Education by Roger Hinds

I’ve had some great surfboards over the years and by far my favorite is a 9 foot California gun by Roger Hinds. The “Blue Flamer” (the board has royal blue hot rod flames on the front third of the board) was built in 1997 and I surfed it for 14 seasons at San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. The board has all the inherent qualities of a great board: nice looking, excellent performance, impeccably crafted. This is the board on which I learned how to surf quality waves of significance. Beyond that, it also instructed me what true quality in board making really is. But that lesson would only come much later.

I moved to San Francisco in 1995. It was a few years after college and I wanted to live where the weather was mild (at least compared to the relative arctic of northern Vermont where I went to school) and there was the potential for surf. I knew there were waves in San Francisco – but to what extent I was completely oblivious. My surfing experience drew from the high quality, highly inconsistent and relatively insular points of Eastern Long Island, New York.

Shortly after I arrived, I ran into Cristy Davis a friend and surf mentor from New York. Cristy, about 20 years my senior, moved to the Bay Area in the late 80’s to join the first wave of Mavericks devotees. As every youngster does with a mentor, especially one of Cristy’s repute, I asked him what kind of board to get for Ocean Beach. 8’6” gun he replied with out hesitating.

Of course, I ignored Cristy’s suggestion and proceeded to get my ass handed to me over the next few years. First on 6’8” Larry Mabile fun shape I brought from New York. Next was a 7’8” semi-gun, also by Roger Hinds. That board was an improvement, however, it too was limited. After three or four years of that, I became more serious about surfing, especially the complicated waters of Ocean Beach. I learned that the biggest and best days were being surfed on boards longer than 8 feet. I knew I wanted a bigger board. 

One fall day in 1999, while perusing the consignment racks at Wise Surfboards, there it was: Nine feet tall. Beautiful outline. Mini chop on the tail. Triple stringer. Glassed on fins. Bad ass electric-blue flames. Essentially new. All for under $500. I couldn’t believe it. I looked around as if someone else might grab it. I handled the board and sure it felt big but it also felt right. My initial excitement transitioned to doubt. Was it a dog? Who would let go of this thing? Heart pumping, I just had to take the gamble. I threw down the cash then and there and walked away with it. The price even included a canvas board bag. 

Well, that was the beginning of my true education on Ocean Beach. Now, with a craft that could get me into and around just about everything the beach could offer, my world opened up. Foam is your friend at the beach and the Blue Flamer proved that rule. With a relatively low rocker for a gun shape, it paddled like a long board. However, with the chop tail, perfect fin placement, and hips in the right place, it maneuvered like an eight foot board. I felt safe on that board.  I learned when to bail, how to bail, when to sprint and when to turn turtle while waiting for an opening. I owned butter days and onshore days. 

Playing it safe, early in the learning curve, 2001

I proceeded to ride that 9’0” for the next fourteen winters. It was so dependable, I almost failed to notice it’s longevity. Three winters ago stress fractures appeared on the bottom of the board and I started worrying. Two winters ago the board was raftered while I was in New England on relocation attempt. And this winter (2013-14), relocation attempt failed, I was back on the Flamer still worrying about the stress fractures. The solution came to me when I heard Roger Hinds would be making a trip up to Wise Surfboard to talk shop and take board orders.

Better lines (with Cristy looking on), 2007

When I unveiled the Flamer for Roger in the Wise show room, he was quite simply blown away. So were Bob and Dave who remember selling the board both to the original owner and then reselling it on the used racks. He was so pleased to see that craft still kicking and even more about my reports of it’s function. I told Roger I wanted the same exact board, flames and all. Why mess with a good thing? He took every measurement imaginable and told me he would remake it but with some modern improvements. After all, he informed me, things had progressed in 15 years. 

Two months after we met, I was back at Wise to pick up the Blue Flamer 2.0. True to his word, it’s a perfect recreation of the original with some modern improvements. There is slightly more entry rocker. Roger hid that extra curve on the deck by making the board a bit thicker under the chest and tapering that thickness though the length of the board. The result is a board that paddles like it’s ancestor, but has a more responsive and tighter turning arc. All nice and welcome changes.

Mother & Daughter, 2014

In our first meeting, I mentioned to Roger that I started Swaylock’s and that I thought the story of the Flamer might make a good read.  He’d known about Sway’s though mainly as just a resource. Since then, I’ve talked to Roger a number of times and gotten to know him better. Hand shaping & glassing over 1000 boards a year since the late sixties for the likes of Dewey Webber, Blue Hawaii, Harbour, Hobie and his own labesls Country & Bear Surfboards. Roger virtually stopped working in 2007 after becoming ill due to chemical exposure. Now he’s back to full health and with a more tempered output, building 500 boards a year, 400 being custom jobs. He takes the utmost pride in the fact that he both shapes and glasses every board he creates.  

Patience on the Flamer 2.0, 2014. Photo courtesy of Bruce Topp,

I’ve learned about how much making boards means to him and how lucky he feels to make a living at it. That has helped me connect the dots between love of craft and the craft I love. And while talk is cheap, quality speaks for itself: that board lasted 14 solid seasons at one of the heaviest beach breaks in the world. I expect the next to last another 14 years.

Be sure to checkout his site and feel free to contact him at

Hi Mike -

Great story!  Unfortunately, the pics aren’t opening for me.  I’d love to see what it looks like.  Also, could you tell me please what is a ‘chop tail’ - haven’t heard that before?


Glad you liked it. Chop tail is a term I heard once to describe a small square tail. Not a full squash but a small chopped pin tail. Let me know if you can see the photos now…



i don’t know if my name ever came up in your conversations with roger…but the next time you talk to him… tell him… i’m still alive and well…saying hello to him…my best to you.

ps…nice boards !!!


I surfed some of the biggest waves of my life this past winter, December 16 to be exact. I was surfing with Mike on Big Monday. He was beyond stoked and was absolutely crushing it on that board. He cheered me into some bombs and I just want to thank him for sharing the stoke. And yes, I now own a 9’ 1" and it will be used for future, similar conditons. The 8’ 6" that I rode that day felt like riding a toothpick on a couple of those waves.

is that surf photo of Roger???

no point dog. it’s me .(semi’s 2000 surfline contest)(pic below is @ the showing of the documentary movie ,“signalhill speed run 1975-1978” john hughes of ufo and me.)








A very cool story, Mike.  Coming to the campout this year? Mike

Yey, Mike…Different World of Waves at OB than most of us would take on. 

Point Dog…?Conozco Usted?


Mike - great story, awesome pics, very nice gun, incredible waves!  Good thing you got that new board, otherwise you might have to clean that wax off the old beater LOL!

Nice gun, I think I have seen it in action. I had to move up from my 6’8" gun-hah after I moved to the beach. Only took a year of beatings at OB to break enough small boards to move on to homemade bigger stronger boards. I think at one point they were lasting less than a month each. I need a new 8’6" but I have three boards over 9’.
I will say hi next time I see you on the 9’ gun when it is triple Cristy at the beach.


no conozco Point Dog. Everybody has limits and mine stop at OB. It’s the older guys (read non pros) still charging Mavs that deserve a tip 'o the hat. Miss you amigo.

Take care,


Hi Mike -

Whatever you did worked perfectly.  Board looks nice.  Those look like the sort of waves that could deliver a beating.

Bit like hearing the life story of the unknown commander. Thanks Mike, an interesting story at that about  a serious board.