As many of you may already know, legendary surfboard shaper Phil Becker died on the morning of February 26, 2021 at the age of 81. The surfing community will miss his quiet, unassuming demeanor and his extraordinary skill as a surfboard craftsman.
From left to right - Mike Eaton, Eddie Clark, Ricky Burns, Richie Clark, Jared Eaton, Phil Becker in the straw hat, and Frankie Shinn. This great shot was taken in about '54 or '55.
Becker was born in 1940 and grew up in Palos Verdes, California
. He bought his first board - a 14’ Tom Blake redwood kookbox – at the age of 10. The board cost $5, an expense he shared with his friends Jared and Mike Eaton. Like many other professional shapers, Phil started out making surfboards in his parents’ garage. While still a teenager, he was able to hone his early shaping skills by watching surfboard-building pioneers Hap Jacobs and Dale Velzy. According to Phil, “they were the only ones around who let you actually go and watch them work.”
At about the same time (the mid to late ‘50s), Bing Copeland
and Rick Stoner were crewing on a 42-foot sailboat in the South Pacific. They spent the early winter of 1958 surfing and paddleboarding with the Piha Surf Club of Auckland, New Zealand. In return for their new friends’ hospitality, Bing and Rick built them a total of eight surfboards – shaped with makeshift tools from blocks of Styrofoam. The pair had also watched Velzy work, and in October of 1959 they launched Bing and Rick Surfboards in Hermosa Beach, California. Just one year later, Bing bought out Rick’s interest in the business and Bing Surfboards was born. In 1961, Rick decided to jump back into the surfboard building business, forming Rick Surfboards.
Having learned quickly from the likes of Jacobs and Velzy, Phil Becker was hired by Rick Surfboards
in about 1963. He soon became the company’s head shaper – a position he held until 1979. Rick Surfboards flourished throughout the ‘60s and into the early ‘70s, expanding operations to the East Coast and Hawaii. Then In 1974, Stoner sold Rick Surfboards and retired. Unfortunately, he died just three years later.
With little experience in surfboard manufacturing, the new owners of Rick Surfboards found themselves in financial trouble. In 1980, 40 year-old Phil Becker – along with business partners Steve Mangiagli and Dave Hollander – bought the struggling Rick factory and Becker Surfboards was born. With Phil shaping, Mangiagli doing the laminating and Hollander glossing and pinlining, Becker Surfboards grew quickly. John Leininger, who had also worked for Rick Surfboards, joined the team to head up retail operations.
Phil Becker is likely the most prolific surfboard shaper ever. It is said that sometime during the year 2000, he had shaped more than 100,000 boards. In 2006, Becker decided to pack his 1965 Rockwell planer and move to Hawaii, where he continued to shape surfboards - but at a slower pace. Still, it is believed that Becker shaped about 130,000 surfboards during his lifetime.
A Rick Surfboards
7'0" circa 1968, maybe shaped by Phil? Features a rare custom hand-painted Rick Surfboards logo.
In 2010, Becker Surf and Sport, which had grown to include stores in Hermosa Beach, Malibu, Encinitas and Mission Viejo, was sold to Billabong. The name Becker Surfboards remained. The consummate craftsman, Phil Becker found a way to make a living shaping surfboards - something he had done since he was a teenager. In a rare interview with the LA Times in 1993, he said quite simply, “I’m in the business to keep people happy riding surfboards.” I would say he did just that. Rest in peace, Phil…you are missed by many.
Until next time,