When we asked Huntington Beach artist Dave C. Reynolds if he still held the title for handcrafting more surf trophies than anyone else in the world, he confidently replied, "Hell yeah I do!" The Orange County native has been professionally crafting handmade surf woodworks and paintings since 1988, and he's been surfing the waters of Seal Beach and HB for more than three decades. If there's anyone who can vouch for the beauty of Surf City's famed waters and solid community, it's Reynolds.
Born in Buena Park, Reynolds always found himself drawn to the sea. Before teenage Reynolds scored his first surfboard for $17 at a garage sale, the self-taught surfer strapped an air mattress or "whatever [he] could get [his] hands on" to his handlebars and pedaled 13 miles to surf at the famous HB Pier and popular Seal Beach surf spot Crabs. "These kids nowadays are kind of pussies compared to what we had to do," says Reynolds, whose surf stories trace multiple-day surfing adventures in the days when camping on the beach was still legal.
Like many surfers, Reynolds also skateboarded, and he did so during the game-changing Dogtown days. Z-Boys members like Tony Alva and Jay Adams graced the emptied swimming pools, devoid of water and filled with radical skateboarders. "They would show us how it was done," says Reynolds, adding, "They were so far ahead of us. They showed us what the future was going to be as far as pool skating and vertical skating."
Some 40 years later, Reynolds has yet to retire his boards and recently took up stand up paddle surfing. While he no longer skates pools, he still glides around town. "I figure being 55 and still riding a skateboard ain't too bad."
Just as Reynolds taught himself how to surf and skate at a young age, he also schooled himself in the arts of painting and woodworking. The son of an artistic mother, Reynolds gave art school a chance but failed to warm up to structured, restricted creation. Reynolds' signature surf trophies first gained the attention of International Surfing Museum Founder Natalie Kotsch in the late 80s, landing him his first public exhibit. "I was the very first person to use model surfboards as art," says Reynolds.
At the time, his trophies consisted of a model surfboard adorned with airbrushed graphics and framed within a shadowbox. His first gig called upon his craftsmanship to carve the trophies for the 1988 ASP World Tour. He dubbed his business Kahuna's Klassics that year and has since been commissioned to craft pieces for international surfing contests, top surfers, SUP awards, various companies honoring employees and numerous HB restaurants and resorts. His company now goes by the name SurfTrophy.com and offers not only surf trophies, but also surf-centric lamps, keyracks, business card holders, paintings, chalkboards and apparel.
"I get all kinds of crazy requests," says the artisan, who has crafted custom signage and replica surfboards for several local businesses. The magic all happens behind the walls of his HB workshop, where he does everything by hand—even his business cards that feature rotating designs. Surfing has governed his entire life, motivating him to remain self-employed for the last few decades. "I get up at 4 and check out the buoy readings, the wind, swell, and plan my work day around the tide and the wind."
A prime showcasing of Reynolds' surf trophy skills currently displays at the International Surfing Museum in Famers, an exhibit honoring inductees of the Surfing Walk of Fame and Surfers' Hall of Fame. As the museum's exhibits director of roughly three to four years, Reynolds collaborated with acclaimed Australian surfer and museum Vice Chairman Pete "PT" Townend on the project for nearly three months, then carefully hung each piece at the museum over the course of two weeks. The final product is a must-see in downtown HB and will display through Memorial Day 2014.
To date, Reynolds has handmade between 10,000 to 20,000 surf trophies, and he has no intent of throwing in his tools anytime soon. On the heels of the Famers grand opening, his current project—an interactive roving puppet stage show for Camp Hyatt at the HB resort location—will be unveiled in early 2014. Describing the children's program as "when parents unload their kids for the day," Reynolds could not be happier with his involvement.
He also could not be happier making his livelihood doing what he loves. Reynolds writes on his website, "I truly don't take for granted the opportunity to make money doing something I would do for nothing!" During our chat, he echoed the sentiment while foreshadowing the future of his classic designs:
I get to surf every day. I get to work every day with my dogs. They love it. I get to make stuff that I get to ship all over the world. The stuff I'm making today will be in surf museums in 100 years. It will be. A lot of it will get trashed, busted or thrown away, but some of it be held onto. There will be guys in 100 years buying my stuff on whatever type of futuristic eBay is around in 100 years.
Reynolds will also be busy building a "big redwood hot curl" board to surf in the June 20, 2014, exhibition When Men Were Men and Boards Were Made of Wood, raising the bar for participants in the centennial celebration of surf pioneer George Freeth's groundbreaking ride at the HB Pier on June 20, 1914.
Surfing, which Reynolds says was regarded as "a bunch of yahoo kids" in the 60s, will hopefully reign immortal—just like the artist's own airbrushing, sculpting, resin casting and woodwork.