Skip Frye Biography
"Ponce DeLeon sailed the ocean in search of The Fountain of Youth,
when all he had to do was jump over the side of his ship."
The Early Years
Skip Glassing his first surfboard with Bob Hein and Bob Phillips.
Skip Frye, known for his smooth trim and classic surfing style, was born in San Diego in 1941. His birth name was Harry, but because his father was away in the military, he was assigned the task of being the "skipper" in charge of things at home and the name stuck.
Skip began surfing in 1958 and his first surfing experience was while he was in high school. His friend, Bill Duncan, took him to Pacific Beach at the foot of Thomas Avenue and let Skip borrow his board. It was the beginning of not only a lifelong passion of wave riding, but also a passion for designing and shaping surfboards and fins.
Skip's first surfboard was a 9'3" single fin, balsa board shaped by Mike Diffenderfer in the summer of 1958. Skip, Bob Hine and Bob Phillips glassed the board at Skip's parent's garage.
Shortly after he started surfing, Skip broke his jaw and suffered a crushed kneecap in an automobile accident and was told by the doctors that he would never have the proper use of his leg again. Skip did not accept what the doctors told him and in 1963, placed first in the Senior Men's division in the Mission Bay Aquafair in Pacific Beach.
It was also in 1963 that Skip began shaping surfboards. He shaped for Gordon & Smith during the '60s and part of the '70s, where he developed his iconic logo, a pair of wings. That logo was used for the G&S Skip Frye Models, and Skip still uses the logo today for his boards.
Skip went on to win many titles in surfing contests. In 1964, he again placed first in the Mission Bay Aquafair in Pacific Beach, first in the Senior Men's division at the 1965 US Surfing Association Surf Contest in Ocean Beach, second in the 1965 San Clemente Surf Capades and third in the Tom Morey Invitational Noseriding Contest, which was a timed noseriding contest. In December, 1965, Skip competed in the First Annual Duke Kahanamoku Surfing Championships at Sunset Beach in Hawaii, was ranked second in the final USSA standings, and seventh in the Surfer Magazine Surfer Poll.
In 1965, Skip also competed in the International Skateboard Championships and won second place in the downhill slalom, "a tenth of a second behind Willie Phillips' 16.424 time for the specially-constructed 125-foot run." Both were riding a G&S Fibre-Flex board.
He designed and shaped his first Skip Frye Model at G&S in 1966.Also in 1966, Skip placed first in the Ocean Beach Contest, second in the U.S Pro Championships, and was rated ninth in the Surfer Magazine Surfer Poll.
In 1967, Skip placed fifth in the AAA Oceanside Invitational and first in the Men's division at the Third Annual Laguna Masters Invitational. He was ranked second in the AAA final standings and was voted the second best male surfer in the Surfer Magazine Surfer Poll.
In 1968, Skip placed first in the A division at the Third Annual Baja Surf Club Invitational at San Miguel, Mexico, second in the Carlsbad Open, and first in the Men's division at the Oceanside U.S. Invitational Surf Meet. He competed in the World Contest in Puerto Rico and was ranked second in the 4A Men's Western Surfing Association ratings, sixth in the Surfer Magazine Poll and also received the award for Best Spontaneous Speech.
Windansea Surf Club and Shorter Boards
Skip was also one of the original members of the Windansea Surf Club. Many of the surfing events in which Skip competed and participated in, such as the 1963 Malibu Club Contest, the boat trip to Todos Santos, and a trip to Hawaii in 1964 were as a member of that club. In 1967, Skip traveled with the Windansea Surf Club to the South Pacific, including New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, and Tahiti. He met up with Australian surfers, such as Bob McTavish. That trip is chronicled in the movie, The Fantastic Plastic Machine.
After that trip, Skip became more interested in the shorter and more maneuverable boards that the Australians were riding, and upon his return, began experimenting with designs such as the V-bottom and Baby Gun. In The Encyclopedia of Surfing, by Matt Warshaw, Skip is credited with being the "first West Coast shaper to build the new Australian-invented vee-bottom design."
Skip kept refining the designs and ended up sawing the tail off of one of his V- bottoms and made it into a round tail. That action ultimately led Skip to design a board he called the Egg, one of the shapes for which he is best known.
He was also designing and experimenting with shorter fins, and in early 1967, Frye designed the New-E-Free, a "super high drift free foil fin" and conceived, with Ricky Ryan, a fin called The Finger, which offered controlled drag "in any board attitude."
The '70s and '80s
Skip didn't much care for the competitive side of surfing, even though he almost always did well. He stopped competing during the '70s and experienced some hard times, but that was balanced out through his faith, surfing, shaping and the support of friends. He stayed with G&S until the mid-seventies and then went out on his own. During this time, Skip shaped boards at The Green Room and also had a shaping room, known as The Shack, behind Select Surf Shop in Pacific Beach. In 1980, he met his wife, Donna.
In 1981, Skip returned to shape boards for Gordon & Smith. He also started competing again and in 1982, placed first in the 2nd Annual Ocean Beach Pier Summer Classic.
Longboards were becoming more popular and with that, there were more longboard surfing events. It was a good opportunity to meet up with friends whom Skip had not seen in many years.
He left G&S in 1986 to join the crew at Diamond Glassing, and began shaping under his own business name, Skip Frye Surfboards. While at Diamond, Skip often used the Diamond Frye logo, a combination of his wings and a diamond. Also in 1986, Skip placed first in the Master's division in the 2nd Annual Oceanside Longboard Surfing Contest and became a member of the Chart House Surfing Team.
Skip went to Australia in 1988, to surf in the ASP Diet Coke Longboard Classic at Manly Beach and placed second in the Men's division. He placed first in the Master's division at the 2nd Annual Nissan Coors Belly Up Longboard event in Solana Beach that same year. He also competed in the Ocean Beach Surfer Bowl and won the Surfer Bowl Champion title (surf off between the long boarders and short boarders) in both 1988 and 1989.
Skip stayed at Diamond Glassing until 1988, at which time, Eric "Bird" Huffman (owner of Bird's Surf Shed) and Ernie Higgins asked if Skip wanted to shape boards at their new shop, Windansea, in Pacific Beach. Skip and Donna officially opened Skip Frye Surfboards, which was a small shaping room and front office attached to Windansea Surf Shop.
The Harrys' Surf Shop Era and Beyond
Harrys' Surf Shop. Photo by Donna Frye. All rights reserved.
Longer surfboard blanks became available from Clark Foam in the late '80s/early '90s, and Skip began shaping boards that were 11 and 12 feet long. He loved the smooth glide from the increased planing surface and developed templates for a variety of shapes, including the Eagle and Fish Simmons. Skip also continued to work on new fin configurations for the big boards.
In November, 1990, Skip and Donna left Windansea, moved across the street and opened Harrys' Surf Shop with Skip's long time friend and fellow surfer and shaper Harry "Hank" Warner. Harrys' was the namesake of not only Skip and Hank, but both their fathers and also Hank's and Donna's grandfathers. It was home to Skip Frye Surfboards and Hank Warner Custom Shapes, which was unique because Skip and Hank actually shaped the boards on the premises. They did not glass the boards there, and had most of their boards glassed at Diamond Glassing, Moonlight Glassing, Pacific Surf Glass and Joe Roper. The first board Skip shaped at Harrys' was an 11-foot Squaretail.
Harrys' was not your typical surf shop; it was a combination retail store, surf museum, art gallery, shaping shop, political gathering spot and a place to talk story. Photos of customers with their new surfboards lined the walls of the shop as well as historical photos. Art pieces and sculptures were prominently featured and included work from many local artists who had a difficult time finding a place to display their work. Harrys' also carried Patagonia clothing and for many years Skip served as one of their ambassadors, along with the Queen of Makaha, Rell Sunn.
During the Harrys' era, Skip traveled to surfing events such as the Annual Biarritz Surf Festival in France in 1993 and 1994, and Da Bull's 4th Annual Surf Legends Classic at Kuta Beach, Bali in 1994, organized by the legendary big wave rider, Greg Noll. Skip and Hank also participated in local fundraising events such as the Annual Moores UCSD Cancer Center Longboard Invitational and Luau.
In 1995, Skip and Donna founded Surfer's Tired of Pollution (S.T.O.P.) an environmental organization dedicated to protecting the ocean and preserving coastal resources.
In 2000, Harrys' Surf Shop was evicted from its ocean view location so the developers could build another hotel at the beach. Skip and Donna moved Skip Frye Surfboards to its current location, slightly inland, and Hank Warner returned to shaping at Diamond Glassing. Donna ran for a seat on the San Diego City Council in 2001 and won. That same year, she won the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association Environmentalist of the Year Award. Donna served as a city councilmember for almost 10 years and left office in December 2010 due to term limits.
Skip has two daughters, one son, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. He still shapes surfboards (except when the surf is good), and he still hand shapes each and every board that bears his name. He continues refining and designing surfboards and fins, and on occasion, still rides a Fibre-Flex skateboard. He surfs almost every day, always has a broom and trash picker-upper in his car for cleaning the beach and never uses a surf leash. And he has never lost his enthusiasm for finding the next wave to ride.
Films, Books and Honors
Photo by Tom Keck. All rights reserved.
Throughout the years, Skip has appeared in numerous films and books. Some of the books include Good Things Love Water, 1994, by Chris Ahrens, and The Glide, by Chris Bystrom, who said in the book's dedication: "...Skip is a gentleman of great humility. In two words he is the master glider of the modern era and this holds true no matter what size board he's riding. It is an Honor to dedicate this, my first book, to Skip Frye. This does not in any way, shape or form forgive Skip for making the cherry red fish I ordered........hot pink!"
Some of the surf films Skip has appeared in include: On Safari To Stay, by Steve Cleveland and Chris Ahrens, 1991; Liquid Stage; The Lure of Surfing, by Michael Bovee and Robbie Greaves, 1995; The Seedling, by Thomas Campbell, 1999; Changes and The Outsiders, 2002, by Walking on Water Foundation; Sprout, by Thomas Campbell, 2004; Glass Love, by Andrew Kidman, 2006; One California Day, by Jason Baffa, 2008, Into The Ether, a photo-book by Andrew Kidman, 2010, and The Still Point, by Taki Bibelas, 2011.
Skip has been humbled by the many honors he has received over the years from the surfing community. In the early '60s, Skip spoke on behalf of the surfers in accepting the dedication of Tourmaline Canyon, located both in Pacific Beach and La Jolla, as a surfing park at the official City of San Diego ceremony.
Over forty years later, in 2006, a surfer's memorial was constructed that would honor
" all surfers past and present, male and female, famous, and the unknown." Completed and dedicated in 2008, the words on the memorial include the inscription " Surf Well, Spread Aloha, Share Waves Without Judgement" and an etched photo of Skip surfing.
In 1990, Skip was honored at the Action Sports Retailer show held in San Diego as one of many Surf Pioneers. In 1991, he received the LeRoy Grannis Waterman's Award from the Oceanside Longboard Surfing Club, and was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame. In 1999, the Windansea Surf Club named Frye "Surfer of the Century", and in 2000, he was voted first in the Master's division in the Longboard Magazine Readers Poll. Skip was inducted into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame in December 2006.
On August 4, 2011, he was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame as a Surf Pioneer. Peter Townend made the presentation and the biography for the induction program stated in part: "...Frye's influence on surfing transcends many levels. And it could be argued that surfboard design in the USA progressed largely because of his innovation in the shaping bay. A smooth, polished surfer, Frye was renowned as a 'master of the undervalued art of trim - finding and holding a pure angle in the fastest part of the wave. His roots run deep..."
On July 26, 2013, Skip was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfers' Hall of Fame. "The Surfers' Hall of Fame pays tribute to those individuals who have made an indelible mark on the sport, industry and culture of surfing. Annually, tens of thousands of visitors travel to Huntington Beach's downtown area and literally walk in the footsteps of surfing superstars and legends from several eras."
On May 13, 2016 Skip was inducted into the Skateboarding Hall of Fame. He was recognized for his contributions in the '60s which included his competing in the International Skateboard Championships where he placed second in downhill slalom. Skip also rode and helped promote the G&S flexible skateboard which became known as the FibreFlex. In 2010, Skip joined up with G&S again to make skateboards. He created two templates- one for a longer board and one for a shorter board. Both were FibreFlex and were limited editions. He still skateboards and said in a December 2015 article in Surfer Magazine," Let me tell you, the legs really go as you get older. But my legs feel like they're five years younger just because I've been riding skateboards."