Living History: Lauran Yater

By Michael Kew

Portrait: Pu'u.

HIS FEET PLANTED in the past, present, and future of surfboards, Santa Barbara’s Lauran Yater knows what makes a great ride. Influenced by his father (Reynolds Yater) and other S.B. foamsmiths like Bob Duncan, Marc Andreini, and the late Bob Krause, the vibe into which Lauran, 55, was born—his dad’s famous surfboard factory—couldn’t have been more convenient. Evident, of course, with one glance at his shapes, or while he's trimming Rincon on the wave of the day. Or night.


KEW: Was Rincon your first home?

YATER: It was right when my dad came up, and my mom was pregnant with my sister; my dad came up here to check the area out and see if it was worth living. Stayed up here for six months or something, and decided, yeah, it’s a bitchen deal—let’s do it. So he called her up, she moved up here within six months of that, and then a couple of years later, I was born—1960 in Cottage Hospital. So they’d been here a few years. My first memories of my first house would have to be Summerland and then Rincon.


Your first home was in Summerland?



And your dad had his red surf shop there....

Yeah, there’s a bunch of pictures of me there, sitting on the porch in diapers and a Yater T-shirt.


What was your life like as a child?

I had a good life, middle class, parents really caring. My dad worked really hard, so he brought home the bacon and my mom made sure that we got out into the wilderness and did things and got into sports—YMCA, flag football, whatever it was—taking us to church. Typical things.


Before surfing?


Where did you go to school?
I started kindergarten in Carpinteria and then went to preschool in Summerland. Actually, it’s still there, but it’s been rebuilt. I went there, then I went right on over to Montecito Union, went through that, then Summerland for junior high, then Santa Barbara High School. I picked up a job working in the showroom at my dad’s shop in ’78. Picked that job up in my last year of high school; we got a really good year of surf that year. That winter was just phenomenal, so I had to make up some credits, and I was taking nine classes my last quarter of high school so I could graduate.



Most people were taking two because they’ve already got so many credits. I wasn’t really good in school; I was good in art, but not that good at all the math and all that stuff. So I did restaurant training and started working pretty hard. Worked at Chart House after school and then bought a car and started working for my dad in ’78. I was right out of high school when I went right into that job. I got my car from the guy who had the job before, and I started shaping that year.


Were you working with Marc Andreini, Kirk Putnam...?

Andreini was there. Putnam was the guy before the guy who I took the job from.


What is your earliest memory of the ocean?

I’d probably have to say Summerland Beach, Montecito area, Carpinteria to Montecito. A lot of Carpinteria when I was a little kid, when I was really little, and then a bit of Hammond’s, and then we moved down to Rincon. In between all of that, we’d go up to the Ranch on weekends. So I was at the beach a lot.


How did you get into surfing?
Obviously, I grew up in a family that was beach-oriented—both of my parents surfed, so it was inevitable that I’d pick up a board and try it. This guy, Greg Tice, he was also a manager at our shop, in our showroom. He’s now manager of Sotheby’s in Montecito real estate. He made the first board that I ever rode. Usually they know you’re going to trash your first board, so they give you something that’s not worth too much. (laughs) It was the first board he’d ever shaped. I don’t know if he shaped any more after that. I don’t think I ever stood up on it. A couple of years later, I got sick and stayed home from school for a couple of days, and the second day, my dad came home and asked me what my favorite color was. I said lime green, and he knew that that was my favorite color, and he had this board in the shop that wasn’t selling and had been at the window for three years. So he brought it home and gave it to me, and we went down to Butterfly Lane in Montecito and caught what seemed to be a foot-and-a-half wave to me. I caught about three of them and it just scared the shit out of me. Going down the face so fast, not even standing up, so I took that thing and put it in the garage and let all my older brother’s friends borrow it. A couple years later, my friends started to learn how to surf, so I thought maybe I’d try it.


You’re how old then?
This would be grade school, so fifth grade or so. Eight to 10 years old, just messing around with some old longboards. Go down to Fernald’s or go down to the sandspit and try and catch a few waves and stand up. Later I was at the beach one day in Carpinteria, and there was a really good west swell. This is before the leash was invented. I was sitting on the beach—our house was a block from the beach—and I’m watching these guys get just really good rides. It was kind of high tide and everyone was losing their boards and I’m saving their boards. I saved this one guy’s board just from hitting the rocks and he comes running up the beach, he grabs the board from me, and he’s just got this look in his eyes and thanks me, then runs back up the beach. And I knew I was missing something here. I’d just gotten old enough to know that I was really missing something. I could tell by the look in this guy’s eyes, and I went home and I said, “Mom, I’ve got to learn how to surf, and that’s it.” I got another board, my third board‚—it was a 7’0” round-pin, and I just kept trying.


One of your dad’s boards?

Yeah. Nice board. He shaped it for me.


Do you still have it?
No. I wish I did, but it’s long gone.


Do you believe that your surfing and eventual shaping came from your genes?
There’s no doubt about it. I surf a lot my dad—he knows how to trim really well. He can find the trim spot on the board and come from behind, and that’s what he’s known for. All the guys I’ve talked to who’ve surfed with him in the old days. In fact, I was out surfing one day on a west swell and I got locked into this really good tube and it just got completely dark. I closed my eyes and I finally made it out, I had long hair in those days, I pulled my hair back and went into another one and did the same thing, just went completely dark and I’m in there trimming, and it opened up again. I came out and kicked out. Geardon Smith, an artist who lives in Hope Ranch, looked at me and said: “You know, for 20 years I’ve been looking for a guy who surfs like your dad, and I finally found somebody. It’s you!” (laughs) And I asked him, “Well, what is it?” And he just said it’s the way he trims and he makes a wave really well. He rides the top third of the wave—that’s what a trimming surfer does. That’s what Pat Curren did and still does.


How about your shaping?
I was working in the front room selling surfboards. I’d gone through the process—I was an artist—of grabbing scraps of foam and shaping them down into a surfboard and laying up the bottom, doing a cut-lap then laying the deck up, cutting up the bottom shaping a little fin. I did the whole thing on a scaled version about that big, and I started making skateboards. Clark Foam used to sell slab stock, real high-density, but there wasn’t a big enough market for it, so I stopped doing it. Didn’t make any money. So I’d gone through the process of laminating and I knew how to do it, and I just got a hair up my butt. I’d been doing a lot of ding repairs, and I said I want to shape my own board. My dad said, “Sure, Lauran. Here you go—here’s a blank.” It was right when Ian Cairns was on the cover of Surfer doing a layback turn, ’77-’78. I made a 7-foot swallowtail. I think I used my dad’s templates at that point for that board. Just pulled him around, he kind of gave me some ideas. Tim Boller helped me out a lot, and Andreini, Bob Krause. I had all those guys to run over to and say, “Hey, how do I do this?” It was really neat. It was a good time to start. So I made a board, and as I was doing it—most of these guys were using a power planer, and my dad had just picked up using a sander. He said, “Why don’t you try this?” He handed me this sander as I’m knocking the rails down, so I ended up with really low rails, but they were round enough at the bottom, and the thing worked unreal. The first board I made just went completely unreal. I was doing any kind of turn I wanted to do, and the board would always come back underneath me. So I was ecstatic. Of course, I told all my friends, “Have me make a board for you!” So I got all of my friends—probably six, eight, seven of them—to get copies of that board, just different sizes. And none of them worked very good. (laughs) Mine did. But it kept me going because I realized I had to learn something.


Did you have a logo?
I used my dad’s, and then I had a friend draw one up in the same outline, just changed the inside and put my name in it.

What was it like working in the shop?
It was a real easy deal. It didn’t open until 10 a.m. and it’d close at 5 p.m. If the surf was over six feet, we’d close the doors. It wasn’t real busy; all we did was sell surfboards and wax.

This was on Gray Avenue?

Yeah, 208 Gray.


What happened to that first board you made?

Somebody stole the board from me. It was the middle of summer and we got this phenomenal swell. Everywhere was breaking. Every pointbreak was perfect, every backside of a point had surf, every frontside. It was just one of those windswells where it was glassy, four-to-six feet, for a week straight. And I borrowed all these old boards and none of them worked very good. So between losing that board that worked so good, making all these other ones for my friends that didn’t work. And I’d try them myself—they’d maybe go off the lip good, but they wouldn’t cut back, or they’d tube-ride good, but they wouldn’t cut back. There was always something the board wouldn’t do. The first one did everything perfectly, so it was a challenge. I just kept going with it, being an artist, liking to work with my hands. I loved it.


What happened after that?
I ran the front of the shop for about four years. And then I started doing labor in the back—there was more money in that. Glassing, sanding, just whatever was available, whoever wasn’t showing up to work. I was taking orders for myself and then working on my dad’s boards as full-time work.


What were the designs?
It was all shortboards then. They were single-fins and were getting shorter at that time, so when I first actually started surfing, boards were getting larger, all the way up to 7’11” by the end of junior high, and then they turned around and started getting smaller. When I got on the scene, a seven-foot board was about standard, give or take three or four inches. My dad was doing shortboards but I was doing them a little bit shorter because I was lighter. We all tend to kind of shape boards like they’re for us. There’s a little bit of that in every shaper. They were all single-fins. Marc Andreini had just come back from Hawaii and he was doing these really bitchen double-winger rounded pins. I bought a lot of boards off other people because I had a lot of good shapers around me.


Seems like the perfect place to be for an aspiring shaper.

It was a good deal. It was great. Just as an instance, Stan Klugy had a shop up the street and they’d come over to our shop and show us a new trick, they’d glass a board in 15 minutes and they’d show us how they did it, how they added more catalyst and how they worked quicker and how they did their cuts. So we were sharing secrets, and we all kept the prices the same, whereas nowadays there’s all this undercutting and everybody’s trying to get a niche because there’s so many boards out there. It’s cutthroat compared to the way it was when I grew up.


Do you take credit for any design?

Most shapers tend to shape boards for their area, and that’s basically all I’ve done. I’ve gone to Hawaii, seen what it’s like, but I don’t surf over there. I’ve learned all the stuff I’ve learned off of other people and just gone to what I like the looks of and tried to do my version of what I think a good board is.


For pointbreaks?
Pretty much. There’s some reefbreaks I like and there’s some longboarding I like to do; some beachbreaks I also like. You start making quivers of boards, and a quiver is a selection of one type of board, but most people think a quiver is just a bunch of different boards for different types of surf, and I’ve got a ton of those. That’s the only way to keep stimulated these days because it’s so crowded. You’ve got to have a tool for all the different spots so you can go out and have a fun day once in a while.


Is Rincon your favorite spot?

Oh, they’re all my favorites, you know? I surf there more than anywhere because it’s such a long wave, and it’s a good one.


What is Rincon to you? Is it a staple?

Absolutely. I grew up there as a kid. It was crowded when I started; there were days I’ve counted over 300 people in the water, and you still get that today. Every now and then this crowd shows up, and it’s over 300 people, and I’ve counted that many back when I was a kid.

How is that possible?
It’s amazing. Really amazing. But if you get out onto the point in the middle and the tide’s low enough, you can see everybody in the water and just start counting. I counted 365 one day, I think.


What are your hobbies?

I like fish. Freshwater, mostly, but I’ll do saltwater. Besides that, hiking, but it’s pretty much surfing. A little bit of snowboarding.


Who are your surf influences?

Tom (Curren) when he was younger. The guy who owns the meat market in Goleta, Paul, a really good surfer, just a neat longboarder, and this was an era when nobody was longboarding. I had a best friend who surfed a lot better than I did, John Bennett. There was a local group of people that I looked up to that surfed good. And then of course there were the magazines and all the pros—Shaun Tomson, Rabbit Bartholomew, guys like them.


Who are your shaping influences?

Like we were talking about earlier, there was a whole group of guys around. At the beginning it was my dad, Marc Andreini, Bob Krause, Bruce Fowler, and Bob Duncan, and then it ended being mostly Bob Duncan and my dad who influenced me the most.


How so?
Just the stuff they were doing. Duncan taught me a lot about rocker.


Did your access to places like Rincon and the Ranch enhanced your development?

The only places I could really go as far as surfing different places being an advantage, I think definitely it teaches you new things—surfing a beachbreak compared to surfing a long pointbreak are two completely different things. If you can master both of them and mesh them together, your ability is better.


What is your specialty?

Point surf, mostly. I would do a lot more reefs if we had more, but we don’t have many. We’ve got a few. It’s mostly points.


What are the best aspects of your shaping ability?

I probably spend too much time in detail, as far as what I get paid for, so the customer gets his money’s worth. There’s no doubt about that. A guy can bring in a favorite and I’ll spend three days duping the thing to get it to work better, not by mistake, but by doing a really good copy. Just paying attention to detail.


How has your father influenced you?

His longevity and his strength, showing up and working, always being there.


So more of his human side and not his technical shaping side?
Yeah. Just what a good person is. The way he’s lived his life. You don’t have to look too far to see where people make mistakes, and he doesn’t make many. When he makes one, it’s a bad one, but it’s not detrimental.


What’s in store for surfboard design?

There’s so much new stuff on the market right now. If you go to the tradeshows, there’s 20 types of softboards. It’s unbelievable. There’s all this new construction and it’s all on a new learning curve because they’re all just starting to make boards with it and figure out how to make the boards feel as good as we do with polyester. It’s interesting. The fact that several years ago, the surfboard designs went wide open as far as you can walk down the beach with anything and it was okay. In fact, it’s cool to switch boards and ride something different during the day—go from a longboard to a twin-fin. It really opened things up and made everything kind of more relaxed. It’s neat, because now everybody’s working on all this new stuff. There’s not a whole lot of new designs that are coming out of it—they’re just getting perfected a lot better. I couldn’t ride a concave board for years because my stance is so damn tight, and they’re making them so narrow. Well, now they’ve relaxed that a little bit, dialed in the rocker so well, I got on one a couple of years ago and just went, “Wow, wait a second!” I’ve got this narrow frickin’ stance and I can’t surf off both feet, so I’d spend all this time working up this speed, I’d get a turn off and I’d have to work forever again to get that speed. It wasn’t working. So I stayed with vee bottoms, flat bottoms, and played with different rockers.


What distinguishes your shapes?

My dad and I both shape boards for the type of waves we have around here, like Rincon and whatnot, but also kind of a little bit like we surf, so we have a little bit of a relaxed rocker on our boards, we both do. That’s something that gives you a lot of speed. We also like to have a lot of curve on the outlines, so our boards have a really nice aesthetic look to them.


Any funny Renny stories to tell?

All his friends really tease him about being super anal. They’ll go backpacking and when he’s not looking, like he goes off to take a shit or something, they’ll go over and take his backpack and turn it upside down, empty all the pockets out and leave it in a pile. Because he’s got everything so checked out. I think Gordon Clark’s thing on him is he’s so checked out, he puts serial numbers on his turds before he flushes the toilet. (laughs) So, something along those lines, I guess, but he really is. He’s so checked out. When he gets a motorcycle, he’ll take the thing apart twice—everything—take the engine apart, crack everything, put it all back together, take it apart again, put it back together, so if he gets stuck out in the desert, he knows how to deal with what’s what.


How do you differ yourself from your dad?

Good question. He’s more stern. I guess I’m a little more looser, more of the artist type, a little more floatier, whereas he’s just really solid. Extremely solid. I take after my mom more.


How are you similar to him?

The surfing style is there. I enjoy working like he does. At this point, I like doing things and making things and going places. I don’t like stagnating any more. I don’t like turning on the television any more. I used to watch a lot of television. I can’t stand it now. As you get older, time is more precious and you want to do more with it.


What’s your best surfing memory?

Rincon, full moon, two guys out, they left. I got nine waves in a row, all in about 45 minutes. Maybe even 20 minutes. Probably double-overhead, and I had paddled out right as the moon was coming up. The winds are finicky there at night. It can be glassy all day and then you go down at night and there’s this south bump coming through it. Can’t tell until you get right on the beach. Or it’ll blow offshore down the creek, and then that’ll come around into the cove, so you’ve got this sideways chop coming at you. But occasionally it’s on and it’s right and it’s good. It has to have some size. It’s boring if it’s kind of small, but if it’s big enough, lit up enough, it’s a bitchen deal. I’ve surfed a lot of places at night, and I’d been chasing a good night at Rincon for three years straight. This one night, I ran down there and everything seemed right. There were a couple of guys out; this one guy surfs with a glow necklace. I see him out a lot. He likes to surf it when there’s no moon, which is kind of strange. Anyway, I get out in the water and I recognize one of the guys, and he says, “Gotta be careful. I just got my knee compressed to my chin down on the inside. The lip hit me and just slammed me really hard.” So I take off right at the top of the point. I look at the wall and it’s going; all of a sudden, it bends, and I’m, like, "OK, cool," and I cut back and lined up and it went over me and I’m in the tube and it just started periscoping down and back and down and back and a little water would fall through it and clear up and come back. I kicked out and just went, “Unreal!” I went back and got up and got another one, then another one, and another one—I got nine in a row, and they all did the same thing. They all periscoped better tubes than I’ve ever had in the daytime, for sure. Deep and just beautiful. The ninth wave sucked me over the falls three times. Just worked me. I came up and I went out and got another small one and—BAM—it sucked me over again. I realized it had started howling offshore and it was sending a bump around and just wiped it out. So in that short period of whatever it was—25, 45 minutes—I got nine waves that had just radical barrels on them, in a row, and it was the best session I’ve ever had in my life to date. And I’ve surfed there where you go in the water at sunrise and I don’t get out until sunset. I’ll snack on the beach walking up the point, maybe do a 15-minute break on the beach once or twice, that’s it. I’ve had some good days, but nothing like this. I’ll never forget it. My best session ever, anywhere, and it was at night.

Lost and Happy

Reef Rings: The Chagos-Laccadive Ridge