pssst...don't tell Jim I told 'ya

   <span style="font-weight:bold">SURFING    TERRY RODGERS

Famed board designer shapes up in style

By Terry Rodgers

July 5, 2005

He’s known in the surfboard business as “The Genius.” Talk to Jim Phillips for a few minutes about surfboard design, and it’s apparent why he has such a flattering nickname.

From rails to pintails, Phillips knows the theory behind every curve and concave that makes a surfboard turn into a flying carpet.

“The Genius” said his nickname was bestowed upon him by Peter Panagiotis, also known as “Peter Pan,” the famous East Coast surfing champion and surfboard retailer from Rhode Island, who appreciated Phillips’ craftsmanship.

“When (the job) is really difficult, I get the phone call,” said Phillips, who is not arrogant but confident in a matter-of-fact way about his abilities.

When I visited Phillips at his shaping room in Encinitas, he was completing a series of balsa and redwood 1934 retro “hot curl” boards for a film being made in Hawaii.

“This is Santa’s workshop,” the 59-year-old father of five said. “This is where good boys come for their toys.”

Phillips’ lifelong association with surfing began at age 8, when his Air Force officer father moved the family to Pearl Harbor.

The Ohio-born Phillips was immediately captivated by the surfers at Waikiki. At the time, surfboards were $150 – not exactly affordable for most parents to spend on their kids.

So Phillips and his father, a field maintenance officer familiar with fiberglass and resin, made their own surfboard from a kit. Jim watched and learned.

By the time he was in high school, Phillips had shaped and glassed about 30 surfboards for various kids in his neighborhood.

“I learned more by error and trial than by trial and error,” he recalled.

Eventually, he finagled his way into a job repairing and shaping boards for Dick Metz, who managed the Hobie surfboard shop in Hawaii.

Even though his father forbade him to surf the North Shore, Jim regularly sneaked off to surf at Sunset, Pipeline and Haleiwa.

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He surfed alongside such longboard masters as Wally Froiseth, Paul Strauch and Phil Edwards. In 1963, Phillips competed in the Makaha International Surfing Championship. Although he was eliminated in his first heat by future world champion Fred Hemmings, Phillips said he never forgot the thrill of dancing with the giants.

When the family abruptly moved to Dover, Del., in 1964, Phillips, then 18, had no choice but to follow them.

He continued to work as a surfboard shaper throughout the East Coast, taking construction jobs during the winter.

Phillips credits Carl “Tinker” West, a protege of West Coast master shaper Dale Velzy, with teaching him how to shape surfboards with consistency and proper proportion.

“Tinker stripped me down to the naked soul so I could start fresh,” he recalled.

“I came in at the tail end of the craftsmanship era, which by the late '60s was on its way out,” he said. “I was able to hang on to their coattails and learn something from those guys.”

Over the next 30 years, he would establish his own surfboard manufacturing business and make his mark as an East Coast competitor. During the '80s, he said, he won three senior men’s U.S. championships and three senior men’s East Coast titles.

bba Phillips said a dishonest employee caused his surfboard business in Florida to fold. So with just $300 to his name, Phillips came to Encinitas in the mid-1990s to start over.

Since 1994, he has worked as a “ghost shaper” for Hansen’s, Surfboards Hawaii, Greg Noll, Gordon & Smith, Takayama, Linden.

In 1997, Phillips was hired by Velzy to ghost shape his longboards.

“When Velzy said, ‘I’ve waited 50 years to find this guy,’ that felt good,” Phillips said.

Phillips loves his job.

“I take raw lumps of stuff and make it into something that’s functional and beautiful,” he said. “I hope I can do it for 20 more years like Velzy.”


It’s still humbling to be able to log into Swaylock’s and have the masters of the art of surfboard building share their hard earned skills so freely. Over the years the list of contributing craftsmen (and women) has been pretty astounding:

Barnfield, R. Brucker, Burger, Gene Cooper, G. Griffin, Herb, Paul J., Kokua, Magic Man (Brom), Jim Phillips, B.Thrailkill and Dale S. (and many others). Swaylock’s was built on a lot of input from these folks, I really enjoy looking at what they create and what they have to say.

Did anyone see Leslie’s (aka. Fatty) work in the recent Surfer’s Journal- Meyerhoffer creations? blue tint on a one off shape like that? whew!

Tom S.

Thanks Tom,

You’ve been a great contributor as well,here at sways.

You have to meet Koa my new dog…seems I get lucky when it comes to getting a GREAT DOG !

Great as in he’s PART Bernese and part GREAT Parenese…

He’s just 6mos now…something like that and 75lbs.and growing like a weed.Herb


“This is Santa’s workshop,” the 59-year-old father of five said. “This is where good boys come for their toys.”

Whenever I watch master shaper my wife says “You’re watching santa again?”

It’s humbling to have all these masters contribute on sways. Thanks you.



Sweet man, Jim gets mad props (lots proper recognition).


Phillips said a dishonest employee caused his surfboard business in Florida to fold.

I’m guessing that would have been this business?

Also, not to take anything away from Jim…

But, damn near anyone is a “genius”, in comparison to the guy who supposedly gave him his nickname.

Yo Tony, what Petah got your wetsuit inna bunch or what?

Careful of wha you say, Mario could be lurkin in da dawk watin for yah wid da boys from Federal Hill