Famous California surfboard maker Rich Harbor dies at 77 – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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When Rich Harbor’s surfboard was stolen from his backyard, the Seal Beach teen had no choice but to build another.

It wasn’t long before the birth of Harbor Surfboards, its owner over the decades finding his way to become one of the most iconic surfboard makers in history, ultimately claiming to have the oldest surf shop. active in its original location.

  • Rich Harbor works in the Harbor Surfboards shaping room at Seal Beach in 2010. He opened the store on Main Street in 1962, which still exists today. (File photo: MICHAEL GOULDING / SCNG)

  • Rich Harbor, who started Harbor Surfboards on Main Street in Seal Beach in 1962, stands in the store with a photo of himself shaping a surfboard in the early 1960s. MARK RIGHTMIRE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

  • Rich Harbor, of Harbor Surfboards, is honored in the Seal Beach Founders Day celebration in 2013. Harbor Surfboards is located at 329 Main Street and has been open since 1962. (SCNG file photo)

  • Rich Harbor, left, who launched Harbor Surfboards on Main Street in Seal Beach in the early 1960s, stands with retail store owner Robert Howson. MARK RIGHTMIRE, ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

  • Rich Harbor of Seal Beach passed away on July 11, 2021. Over his 60-year career, the surfboard maker has created more than 32,000 boards under the iconic Harbor label. (File photo by MICHAEL GOULDING / SCNG)

Harbor, 77, died on Sunday July 11, surrounded by family and friends at his Seal Beach home.

“I think he would say he lived a full life with no regrets and (he was) happy to have accomplished all he could,” said Robert Howson, longtime business partner, who bought and operates the Harbor Surf Shop retail operation.

Harbor started riding the waves at Seal Beach on an inflatable surf mat; it was her mother, Alice, who suggested she try a surfboard.

And once he did, he got hooked. But after that first plank was pulled from its yard, Harbor asked his father, who worked in the aerospace industry, to help him build a new one.

Soon friends wanted boards and he started his business by purchasing a permit for $ 15 from the town of Seal Beach on June 30, 1962. At only 16, he had to put his father’s name on it.

Harbor included a 1 on his first board, and each one he built over the next six decades got a number – the last board he created in 2019 was sold to a fan in Japan, who got the number 32 680.

Harbor was one of the first board makers to start with heavy lumber and switched to foam when the lighter material started to become more popular.

Over the decades, renowned shapers such as Mike Marshall, Dale Velzy and most recently Tim Stamps have fashioned under the Harbor label before going on their own.

“I think he was such a father to everyone, not just his own family. He was such a father figure to everyone who came here, to everyone who worked for him, to everyone who knew him, ”said his daughter Melissa Harbor-Hennessy. “I only realized later in my life that I shared it with so many people. Everyone constantly said how much they looked at him for advice, guidance, and direction, in life, and he gave it to them. It was really special, and it continues with everyone. They all have a piece of him.

Howson said Harbor was an incredibly generous man – with his time, his expertise and his general knowledge. Hot dog surfers from the Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington area became members of its elite surf team in the 60s and 70s, proudly wearing the team jacket and representing the store at competitions.

“He’s really mentored a lot of these people, these kids,” said Howson, himself a former team Harbor rider. “I don’t think any of them will ever forget coming into contact with Rich Harbor, ever.”

Harbor was one of the few in its time to withstand waves of change in the surfing world: the shortboard revolution that retired competitors and friends, the sudden shutdown of blanket maker Clark Foam in 2005 which crippled the industry and several economic downturns. .

Harbor had fans from all over the world and a cult following among surfboard enthusiasts, some who gathered over the years at Harbor Surf Days to ride the waves at Bolsa Chica State Beach and share stories on their boards, both historical and new.

Before health problems started to take their toll, Harbor showed up with her camera, a surfing celebrity sitting in her beach chair on the sand, snapping photos of people enjoying her creations.

“He was more than a surfboard shaper, he made it to everyone,” Harbor-Hennessy said. “Everyone admired and loved him for it. “

His friend Eric Lewis knew Harbor outside of the surf world, calling Harbor a self-taught engineer who decided to make surfboards for his career.

“He always took me under his wing when we had projects to do, we learned things from each other,” said Lewis.

“He’s constantly strived to innovate,” Howson said. “He always wanted to make a better surfboard.”

Plans for a celebration of the paddling life are on hold. Harbor is survived by his wife Helen Harbor, daughters Melissa Harbor-Hennessy and Carrie Harbor-Nolan, son Paul Lawler and five grandchildren.


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