Surfing in Sonoma and Marin counties is dodgy in the best of times, but spring is downright dismal. Northwest winds scour the coast, rendering any waves that straggle ashore into ragged, unsurfable junk. The constant onshore blow dredges up deep, cold water to give surfers brain- freezing headaches as they duck under waves.
But there are not many waves worth surfing this time of year anyway. Spring is a season of transition, and northwest swells from the Gulf of Alaska have all but dried up, and Southern Hemisphere swells have yet to make their way to our shores.
Still, Jamie Murray manages to stay connected to the ocean during the windy season inside his 108-square-foot shop tucked behind his home in Santa Rosa's west end. Murray, 40, is a surfboard shaper, one of just a few in Sonoma County. If he can't ride a surfboard, he can make one. He doesn't advertise or sell his boards in surf shops, but the word has spread about his handiwork through the North Coast surf underground.
"He's talented," says Jay deLong, 42, a veteran North Coast surfer who has ordered several boards from Murray. "He's really a craftsman. He's got curiosity, and he's not afraid to fail. He's that classic person who is enjoying the ride."
As an in-demand shaper, Murray spends a lot more time in his shop than he does in the water. Once he closes the shop door, he disappears for hours in a private world of tools, foam dust and hydrodynamics.
"My wife and kids have to get me," he says. "There's no possible way I can keep track of my own time."
CONNECTICUT TO CALIFORNIA
Murray is an unlikely shaper and surfer. With his short-cropped hair, glasses and wry smile, he doesn't fit the surfer stereotype. He looks more like an English teacher. Which he is. He was a founding faculty member at Sonoma Academy. His writing skills and sense of humor come across on his blog at www.headhighglassy.blogspot.com:
SHAPING IN SPRING
The deeper into spring, the weirder the boards: long, wide, fat boards that will catch everything. Short, wide, fat boards that catch almost everything. Medium, wide, fat boards that fit perfectly between short-period windswell troughs. Many ways to skin the grumpy, uncooperative, foggy cat of spring. Take that, spring!
PARENTING IN SPRING
My kids now think I'm effing with them at bedtime. "How could it be?" They plead, pointing out the window. "It's still light outside!" And they're correct, but it's also 8pm and daddy needs a Manhattan, so off they go. Take that, spring!
Murray grew up in Connecticut, a state with a nearly nonexistent surf scene. Because there were no local surf shops, he and his friends surfed scavenged old boards.
"We were 10 to 20 years behind," he says. "We were always surfing stuff that was out of date." He learned to surf on a 1970s-era 5-foot, 11-inch twin fin.
"It was pretty retro before retro was cool," he says.
Murray got used to those outdated designs, and when he moved to California in the 1990s after college in Colorado, he wanted to rekindle his love of surfing. By then the surf industry was focused on short and thin boards patterned after the high-performance, competition-style boards surfed by the pros. For someone used to riding boards with more foam and width, they were no fun. Murray asked a Santa Cruz shaper to make him one more suited to his liking. He got turned down. So Murray decided to make his own.