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Dennis Jarvis: Pro Surfer, Sick Shaper, Part Time Actor

dennis cover surfer copy

Dennis on the cover of SURFER mag.


You're being inducted into the surfers hall of fame, did you ever think this was possible when your first started?

Uhm, well I opened the shop actually at the end of my pro career, I was a miserable student. I started shaping surfboards, and I was actually making a living shaping surfboards but I didn't know what my next step was. The last big surf contest I surfed in was the Oakley Pro 1982 or 83 and I lost to my long time idol and 4 time world champion Mark Richards by .5. It was at that point that I said well I surfed good and everyone on the beach told me I won. Then he beat me, he was having a miserable heat and still beat me. Then I thought, that's it I'm not goin' to do this part anymore and the next step was to open the shop and expand it in the middle of a heavy recession, haha.

You've been in business over 30 years now, what's been the biggest change in surfboard design that you can remember?

To get technical, you know first of all, I remember getting in trouble for this back in the 90's a surfboard is a surfboard whether it's shaped evenly or not. You can shape a surfboard and it will float you; how well it'll float you, you don't know. It will surf for somebody. The biggest change in design I've seen is the deep dish concave with the accelerated rocker. Now, back in the 70's and 80's that was almost unheard of. It was unheard of to have a concave going through the whole bottom of your board. Because you have three fins, and the concave makes the rails lower than the bottom of your board, meaning you'll dig rail and you will fall. However, now that we've softened up the rails and the deep-dish concave is going through the whole board, sometimes going to a double concave the looseness comes from the accelerated tail rocker. It use to be kind of straight off the tail, now its got around 1/2”-3/4” flip. When the surfboard gets on its rail, it can conform and fit into the curve, you understand? I think that's the biggest thing that's happened. People use to surf fast in the 90's, but nowadays these guys are going so much faster, there speed is unbelievable. What's the fastest way between two points, a straight line, but with that concave the bottom is sheathed off the bottom of the board quicker, causing these guys to accelerate faster.

Have you been exploring any alternative/unique shapes?

Well, you know I want to start off by saying Tom Curren was a team rider in the 90's and we were instrumental in working with him and Tommy Peterson to create the Fireball Fish. The Fireball Fish is kind of the pinnacle board that started this whole, dumpster dive type revolution. So we try to be on the forefront of what' s happening, we created the Hog, which is really big on the east coast, these are boards from the 90's. What were experimenting with now is different flexes and stuff. There are certain surfboards that people really like. You take successful boards, that maybe world champions are riding, and try to emulate it in your own world for your customer. When I step in the shaping bay and get to get creative, its usually subtle things that I do. The asymmetrical tail is cool and all to goof around with, but on the California coast you need a good all around board. One day it can be one foot, then the next it can be six feet and dumping. Where I'm trying to go with our design, um, were experimenting where the hip, or break in the tail is. If you take a look at a surfboard nowadays you'll see right by the fins there's kind of a bump, it's called the flyer. It's a Simon Anderson thing; he created it when he created the tri-fin. But by moving that flyer or bump in that curve up, you're able to ride off your front foot a little more and get that acceleration you're looking for, but also able to get the tightness in the turns out of it. I'm not going to make this ugly dog board that everyone has to ride. I think where were fitting in, and why were being successful still is were taking these subtleties and nuances and adjusting it ever so slightly. Were not going to come out with a board that has a can opener and ipod in it, ya know? I am trying really hard to make that all around board, of course we still have our prodigy boards, but where were really seeing success is the back third of the surfboard. Have you seen in a surf clip where the photographers basically on the reef and the surfer goes by in the tube? The water doesn't go from the top of the nose all the way down and off the very back of the board, its only the bottom third of the board that actually gets ridden. So that's where I've been focusing my ideas and my concepts.


Spyder Surf Fest: Look at all the vendors you can score some gear from!


How did the Spyder Surf Fest first come about?

Well, we were celebrating in 2008 the 25th anniversary of the business. Id been watching the surf induction of the surfer walk of fame since it started in 2003. So for 5 years I had been watching the induction ceremony thinking it was pretty lack luster. They're not really celebrating the icons and pioneers of this industry that we all love. They'd set up a couple of tents, a speaker system, clap, say a couple of words, and in 60 minutes the thing as done. I remember getting told how important Hermosa Beach was while I was growing up, this was a surfing mecca. In fact Kohanamoku caught his first wave in the mainland at 2nd street Hermosa, with Tim Kelly. That's pretty big, out of all the places in California or in the United States he surfed 2nd street Hermosa. So I kinda thought it (the surfer walk of fame) was underachieved for who we are and how Hermosa Beach fits into the history of the action sports industry. So I went to all the neighboring merchants and said “Can I have a party for our 25th anniversary in conjunction with the surfers walk of fame?” they went “heck yeah man, lets do it.” Then I went to the vendors, you know, the Quiksilvers, Billabongs, Volcoms, and said: “we want to have a party for our 25th anniversary, are you into it?” they said: “heck yeah, lets do it.” So then I went to the city, and said: “hey, I want to have this party for our 25th anniversary is that alright?” then they said: “Heck yeah, lets do it.” So here we are 8 years later getting to celebrate what Hermosa beach really is, I still don't think its getting the acknowledgement it should, but hey, were getting it in that direction.

Whats your favorite part about owning Spyder Surf and being involved in the Spyder Surf Fest?

Well I have a couple of things, one is the challenge of keeping our brand relevant. Its actually kind of fun, its hard, but its fun, I like a good challenge. The other thing is shaping, I still shape a lot of surfboards. Through the 90's we were the number one board probably in the world. We don't do that amount of surfboards anymore, but I still like getting into the shaping bay. Knowing a customer, meeting a customer, finding out what they like and dislike and then taking the knowledge that I have from my years of shaping and try to transform memories into a sculpted blank. It's a privilege that I get to do it, if I do a good job these guys are going to have memories forever. It transcends just building a surf board, it goes to people happiness for a day, or a memory for a lifetime. That probably, those are the two things that drive me. You know, selling board shorts isn't that fun, its just not. Its not sexy, here's a pair of board shorts, buy them. But having a reason for someone to come into the shop and buy that pair of board shorts is fun and challenging.

The best part about the Spyder Surf Fest is that it's a family oriented event. Where you come down there and every vendor is giving away so much free stuff. If youre down there with your kids, or by yourself, and you don't walk away with 100's of dollars of free stuff you really weren't involved, playing the games, and realizing how fun it is. For me its not so much a Spyder thing, its more of a South Bay or Los Angeles County, if someone doesn't stoke out that 12-14 year old kid, who is going to become either a surfer, volleyball player, or a gamer. If we don't get them excited about this industry that were in, then im going to lose everything, that's the next generation. So one of the purposes is to stoke those kids out, let them meet the legends. The Tom Currens, the Mark Occhilupo's, you know, the Hobgoods, Donovan Frankenreiter, all of these top pros. Hopefully it sparks an interest and the kid will get off his xbox and get in the water haha.

The 25th anniversary of point break is coming up, obviously a film you know a lot about, what's it like working on a major movie set?

Well, I had been uh, a fairly successful commericial actor if you would. I was a surfer guy in a lot of commercials. It was kind of an easy thing. I heard about it through my agent and he sent me in to read for the part of an Australian. It was only two lines, something like: Jesus Christ mate, you're not going out there, or whatever. I did pretty well, they liked me, but what I realized was that James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow knew nothing about the surf world. They were doing this movie, and I was like hmm I see an opportunity here. So I go, “ya know I teach people how to surf, and I'm an actor?” The casting director, really liked me and thought they needed me so he introduced me to Cameron and Bigelow. I got to tell them that I manufacture surfboards, teach people how to surf, its basically one stop shopping. Can your guys surf, what can they do, you need to make it look cool. They go, ok, yeah we do. So for me it was 9 months, I had Patrick Swayze, Keanu Reeves, Gary Busey, the whole cast come down to my house on 29th street for about 8 of those 9 months. Uhm, and we'd just go surf in front of my house and I had to teach them all how to surf. Fun fact, Keanu, could really not stand up. For some reason his hockey years caused him have this really wide stance so I worked really hard with him. We became really good friends, and now he's a super star, so we talk occasionally, but the scene were he gets in the fight, that is the longest wave he's every ridden, and we got in camera hahahaha. But the beauty for me was being able to go behind the scenes and see how a film is made. I got to hang out with the producer, director, make up crew, everyone. It actually led me to go film school and get paid fairly well for.

If you're in the area, make sure you check out the Spyder Surf Fest April 4th, also the day Dennis is inducted into the Surfers Walk of Fame. Point Break Live will performing April 3rd, a play based on the full feature movie. Don't miss out on all the fun and free gear!

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