Building Surfboards From Tip To Tail, Longtime Surfer-Shaper Ed Sakal

Ed Sakal and his handmade surfboards (Left and bottom photos courtesy of Sakal Surfboards; top photos by Lauren Lloyd)

Ed Sakal doesn't just shape surfboards. He builds them from start to finish with the adventures of future riders in mind every step of the way. The Hermosa Beach native also doesn't just surf. He's passed his love affair with the wave on to two generations of the Sakal family. His Huntington Beach shop has graced Main Street for the past 25 years, and the family-run establishment prides itself on doing things a little bit differently.

"I do the glassing, the sanding, the color work," says 64-year-old Sakal of his craft, which has governed his life for the past 44 years. "Everything that's involved in making the board—I do that."

Sakal first paddled out on a rented surf mat in Hermosa Beach at age 10 and finally scored his very own surfboard three years later. "I've got a lot of surf stories," he tells us, laughing. One story reached back to when Sakal was 15 and surfed 15-foot waves at Killer Dana—now known as Dana Point—before the harbor was built. From there he progressed in the water, entering Western Surfing Association (WSA) contests and surfing with the Greg Noll team. His passion later landed him in Hawaii for three years, where he worked with Noll, Mystic Surfboards and Lightning Bolt. Magical are the islands, and the magic of building boards followed him home to Southern California in 1973. While working with ET Surfboards in Hermosa Beach, he also worked on starting a family of surfers with his wife, Sandy.

The love of the sport and respect for the ocean was instilled early on in his three children, and when he opened up Bullit Surfboards in Sunset Beach, he taught his son, Ryan, how to shape at age 5. Both of Sakal's sons, Tristan and Ryan, went on to surf National Scholastic Surfing Association (NSSA) contests, and Ryan eventually became a pro surfer and board builder. Sakal's daughter, Shawna, now runs Sakal Surf Shop on Main Street in HB. 

Trusting the hands of one man to build the perfect board is a task 99 percent of people don't do, according to Sakal, who does it all in his Riverside factory, making special Saturday trips to the HB shop to connect with customers, drop off finished products and admire the surfboard "hut" he recently designed inside the shop. One of his favorite parts about his business is feedback from customers.

"We really try to go overboard with our customers," says Sakal. Aside from being personally available to customers every Saturday from roughly 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sakal and his team also offer a few incredible deals to buyers, including a two-week guarantee on brand new boards. "We're saying go ride for two weeks, put dents in it, whatever," Sakal says. "Just don't hit the pier with it. Bring it back, if you don't like it because of the color or the way it rides or whatever it is, just bring it back because we want you to be totally happy with it." Having never heard of such an accommodating deal, we had to ask. "Nobody has that," Sakal said of the guarantee. Board returns are uncommon in the store, averaging about one per 100 customers due to the superior customer service. When buyers walk into Sakal, they don't simply pluck a stock surfboard from the rack and call it theirs, they discuss in detail the surfers' history and habits. "We'll put you on the right board," promises Sakal, whose shop sells both stock and custom boards.

Ed Sakal teaching his granddaughter, Keira, to surf (Photo courtesy of Sakal Surfboards)

Sakal Surf Shop also buys used boards, offers trade-ins and sets up serious surfers with $100 off surfboards for life. After the purchase of a first board at $25 off, returning customers score $25 increments off the price of new boards until reaching $100. Hence, the fourth board gains the buyer $100 off boards for life. While schooling us in the necessity of a surfers' quiver, Sakal notes, "Most people keep their boards for about a year because they want to change the design—the shape of the board. We're always doing new stuff to the boards to make them ride differently. What people are doing now is different than what they were doing 10 years ago on the wave."

The history behind surfing and building surfboards sits at the forefront of Sakal's mind. He could likely talk for hours about the evolution of surfboards, and if you catch him at the shop on a Saturday, we're sure he'd oblige. His stories of surfing back in the day trace a shaky path of near-death experiences, including greedy underwater caves, tricky beavertail wetsuits, nighttime cattle stampedes, speeding trains, stalled boats, five-hour walks in the dark and sinking ice chests. "We've had some crazy stuff happen to us out there," he says. Notice the absence of sharks in his nostalgic dive into his past.

Nowadays Sakal works solo at his factory producing about 300 surfboards annually. When he can afford a field trip from work, he heads down to Trestles. Some Saturday mornings before he visits the shop he hits the swell south of the HB Pier for a morning sesh. His penchant for paddling out certainly rubbed off on his two sons, and his 7-year-old granddaughter, Keira, seems to be following in the footsteps of her grandfather and uncles. When we asked her what she wants to be when she grows up, she looked up from her Rainbow Loom and said, without thought or hesitation, "A pro surfer."

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Ed Sakal is a featured maker in the Main & PCH Marketplace. Find out how to score $25 off your first board here.

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