In August 2002, Joel Tudor was named the 16th most powerful person in surfing by Surfer Magazine.
For a guy who’s 6 feet, 1 inch tall and only weighs 145 pounds, that’s quite a claim, until you see him surf or engage him in conversation.
With the style that made him world longboarding champion in the Canary Islands in 1998, and his uncompromising, opinionated comments, Tudor has carved out a niche within the surfing world as something of a maverick - an exceptionally talented young surfer who retains a strong sense of who he is and where he’s from.
Having lived and surfed in La Jolla for most of his life, the 28-year-old remains one of the most recognizable and influential surfers in the world. His well-documented experimentation with varied surfboard designs has culminated in the launch of his own surfboard company, Joel Tudor Surfboards, in 1999.
In the past, he has been vocal in his criticism of anything from the Association of Surfing professionals, which organizes surfing competitions around the world, to the illegality of marijuana.
A sharp-eyed, soft-spoken individual, Tudor is opinionated and open. He is almost abrasive one moment and warm and friendly the next. He rarely does interviews, and admits he is wary of speaking to the press at all. He says the press has tried to present him as the bad boy of surfing, as a drug-taking, loose-talking hooligan.
These days, he has mellowed, and in this exclusive interview, conducted at his home in Del Mar, Tudor opens up about his past, surfing in La Jolla, travel, his local influences and his new company.
Light: How long did you actually live in La Jolla?
Tudor: I grew up in University City, on the back side of La Jolla, then I moved to La Jolla when I was about 18 and lived there for a little over a year. Then, I bought a house there when I was 19 and quit paying rent.
Light: Whereabouts is your house?
Tudor: Close to WindanSea. I lucked out. I went from living right in the alley on North, west of the boulevard at WindanSea. Then I had to move home because I needed to save money to try and buy a house and at that time La Jolla was still ... well, it was ridiculous how cheap it was.
People would pull their hair out if they knew what the price went from, when I was 19 to 28. It was ridiculous. So, I had a lucky window of opportunity and I got a house there, and I know some day I’ll go back to La Jolla.
Light: Are you still surfing in La Jolla?
Tudor : Oh, yeah, all the time. That’s the staple of my surfing, from Black’s to Big Rock, that’s my definition of La Jolla. Basically, the territory I don’t leave goes from Cardiff to Big Rock, but the majority of my surfing is down there.
Light: On the last swell, where did you surf?
Tudor: Last south swell I surfed Big Rock. I went to Lowers (near San Clemente) for one afternoon.
I call Mitch’s (surf shop) and get surf reports. I call friends. If you know people, you can stay within the loop.
One thing about living in La Jolla - the benefits of living there year-round - is that you get all the good swell. When I lived there, I surfed so much, man, you would just be on it. You know when Big Rock’s good, you know when WindanSea’s good.
If you live in North County or anywhere else in San Diego, there’s a lot of elements that decide whether it’s good or not, a lot of really fickle things like tide, wind, all that stuff has to be right.
In my opinion WindanSea’s really good in late summer - the lefts, that is. The rights are always good, but the left sucks most the time. When you get a south, and you get a west windswell, the left gets that little tube in it. I wait all year for that handful of days.
Light: You were described recently as “igniting the bomb of the rebirth of longboarding.”
Tudor: That’s a little over the top. There were people that were way before me that helped push it.
The real guys were guys like Donald Takayama, Herbie Fletcher, Bill Stewart. They were making longboards in the early ‘80s in a time when it was pretty much non-existent.
It’s always been there, I mean, I grew up going to longboard contests. But, I think that, well, I guess you could point the finger at me, but there was a small group of longboard kids that kinda like just took to it. And from there, I think it gained more attention because it wasn’t just an old guy’s thing.
Light: Do you think that’s true now? Do you think there’s always going to be a group of kids who will longboard?
Tudor: What’s different now is the staple of surfing (longboarding) was minus for a long time, for probably 25 years, and then realistically it didn’t really kick in until the ‘90s. So, that’s over 20-something years before longboarding was back in.
Now, it’s more than half of surfing. I mean, Clark Foam make more longboard blanks than shortboard blanks. It’s ridiculous.
I’m not being, like pro-longboard or anything, but now it’s not so negative, it’s not such an old man’s thing. It’s just a matter of staying in the water when it’s flat.
Light: Almost every surfer I know has a longboard.
Tudor: Almost all of the die-hards have one.
Light: Any local surfers who influenced you?
Tudor: Skip Frye, he grew up in San Diego, and I know that to anyone in La Jolla Skip’s like God to all of us, you know? I mean, he’s one of the main San Diego ‘60s icons who’s still, today, murdering it.
Still on the same program, still shapes the same number of boards. He’s also a really nice guy. Skip’s a definite person to model a lifestyle on, his wife as well. The two of them are really highly respected in the San Diego surf scene.
Light: Anyone else in the local scene?
Tudor: Mike Hynson, his contribution to surfing I don’t have to even explain. He kinda set the tone for the quintessential beach look you know, from that Endless Summer look - the blonde hair, swept back - he nailed it in a lot of ways.
He’s half the reason people surf here.
Light: Tell us a bit about Joel Tudor Surfboards.
Tudor: I started in ’99. I don’t know the exact start date. I started as kind of a joke. I just printed up some laminates with my friends and we were just making them here and there, and then the demand took off.
People were calling my sponsor asking him, “Hey, do you have any of Joel’s boards?” And he was getting a little upset. Then it got to where I was getting enough orders to be able to start a company.
Light: Who’s designing the boards?
Tudor: I do all of it myself: myself, my dad and my brother.
Light: You’ll take out a design, try it out and then re-create it?
Tudor: Yeah, I’ll pick up something I like and then I’ll change it, or an outline that I’m really into, that’s a different shape but the rails are all screwed up and the bottom’s off. I’ll just go and change it up, all that kind of stuff.
Light: Are you designing boards for certain conditions?
Tudor: Basically, just whatever I’m into riding at the moment and if I feel like it’s worth passing it on to other people. If something’s a piece of junk, I’m not going to hand it out. But if it’s something that will turn you on, then I’ll get it out there.
If I like it and my dad agrees with me - ‘cause, I mean, he’s been surfing a lot longer than me - if I think it works good and he thinks it’s a possibility. ...
Light: Anything that has caught your interest lately as something everyone should try?
Tudor: Let’s see. That’s an impossibility, man. Every day is a different choice. I’ve noticed that in La Jolla, fishes are very big. Everybody’s riding fishes. But I went through that when I was in seventh grade. You know, it’s been around for a while. I’m just cruising.
Light: How many models do you have?
Tudor: Probably 20 or 30. The main differences between them just depend on personal choice.
Light: What do you think about localism in La Jolla?
Tudor: Localism is just totally over-hyped. La Jolla has got its localism, but it’s just modern etiquette, you know. La Jolla is one of the ideal training grounds in the world for young surfers.
When guys first went to Hawaii, lots of them came from WindanSea. Also - and people are gonna hate me for saying this and giving it publicity - Black’s is one of the best waves in the world when it’s on.
Light: Where do you travel these days?
Tudor: I just got back from Jamaica. That was a surf trip. There were some great waves, way more than Florida.
It was culturally amazing. Music is everywhere there. It’s just a way of life. It’s in everything they do. Of course, there are some problems, I was in the ghetto pretty much the whole time.
Light: What about local surfers? Are there any super-hot young surfers from La Jolla?
Tudor: The Dupont brothers are amazing, then there’s Marco Wolfinger and a young blonde kid called Carson Booth.
Light: Are you still involved in WindanSea Surf Club?
Tudor: I tried to join when I was pretty young and I was turned down because the guys in the club were really hard-core and didn’t want any young blood. Then I became a member when I was, I guess, 14 or 15.
I had started surfing at 11. I still do club events at WindanSea. It’s part of your heritage, you know.
Light: Is the surfboard company something you want to transition into full-time from pro surfing?
Tudor: It’s already a full-time job, really.
Light: What if you had never become a pro surfer, what would you have done?
Tudor: Oh, that’s really hard to answer. It’s so hard to give an answer to something that starts out when you’re pubescent. I mean, I don’t know any different.
It’s just like, been my livelihood since I was 14 years old. I loved art and all that kind of stuff. I probably could have gotten into that. Then I’d just be another artist trying to get by.
I maybe would have gone to school done things a little differently. But things happened differently. It was just like, here’s your opportunity, don’t screw it up, you know?
I didn’t miss out, I look back at it now and I missed my prom and I missed all that kind of stuff. But at the same time my prom was going on, I was in the south of France for two months, so that was all right.
Light: When you travel, is there one thing you always take on the road?
Tudor: I have these.
(Tudor walks into the adjoining room and starts rummaging around in drawers and cupboards trying to find something, suddenly he pronounces, “Here they are.” He returns brandishing a pair of faded black boardshorts with a “WindanSea Surf Club” patch stitched onto them.
Tudor: I always take these with me. These are actually my magic trunks. I got the guys to make some patches again because I’d seen them on (legendary Malibu surfer Mickey)
Dora and those guys, back in the old pictures.
They always had the patches, you know. I bugged them and bugged them and then they made some patches for the trunks. Those were my good luck trunks for almost 10 years. I wore those things proudly. I won tons of contests in them.
It was cool man, I felt like I was representing. Everything now is all about your sponsor and your placement, the logo on your board. People don’t really take pride in where they’re from, other than the Hawaiians.
I’m really prideful of the fact that I’m from Diego and all that kind of stuff. I had to pay my dues to be able to wear that patch. That’s why .