By Javi González
JON PYZEL: ‘LIFE IS GREAT’
Jon Pyzel (44) made his third trip to Uruguay, to work at Wetworks Southamerica factory. We thought it was a good chance to interview one of the big names in the surfboard industry. He calls himself ‘a big small shaper’, who’s ‘constantly evolving’. Here’s what he’s got to say about…a lot of things!
Back to the beggining: you started surfing in Santa Barbara, California, what do you remember about those days?
I started surfing when I was 12 or 13, no one surfed in my family. My father was a sailor, he likes the ocean but he doesn´t want to be in the ocean, haha. I started surfing with my friends, many of them surfed so it was fun.
When did you became interested in making surfboards?
I started getting boards made from my friend Matt Moore, he´s a really good shaper, a really nice guy. He still shapes today and we´re good friends still. When I was 13 he made me my first board and I was always very interested, I watched him shape my first board and every board he made me I always went in the shape room and watched and talked to him. He was always telling me about different ideas, why he was doing things and just explaining new ideas for a surfboard. So I was like wow, it was cool. He let me help with the outline, templates. So, I still wasn´t thinking ´I´m gonna be a shaper`, but I was interested. And then, years went by and I didn´t shape until I moved to Hawaii.
Did you surf professionally?
No, I went to amateur contests a lot, but never professionally, I never got paid. I was sponsored by different companies like Rip Curl, Peak Wetsuits long time ago.
Goofy or regular?
Your favourite wave in Cali?
In California mostly I surfed Rincon, where Bobby Martinez, you know? That wave is super good. So nice…
When did you move to Hawaii?
1992. I was 22 or 23. Before that, I went many times (five hours from California) with my family, with my father I sailed around the islands, really beautiful. When I was around 16 or 17 I started going there every winter, going like for two weeks and surfing. Finally, the waves were so good, that I decided to move there. I went for one winter, and then just stayed. Never left.
You live on the North Shore?
Yeah, right at Rocky Point.
You made a career in Hawaii…what about your early days there?
When I moved there I had no job, nothing. I brought seven brand new surfboards and one bag of clothes. Nothing else. And then I had a little bit of money that I used to buy a super cheap car, like 400 hundred dollars. I lived at a house in the backyard in a shack where they keep they tools for the lawn, I sleeped in there for two hundred dollars a month, just nothing like shitty. I barelly spent any money, I was living super cheap. Then I started working in a cofee shop-restaurant, worked three nights a week so I could eat free food, bring home some food, make a little bit of money…Super nice deal.
And you surfed a lot…
Yeah, I just surfed all the time, everyday. I didn’t have to work until one in the afternoon, so everyday I surfed all day and then go to work.
How did you make the connection with the surfboard industry?
I had no money, and I started breaking boards. I needed to fix my boards, I couldn’t buy new boards. So I went to a factory called Country Surfboards right at Sunset Beach and I asked the guy there who owned it, his name was Ed, I said: ‘Can I fix my boards here?’. He said: ‘Yeah, you can fix them, just pay me for the resin’. Soon he told me: ‘why dont’ you fix this board too?’. So soon I was fixing dings for him, making some money and I could work anytime like morning, night, whatever. So it was easy.
From that point until now, where you make surfboards for some of the best surfers in the World, like JJ Florence, you must have worked really hard…
Yeah, and many people helped in the way. First I learned ding repair, and then I learned how to glass and soon I was glassing boards. Then I learned shaping a little bit for myself and then Bushman helped me, Jeff Bushman. I became friends with him, he was shaping boards for me too, my guns and then he helped me start shaping at his house, he let me use his shaping room and soon he gave me work shaping…I was working for him backshaping and he was teaching me, so he helped me a lot.
Then I was glassing, shaping, doing everything. I can make a board from that blank (points at one) till finish I can make a board. That’s pretty cool.
Tell me about surfers like JJ, how is your relationship with them in the process of making a quiver?
Different surfers are very different. Some guys, like for example with John John is very easy for me and him, as I’ve been making his boards for so long that he just tells me: ‘Here’s where I’m going, I need a 6’0, a 6’3, 6’8’, not to many details, simple. He’s been riding my boards for so long that I know what designs he like. I try different designs with him, you know? He gives me a list, every contest or trip with the boards he needs.
I got the chance to see John John in the Billabong Rio Pro 2012, where he won the contest but also boosted a massive air (didn’t land it)…how does the board help him in that kind of maneuvers?
It’s not a board made for doing airs, he’s so tuned into his boards, so used in what he’s riding that it´s just part of how he surfs. If he has problems, cause as he’s growing he wants different things from boards, like needs to change something, he rides different models, things for different conditions
I’ve built a lot of the boards around the way he surfs, you know? The boards suit his surfing very well. The boards he’s riding are made for him to surf. But work for many people too.
Some other people would come and say ´I want these and these for a board`, with him we just go through different changes. He likes a certain design for a while and then we can adjust or make something new, whatever. Constantly evolving.
Tell me about your team…
I have a very small team: John John is my number one team rider and also Mark Healey, I make most of his boards, not all of them but most. And then I have a lot of amateur kids I make boards all the time. But the pros I don’t have anyone I’m always giving boards. I work with many guys, many come to Hawaii and order 5 or 10 boards, or maybe for Tahiti like last year for Jadson Andre I made him 14 boards. Guys that trust me, they know my boards work good in Hawaii but also they see John John and they know I make boards that work good everywhere. So those guys come when they are in Hawaii and order a few boards, even shortboards and take them.
How much for a Pyzel in Hawaii?
For shortboards 600 hundred dollars.
This is your third time here in Uruguay, do you know the waves, beaches, or just worked?
Now that’s so cold I’m just working for sure. I’ve been here before when it’s warmer and I travelled around a little bit, but I never surfed. The waves have not been good when I’ve been here. A lot of times when I travel I work the whole time because I miss my family, I wanna see my kids…I like to travel but at the same time I want to go home and see them, so sometimes I plan to work from day one until I leave.
How many kids you have?
I’ve got two daughters: I have a fifteen year old, a ten year old and my wife. Here, specially in winter when it’s cold like this I just work. If there’s good waves somewhere I’m gonna go surfing haha.
Surfing in Uruguay has been growing really fast, what impact does your work have on the local market?
I think i’ts so cool to be here because the people get the chance to get these boards made by some of the best shapers like Ricardo Martins, Bushman, Timmy Patterson. It’s really special for a country to have these boards…Uruguay is kind of a little bit isolated from the rest of the surfing World, even that you’re right next to Brazil.
What do you mean with ‘isolated’?
Well just because…not isolated but it’s just a small country so to have this factory, I mean this factory is bigger than my factory in Hawaii, which is cool, you know? It doesn’t matter how big it is the factory, it matters what you’re making. It’s a cool opportunity for the people in the country to have a shaper come down and make World class surfboards. I know that Uruguay has many good shapers, but it’s the chance to see some designs that come from other places and be influenced by other ideas and shapes.
Some of the best surfers from Uruguay are making a big effort to enter WQS events (Luisma Iturria, Lucas & Santiago Madrid), that are doing really good in the Latin American Pro Tour (ALAS): Luisma won this tour last year. Marco Giorgi and Luisma had good results when they entered ASP Star events…What does a surfer need to reach the next level in competitive surfing?
From my experience it takes a lot of travelling, to learn about different waves. If you’re only in one place and surfing those waves then it’s very hard to go anywhere else and adapt to different kinds of waves. Even if there are different kinds of waves in the country. Everyone sees those guys (pros) and think ‘Oh, they so lucky they get to travel around the World’ but the reality is it’s very difficult and it takes a lot to make it, being away from the family and all…
What’s the difference between surfers in the WCT and WQS?
Pro surfers, the guys on the CT have it pretty easy: they’re only doing one contest per month every year. They travel part of the month and go home the other. They have some time off. The guys in the QS, to get high in the QS, they go contest after contest after contest…that’s all you do until you get the results. It’s not fun travelling, it’s not the same kind of travel as if you’re on a surf trip with your friends when all you do is surfing and if the surf is shitty you go play around. For guys in the QS it’s work, it’s hard. And there’s so much waiting, you know? The tide…it’s ten o’clock, eleven o’clock, come back later, all day they wait to get started. It’s difficult…
So they need a certain level of commitment, and also be able to travel. Gain experience in different waves, surf against other surfers from different countries. The more experience you have…And then you need to have financial support so when you’re staying somewhere you’re confortable, not sleeping in the dirt, every time…I mean you can make it that way too. I’m just saying the optimal, best things is to have that kind of support when you travel around. If you really think that you’re gonna make it as a Pro surfer I think you should be winning every contest, anything you enter around here. Then maybe go to the World. If you’re doing just ok in the local contests, probably you’re not gonna do it ok in the rest of the World. Let’s be realistic, it’s so difficult…there are surfers from so many countries I mean like Japan: japanese surfers, there’s never been a pro surfer in the WCT from Japan. There are so many good guys in Japan, you go there and it’s crazy with surfers…crazy. So, you need commitment and some nice support. Someone that says: ‘Hey, we want you to do this, we believe you can make it’, and be willing to work your ass off haha.
What future do you expect from your job, have you reached a point in your life where you think ‘Ok, I already made it’ or…
Ok, I understand. I feel really happy to be where I am, I feel really successful, I love my life, I love what I do. Everyday when I’m shaping I’m happy to be doing it. I never wake up and go ‘Uhh f***’. When I go to work I feel satisfied. I have a beautiful wife, I love my kids. Life is great. It’s not a matter of money or anything like that, I don’t have a lot of money, but I have a very rich life. So I’m super happy but at the same time I would like to grow, my Business is growing right now, become more International…
You are shaping your designs in different countries…
Yes, I’ve got different things going that are really nice. I get to travel I’m really lucky to travel. I can call someone in a country and say: ‘Hey can I make some boards there?’ And ussually they go ‘Yeah, lets go’, and they know my brand more, so they can sell some boards. I got the opportunity to do that which I’m really grateful for. I wanna work with more surfers, I want to build my business, keep making better boards. Although I’m satisfied I’m not finished, ok? Hahaha…
Surfing for Jon Pyzel is…
Surfing to me, besides my family, surfing is my most important thing in my life. It’s been the thing that’s driven me more than anything in my whole life. If I see good waves or I know I’m missing them I go crazy, I need to go surfing. It’s very powerful for me, I surf all the time at home, that’s why I live where I live so I can surf. Sometimes I surf three times a day at home. Sometimes I surf twice a day in between working. Surf in the morning, go to work all day, come home and surf again. Surfing is like a huge thing for me. Surfing has made me who I am and has also given me my job. My job is an extension of surfing for me. It’s all one big thing, you know?
Surfing with your family?
Everyone surfs in my family a little bit. My wife used to surf, my fifteen year old surfs all the time, she’s like me. I love it. My ten year old she hates surfing only because her sister loves surfing, I think. But secretly I think she’s gonna become a surfer. She does surf a litlle bit, she likes horses. 99% of my friends in Hawaii surf. Everything I do is because of surfing.
It’s well known the localism in Hawaii, how did you blend in?
When I moved there in 1992 I just…It was pretty gnarly. When I moved there basically I just kept my head down. That’s it.
You were all by yourself
Yeah, and I slowly met people there but I just kept to myself: I didn’t burn people didn’t drop in or nothing and that’s it. It’s pretty simple and what I find in Hawaii and I think every single person will find this is that If you paddle out somewhere in Hawaii and you smile and you’re respectful, you just act normal and you’re nice and say hello, you’re gonna be taken in. But If you act weird like you burn people or you’re afraid to look at people…to me now when I paddle out somewhere I paddle out to the biggest, toughest guy and say ‘Hi’, once that guys says ‘Hi’ to you, you’re in. If the guy is kinda nice to you, everyone in the whole line up sees that, and even If they don’t know you know him, they’re gonna start thinking a little different, you know?
That’s my theory: smile and say ‘Hi’ to the biggest thoughest meanest looking guy. Hahaha.
How do you feel now, alter living there for more than 20 years?
All the kids, all the local kids that are really good surfers think I was born there, because I lived there longer than they’ve been alive. They’re super nice, now it’s just big family. And I’m lucky I’ve made a lot of good friends with people that were born there and lived their whole life there. My wife is from there. My kids were born in Hawaii, you know? I’ve lived there half my life, it’s just home for me now.
Music, what bands do you like?
I love music and reading. I read a lot. Some of my favourite writers are John Steinbeck, Kurt Vonnegut, Hunter Thompson, Jack Kerouac. I love different kinds of music. Some of my favourite bands are Led Zeppelin, The Clash, Modest Mouse (they’re sick, lyrics are amazing), I love all kinds of reggae music: Bob Marley, Peter Tosh. The Rolling Stones are incredible.
It’s Mick Jagger’s 70th birthday today…(July 26th)
Any modern bands?
Kings Of Leon, in the last 5 years. I listen to country music, the lyrics are funny, they’re always singing about their dog, getting drunk, their women leaving them, pretty classic…
How many boards you’ve made in Uruguay?
Probably two hundred.
And in your life?
Honestly, I stopped counting. I handshaped for a long time. Handshaped like over a thousand boards, count them one by one. But alter I started using a shaping machine I stopped counting. I don’t know, thousands. I make a couple of thousand boards a year. Pretty small, not so big. I’m a big small shaper. Like a little guy with a lot of vissibility.
Last one, would you like to send a message to the surfing community here in Uruguay?
Basically, I just wanna thank everyone here for supporting my boards and for supporting these guys (looks at Wetworks Southamerica team) for doing what they’re doing. Without the support this would not happen. I think it’s a special thing for the country to have this. I’m very lucky Ricardo Martins helped me and brought me here. He’s one of my favourite shapers too, great guy and unreal person. Very grateful for him and everyone that’s stoked and having a good time surfing.
Hopefully someday I’m gonna get some good waves here, hahahaha.
*Javier Gonzalez works as Press Manager for Uruguay’s Surfing Federation, called USU (Union de Surf del Uruguay). Created in 1993, USU has been developing surfing in Uruguay for more than 20 years. Uruguay is member of the ISA, and participates in the World Surfing Games: Master, Junior, Open and Longboard. The 2013 Junior National Team earned the best result in ISA events for Uruguay for surfers U-18, with the 17th place in Nicaragua’s Dakine ISA WJSG. In 2011, the Open National Team reached 15th place in the ISA WSG Panama. Marco Giorgi and Luisma Iturria finished 7th and 13th in what remains the best performance ever for a National Team. María Celia Barboza was 5th in the last ISA World Master Surfing Games in Ecuador 2013.
USU Facebook: Union de Surf del Uruguay
USU Twitter: @USUsurf
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