, just sliding along, but with control."
Since the 1970s, shortboards have dominated the waves. Averaging 6 feet in length, these boards are light and maneuverable.
"But you can't slide on a short board; you just get that speed burst," said Smith, whose original company helped usher in the shortboard revolution.
"Shortboards are fun. You get air. They're made for aerials, for tricks. But that glide of a longboard, that's real fun. It's addictive."
With six decades of shaping experience, Smith's hands instinctively know the nuances of the board as he smooths it to perfection. A carpenter by trade, Smith still uses familiar tools such as wood planes and draw- knives that he started with as a teenager in San Diego.
"His work is fantastic," said collector and fan Ed Bowman, who owns one of Smith's boards along with a restored 1959 Ford woody. "He's one of the best shapers around. He can close his eyes, run his hands along the sides of a board and just feel it, taking nothing - a blank - and making it really something."
In the world of surfing, Smith is still revered. He pioneered the modern
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