INTERVIEW AND INTRODUCTION BY DIBI FLETCHER
PHOTOS BY ART BREWER AND HERBIE FLETCHER
By the mid ‘50s, Mike Hynson was surfing all of the local San Diego breaks and making a mockery of the images that the mainstream media was starting to spew out. By ‘59, the world was seeing Mickey Munoz surfing as Gidget’s double. By ‘61, the Beach Blanket movie phenomenon was ready to start cranking out images of some Hollyweird beach scenes along with the release of the first Beach Boys’ album extolling the idyllic life of the lonely surfer. Bruce Brown would tour the states in ‘64 with the great buddy movie Endless Summer, in which Mike starred as the epitome of the bronzed beach God. By ‘69, his partnership in Rainbow Surfboards with Johnny Gale, whose name was to become synonymous with Orange Sunshine LSD, morphed into the Rainbow Bridge movie of ‘72. Exploiting the use of surfboards to smuggle hash left no doubt as to the change in current Mike’s life was taking. Herb and I had long since parted ways knowing things were so hot that our freedom might be seriously jeopardized, and we stayed on the North Shore while the summer of love had long since turned into a massive law enforcement fiasco with the pseudo religious leader escaping from jail with the help of the Weathermen. For the first part of this interview, Herb and I set up a stage in the Astrodeck warehouse and threw old Persian carpets on it with an old hand-painted couch, lots of pillows and a big beaded hookah. The smoke machine filled the room with atmosphere and, as if by magic, we were back on the North Shore in the ‘60s talking surfboard design.
“THOSE WERE THE DAYS WHEN NIXON WAS IN BUSINESS. HE WAS A CROOK AND SO WAS I. HE DIDN’T BOTHER US AND WE DIDN’T BOTHER HIM. EXCEPT HE GOT CAUGHT AND SO DID WE, BUT DURING THAT TIME, WE WERE HAVING A HELLUVA GOOD TIME.”
Mike, there have been a lot of shapers, but you are truly one that is magic.
[Laughs] Well, thank you very much.
Dibi: Do you think that’s that something that comes from inside or is it an acquired skill?
No, it’s just something that happened. Actually, everybody around me made me think I knew more about surfboards than they did. I made my first board and all my friends told all their friends. Then they’d all ask me about it, because I glassed my first one. I knew all about that stuff, but I really didn’t.
Dibi: [Laughs] When did you make your first board?
1958. It was an 11-foot plank balsa board that was laying in some old man’s yard in Mission Beach. I’d been riding my bike by it. One day, he was there, so I asked him what he was going to do with it. He says, “If you can get this out of here, you can have it.” So that night I got a couple of my friends and came down and got it. We had to drag it along the beach from Mission Beach all the way up to Bird Rock in the sand. My friend had a garage up there in Bird Rock so we took it there and I spent the next week making this board. By the third day, someone said, “Man, you better stop.” I was looking for a 9’ and by that point it was 7’10”. I said, “Oh god, I have to stop this.” So I did. I was using a drawknife, a hand plane, a saw and sandpaper. Then the disaster really started happening. Not only did I have a mess of balsa, which was really terrible, but the glassing was just a nightmare. I got everybody’s clothes ruined, over a period of doing it, because you had to do one side at a time. It took me five days to do that. In the process, I ruined the garage floor, so my friend’s father was mad at me. I had ruined all the clothes that I had. All my shoes were covered in resin. My pants were ruined. Then I sanded the thing in the garage. It left everybody with a terrible itch. Everyone was itching.
Then I finally got it down to the water and rode it and it was fun. My friends would ride it and we all thought it was just the greatest, for a while.
Dibi: So that was your first deal at surfboard shaping and you just proceeded from there?
Yeah. From that, everyone knew that I had gone through the process and no one else was doing it, so I just became recognized as the guy that knew how to build surfboards.
Dibi: So the career found you.
Herbie: Mike this is a new, old thing that you’re doing with your surfboards now. I remember you used to do Rainbow boards with twin fins and now you’re doing a quad set up. Tell us a little bit about the surfboard itself.
It’s just a combination of years of being in the surfboard business and that’s about it. Four fins…maybe tomorrow there will be five, or we could take a couple away. I understand that this board goes 40% faster than other ones. That’s what I heard. Isn’t that amazing?
Herbie: Is that because of the fins, the rail, the bottom or the wave?
[Laughs] Am I giving away secrets right now?
Herbie: [Laughs] Do you want to give away secrets?
[Laughs] No. This board is now for sale. It’s just a combination of a lot of ideas.
Dibi: Tell us about the four fins. Why are they better than two or three? I’m just wondering because all the boys have started riding four fins.
They’re all a bunch of copycats, right? I mean, when was the first time you saw four fins? Right here. This is the only board in the house with four fins, right?
Herbie: No, I have one of Christian’s boards that’s about 15 years old that has four fins. It’s about four feet long, maybe 4’10”. Christian is sort of crazy. He likes to fly.
This board probably stays on the ground a little better.
Herbie: It depends on whose riding it. If the kids want to fly, they’re going to fly. So with this board you can go 40% faster and then you get to fly.
You can’t go very much faster. People keep borrowing it and they never bring it back. You’ve borrowed some boards, too, right, Herbie?
Herbie: [Laughs] Yes. I’ve borrowed some boards.
We’ll see if you bring them back. Just stick with the flow. Everyone that borrows something just keep it.
Herbie: [Laughs] Isn’t possession nine-tenths of the law?
[Laughs] Yes. Possession. I’ve done a lot of time for possession. Sean Mattison has been chased down the beach about that board. He’d come out of the water, after surfing the board, and people would come running up to him and ask about the board. The first time Sean rode this kind of board, I was down in La Jolla and I could just tell by how he was surfing. Before he went in the water, he said, “I think I should have a more narrow nose.” I said, “Just go surf it, please.” So he finally went and surfed it. Then he called me up and said, “After I rode that board, I got out of the water and two people came all the way down to the beach from the parking lot to look at the board.” I had the impressions of how he was surfing that morning. He was styling and conquering. Nothing went wrong. Everything he did happened. Everything he thought happened. Ever since then, he’s sold so many. We can’t keep them on the rack.
Herbie: They go fast, huh? 40 percent faster?
[Laughs] That’s it. 40 percent. Not anything else. Not slower. Not faster. It’s 40 percent, which is quite a compliment. But I’m not going to give up any secrets.
Herbie: [Laughs] Don’t give up any secrets.
[Laughs] I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I’m still trying to figure it out.
Herbie: Well, when you figure it out, let me know.
Herbie: [Laughs] Oh, c’mon. Give me a break.
Oh, okay. Keep the boards.
Isn’t it a great feeling to want to go surfing? The board has an attraction to going surfing. I’ve ridden other boards and they were so discouraging. I could really get tired of surfing if I had to ride boards like that all the time. They just weren’t happening. They just did not work. I didn’t know why. I didn’t even want to think about why.
Herbie: There’s a lot of crazy mojo going on at the bottom and with the double barrel concave.
Well, it’s all about where you put it. Too much concave on or anything with water or air just sucks it up. The slightest of things make a difference. It’s very apparent. On most fish, it’s sharper on the bottom and the concaves are deeper. You can feel the double barrel concave when you turn. They release and give you a little push. The parallel rail gives you access to the long driving turns and gives you distance. If you get the right size and formula, you can have some fun.
Herbie: I noticed the rails right away.
I had problems with wax on rails. When I turn, the wax on the rails would slow me down. It was like dragging kelp. It was bogging me down. It was irritating. I rode some guy’s board that I’d made and it just had too much wax on the rails to hold it. It definitely slowed it down. I didn’t like that, so I took off the wax and that was it.
Herbie: You were always cleaning the bottoms and sanding it the right way.
Yeah, we had the sand finish a long time ago. The board doesn’t look that great when it’s all sanded. It doesn’t shine until you get it in the water. I used to try and get to the beach real quick and dip it, like an ice cream cone. It’s better than a rub out and it’s a little faster. These boards have given some people some inspiration. It’s fun. I’m glad to see it. This is the same kind of feeling as when we made the down rail, Herbie.
Herbie: Yeah, all the way. You made it and I rode it.
It’s the same feeling. It was so inspirational. It was like, “Wow.” It was fun. It was just something so new.
Herbie: It was down the line. You could push on the nose, glide and go fast. But you had the rails down already. It was just that last 18 inches.
It was going that way. I actually took it to a point where it was just sharp. I put a resin bead along the bottom line.
Herbie: Zipper in the rail.
It was like a ski. I was trying to make it as sharp as possible. That was a clean board. Paddling out, you could tell by the water. As soon as water came in contact with it, it did its thing. There were no bubbles. Then you ride it and it’s different for a while and then you get used to it and it gets boring, but these boards have really kept up the enthusiasm. People come out of the water just flabbergasted.
Herbie: A lot of people are riding fishes now. It reminds me of the ‘70s revisited, but now it’s better. It’s new and fresh.
Exactly. You ride the bigger boards still?
Herbie: Yeah, I’m riding long boards. I like to glide.
You like the boards with the square nose.
Herbie: Yeah, the stretched nose. It works. That was a great design. I’m still on it.
Talk about something that sticks. This guy doesn’t give it up.
Herbie: It’s pretty classic, but that’s a whole other deal.
Someone told me there was a Surfer’s Journal with photos of you, Haley and Hamilton. That was a classic time. Where is Stoner now? He’s not around now.
Herbie: He’s MIA.
He’s just missing. There’s no action. You know the crater in the middle of the Earth, that big hole down there?
Herbie: You mean the one in the center of the earth?
He’s the kind of guy that would be interested in that.
Herbie: [Laughs] Tell me about this Rainbow board, Mike.
This is one of the boards that got away.
They were banging on the doors and then they broke the doors down and then they proceeded to go downstairs with sledgehammers. All these guys came in the house with hammers and hatchets like the Ku Klux Klan. And we had our inventory on each wall, displayed all cool. After they were done with the hatchets, the smoke was so thick and the boards were all smashed. They were looking for what I had in my pocket, but they were looking in the boards. They didn’t even talk to us.
Herbie: Well, that must have been after the movie Rainbow Bridge. That was after you showed them how to look inside boards?
No, I don’t know how they heard about it. That was before.
Herbie: So that’s how you got the idea?
Yeah. With Rainbow Bridge, we wanted to show that we survived. You ain’t got us down yet.
Herbie: [Laughs] Before Rainbow Bridge, we were on Maui and I had some blanks and we were all over there hanging out. We were surfing Honolua Bay and Ma’alaea at the same time. I think it was the summer of ‘68. Do you recall?
[Laughs] I’m glad you remember. I don’t claim to know any of that kind of stuff, but I was there.