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John Simon with a 5'6" Curvy Quad fish

An Interview

We sat down with John Simon to chat about surfboards, shaping, and his favorite slice of NJ pizza.

Age: 22

Where are you from?  Ventura, CA 

How long have you been shaping?  About 8 years. I was 14 when I started shaping and 19 when I started shaping full-time.

What was the first board you shaped?  It was a little 5'4" twin fin fish.  It was with the help of Russell Hoyt, who is a shaper in Ventura.  It was one of his templates, and he was kind enough to let me and my friends shape in his shop.  It took us like 3 or 4 months each to shape our own board. 

So was he the first guy who really showed you how to use tools and how the process of surfboard shaping kind of started?  Yeah, he definitely planted the seed.

What kind of boards do you specialize in?  High performance alternative boards that give you more speed & flow-- that work for you a little bit more than you work for them.  

Do you have any shaping mentors?  Ryan Lovelace was a big help.  I met Ryan through surfing Rincon one day, and we got talking-- I was riding the first board that I had shaped.  And in that conversation he asked, "what are you up to next weekend?... you know, we could shape something together."  Invited me up to his shop... my dad drove me up and we shaped a fish. I think it was my 11th board I had shaped.  Shaped it with Ryan, and it was the 1st assym board I had ever done.  It was really cool... It was a side-cut:  full side cut on the toe side & a side cut with a hip on the heel side... out of a 62A [blank].  Yeah, learned a lot, and went home from that & was just mind blown. WOAH. That was the first time I had been to Ryan's shop, and seeing all the blanks everywhere and how much shaping he was doing... I didn't even know that existed. 

And then that parlayed into a pretty long term relationship with Ryan, right?  Yeah, I would try and go up there every weekend, or just any time that I could find a ride.  Me & my friend Noah would take the train up sometimes & just go hang out there all day. 
Would you shape with him every time you were there?  Mostly just watched him.

Anyone else besides Ryan that's mentored you or really inspired you?  Around that same time, I met Michael Arenal surfing Rincon too, and a few years later ended up moving into his shop with him.  And learned a bunch from Michael, too. I mean, he was the shaping bay right next door to me, so any time he was shaping, I would watch.  I just picked up a lot from him.  He's so good. 

He & Ryan are really both super talented shapers, kind of in the same genre, but i feel like they do pretty different surfboards.  Yeah, and their approaches are different too, so it was cool to get Michael's approach on stuff, and also watch Ryan's and kind of blend those.  

What other shapers inspire you?  Ryan Burch, Michael Arenal, & Ryan Lovelace.  I really like Mick Mackie's boards (haven't met him yet, but one day)... really like Josh Keough's boards.  Any shaper who has unique style and is trying new things... It's cool to see new stuff.  Different ways of achieving high performance takes on different boards...  Doing high performance surfing but getting there a million different ways. 

What surfers inspire you?  I really like Dane Reynolds, Ryan Burch, {Phil Browne}, Trevor Gordon. I had posters of Gerry Lopez & Greg Long in my room. Random one. HA. It was cool to wake up in the morning, go surf Emma Wood, watch Dane & all the Ventura pros do that type of surfing, and then 10 minutes later go surf Rincon & watch Trevor Gordon do a completely different type of surfing, but it's equally as technical & radical.

Do you keep that inspiration in mind when you’re shaping new designs?  Totally.  I kind of envision a different surfer riding this board & thinking how it would look like under their feet.

I know you have been traveling a bit to shape, where have you been lately?  New Jersey. ummm... Portugal, & Italy so far.  And what's your favorite one so far?  Probably, Italy.  So talk about where you shaped in Italy.  I was shaping at this shop called Surf Cove, and they distribute all the US Blanks, and have a shaping bay & a glassing room.  Basically their whole mission in that community is to educate that community on different types of surfboards, the value of surfboards, and how to work on surfboards. And then Shape House is the business that's associated with that, and they distribute the surfboard building materials throughout Italy.  Surf Cove is the local cultural hub.  I was shaping custom orders there, and surfing around there, and eating really good food and meeting a lot of new people. People there are really, really, really nice.

What are you currently riding?  I've been riding this 6'8" EPS finless board a lot lately... It's super asymmetrical.  It's been the most exciting board I've ridden in a really long time.  What makes it so exciting....How so?  Just- you're trying to control it the whole time you're riding it, so it's is a challenge everytime you ride it, which keeps it exciting.  It's challenging to ride!

I've also been riding a board I actually made here in NJ last summer [2022].  It's a 6'1" x 19 or 18 7/8" quad shortboard with the wide point moved up, with a squared swallow tail, & that inverted vee nose entry.  And that's been the most efficient performance short board that I've made for myself. 

Talk about the inverted vee a little bit, in the nose.  Everyone always asks me what it does.  Before I put the inverted vee in, I put normal vee in the nose.  So, that raises the rail line in the nose, which is a benefit in the steeper take offs, and it puts more rocker in the rail line.  When you put the inverted vee inside of the vee, that straightens the entry center rocker.  It doesn't lower it, but it straightens it. It gets rid of all that curve up front, so when the board's going flat/not on rail, you're planing off of a straighter entry rocker, then the second you put it on rail, you have more rocker on your rail line.  And if you're taking off/doing a steep takeoff and you're taking off at an angle, I feel like that vee entry is a benefit, compared to a full single concave entry where it's scooped all the way out to the rail. Like, having the vee entry is a benefit, you kind of roll and it gets the nose out of the way.  You get the benefits of straighter entry rocker, while also raised rail line entry, combined.  So vee & single concave, which technically are complete opposites, but you're combining the benefits of both of them, and getting rid of any of the drawbacks.   

So you do a lot of inverted vee in a lot of your boards, explain that a little bit.  I think it's pretty unique that not a lot of people are doing.  I first saw the inverted vee on a Jeff Alexander Gemini board, which is a double nose crazy looking surfboard, that surfs amazing.  I really liked that design feature on that board, so i incorporated it into the boards I was making.  It does the same thing as single concave, in the sense that it wants to sit on top of the water and plane and generate speed that way, but it's hard to explain... it just feels a little skatier.  You know how "straights" tend to be faster, and "curves" tend to be slower but hold the water a little bit more? Single concave is curved, but because it's [also] concave, it wants to sit on top of the water and generate speed.  Where inverted vee is the same thing, but it's angled flat panels, and so it just interacts with the water a little bit differently-- it doesn't suction as much; It shears the water a little bit cleaner...  If I had the same board with single concave, and the same board with inverted vee, and all the other elements were the same except those two, the inverted vee just feels more skaty and generates speed quicker and I don't have to work as hard for it.

In my mind, I always thought single concave boards were the best surfboards, but they needed proper waves to feel good.  I feel like the inverted vee boards give you the feeling of that, but as long as there's a little bit of punchiness in the wave, even if it's waist high they'll create speed.  where i think a single concave board in waist high waves, just doesn't feel great.

What is your favorite wave in the world (that you've surfed so far)?  A wave in Ventura....or Rincon... hmmm... A couple special right points in Oaxaca [Mexico]-- that was the most fun surf trip I've ever been on.  It was one of the high points of my life -- that was like an Everest peak, so fun.  

What else are you into other than surfing?  I really like riding my bike. I traded some boards to the owner of Crust, Matt, in exchange for a bike, like a year ago. And it's just been a fun thing to take up, just different than surfing. It's been the most fun that I've had outside of surfing & shaping in a while.  I recently did the Mid-South in OK with the Crust Team, which is a 100-mile gravel/dirt road bicycle race, of which I did not complete haha, but had a great time.  And met so many cool people on that trip.  I biked with Cheech's brother, Matt, and he was great company... super fun.  

What’s one song that's stuck in rotation on your playlist recently?  I really like this song- Paisley Dommage, Part 3, by Purling Hiss.  It's a cool guitar song, no words, just instrumental.

Last but not least (since this is NJ) What is your favorite slice of Pizza?  Hmmm, what's the honey one from Talulas-- with a little bit of spice, a little bit of sweet?  The Beekeeper's Lament from Talulas in town! WOW!  That's the best pizza I've ever had.  Sopressata, fresh mozzarella, and some hot honey!  Yes, that would be it!