Josh Hall and “Surfboards as Functional Art”  

Hall showing students how to shape a block of foam into a surfboard. Photo credit to Faith Napier.

For decades San Diego and its various waves have raised some of the most prolific surfboard shapers of our time. A more recent addition to the long list of legendary names is Josh Hall. 

Hall was born and raised in San Diego and has long-standing connections with some of the best San Diego shapers. After all, his mentor, Skip Frye, is probably the most notable shaping name to come out of San Diego. 

At a recent talk at his showroom, Hall spoke on his shaping career and what has gotten him to the point he’s at today. The talk was hosted by the Point Loma Nazarene University Honors Program on Thursday, Nov. 9. All PLNU students were welcome to attend the talk which was dubbed “Surfboards as Functional Art.” 

Third-year graphic design major Faith Napier attended the talk and said that she learned a lot from Hall. 

“It was a cool experience to hear from a local shaper who is passionate about staying true to the ways of San Diego culture,” Napier said. 

Director of Humanities Honors Program and history professor Ben Cater led the talk and asked Hall questions about his shaping career. To begin the talk, Hall spoke about how he got into shaping.  

He grew up in Clairemont and quickly integrated himself within the Pacific Beach surf and shaping community during his teenage years. Hall established long-standing connections with some of the legends of San Diego shaping, like his mentor Frye and Bird Huffman. 

“I fell in love with surfing, which is a huge addiction when you first start. Ding repair started it and it wasn’t until Spring of ‘99 that I shaped my first board and that’s right when I hooked up with Skip,” Hall said. 

As Hall began to get a knack for shaping, he was also met with challenges. When Hall was growing up, the surf community in San Diego was much more cutthroat, making it nearly impossible to even start shaping. 

“There were no handouts. You had to earn your respect. You did everything until someone let you do the next step,” Hall said. 

That being said, he was patient and put in his time with the shapers that came before him. Gradually he began to develop a customer base. 

“That’s how it started, just guys I surfed around were like ‘Oh you’re shaping? Can I get a board?’” Hall said.

However, he didn’t always plan on becoming a professional shaper. Hall obtained a degree in Spanish literature from San Diego State University and planned to have a professional job and shape on the side. After bouncing around various jobs and considering being a teacher, Hall finally made the jump to shaping full-time. 

As Hall immersed himself in the career, an important aspect of shaping and surfing he picked up along the way was using a diversity of boards, especially here in San Diego. 

“To access all of the surf that we have here, you can’t just ride a longboard or you can’t just ride a shortboard because you are going to miss out on 50% of everything else that’s out there,” Hall said. 

A big part of his shaping philosophy is due to how his idols approached surfing. Hall had an innate desire to honor the shapers that came before him with his shaping career, which is seen in his retro surfboard designs. His shaping motto, which is slated across his website homepage and was brought up during his talk, is “blending tradition with modern design.” He defined it as an homage to his mentor, Frye.

“Taking all that I’ve learned from Skip with how I surf and combining that with other influences too,” Hall said.

Hall also made clear how even though he is an established name in the shaping world, it’s not always an easy job. Juggling a family and professional shaping quota can get hard at times. 

“It’s definitely what I was called to do but it’s not always fun,” Hall said.

Despite the constant challenges he still finds enjoyment in shaping. He loves that with shaping surfboards there’s always something that can be altered with a board. 

To conclude his talk, Hall spoke about what he wanted his lasting legacy on the surf community to be:

“That I paid respect to the people before me,” Hall said.

After his talk, Hall showed students around the glassing shop next door and took them into his shaping bay. He finished with a shaping demonstration and showed students how he sands a board down.