|Travers Adler, 6'7" White Owl stubbie, 2012. Photo: Brent Lieberman.|
Five-year-olds don’t usually fix dings.
But in 1957, as a first-grader at Montecito Union, Gregg Tally’s mom, who’d taught him to surf, drove him to Linwald’s in Santa Barbara’s boatyard. Nowhere else in town sold resin and fiberglass.
“I had a balsa surfboard that I’d drag across the rocks at Hammond’s, dinging the tail, wearing it down,” Tally said. “So early on, for me, ding repair became an essential skill.”
He fixed dings for friends, too. Then, in 1961, Jeff White opened White Owl Surf Shop in Summerland.
“Jeff had a lot of rentals and trade-ins,” Tally said, “and he sold them to me for really cheap. I’d fix them up and sell them to the kooks. That was my first real ‘business’ in the surf industry.”
Later, White taught Tally how to build a surfboard from the ground up, which, in 1967, Tally did in his parents’ garage.
“It was a RAG board, which stood for ‘Rush And Gregg,’ after my friend Rush Hinsdale. As people were transitioning to shortboards, longboards became irrelevant, so we bought longboards real cheap and ruined them. We’d strip them, cut them down, reshape them, glass them, and made a lot of shortboards in that era. We took some to Hawaii, and paid for our visits that way, because Rush and I had relatives on Oahu.”
RAG Surfboards lasted from 1967 to 1970, when Hinsdale left to pursue art in New York City, and Tally moved to Hawaii.
“I became a production worker in some of the factories there. I did ghost-shaping, glassing, hot-coating, sanding, made fins — whatever made money. That gave me a lot of experience through the years, and I stayed with it. I’ve always loved to work with surfboard foam, fiberglass, and resin, so I’ve kept my fingers in it for most of my life.”
In 1994, Tally revisited Santa Barbara to have knee surgery, but it evolved into something more permanent.
|Gregg Tally, August 2012. Photo: Kew|
“My mother was becoming elderly, and she couldn’t move to Hawaii with me, so I sold everything there and moved back here in 1995. I started doing restoration work for Roger Nance, who was Jeff White’s business partner at the Beach House. He had a massive collection of old surfboards. We started restoring them, and it was great fun.”
By then, White was retired from the world of retail, but his surf stoke remained.
“We’d romp down memory lane, because Jeff loved to talk about old times. Of course we talked about White Owl, and one of his biggest regrets was stopping surfboard production and going into the clothing business. He really missed White Owl Surfboards.”
In 1997 White asked Tally if he would like to bring the label back.
“That was the proudest day of my life,” Tally said.
He built a small shaping shed in his leafy backyard and began crafting surfboards for the Beach House. They included contemporary thrusters, Big Boy Tris, retro single-fins, and guns.
Today, 15 years on, Tally and White Owl have come full-circle, Santa Barbara style, going back to 1966 and the Wilderness-era stubbie. “Stubbies are the focus of White Owl right now,” Tally said, “mainly because I’m really far behind in my orders!” (laughs)
It began with a serendipitous meeting in the Rincon Point parking lot.
“Ryan Lovelace ran into a guy there who’d been involved in the demolition of the Wilderness Surf Shop a few years back. He had some old, deteriorated templates he’d found behind a wall there. He gave them to Ryan, and Ryan brought them to my house. One of them was the original Greenough Santa Barbara stubbie. It had the Santa Barbara round tail on it, and the moment I saw it, I knew what it was. It’s basically a stretched-out kneeboard that looks like a short longboard. It was a high-performance shortboard from that shortboard-revolution era.”
Tally and Lovelace made templates from that original piece of tar paper, and I talked Tally into making one for me. That stubbie went so well that Tally decided to continue making them custom for other team riders and stock for the Beach House.
“Doing these boards now brings back that really powerful, energetic era, which was really important to me,” Tally said. “And when Jeff was still alive, he was very pleased that White Owl was returning. For me, White Owl has always been like a religious experience. Jeff was such a prime motivator and a positive influence in my life in so many ways. It’s very emotional for me to have the White Owl label under my name.
“There’s not a day when I don’t think about Jeff. I still consider White Owl to be his. I’m just helping it along.”
Gregg Tally, White Owl Surfboards
The Beach House, 10 State Street, Santa Barbara, CA