Winning at Malibu, and nearly killed at Sunset on Phil’s boards

by Mike Purpus

In the early ‘70s, I surfed for W.A.V.E. Hollow Surfboards, run by Carl Pope. The surfboards were made from aluminium honeycomb and were impossible to ding. The surfboards were like today’s Firewire Surfboards only stronger. But the aesthetics were not as nice as other boards, so sales slumped. To boost sales, Carl told me he needed me to win the upcoming Malibu Invitational Surfing Championships. He asked who I wanted to make the mold plug for my model. I told him I wanted Phil Becker.

Phil and I worked together on a 6-foot-4, fish-shaped swallow tail, single fin with a slight concave in the bottom of the tail. On the day of the contest, Malibu was a perfect 4-foot and Phil’s design rode like a really loose skateboard. It was fast but slid out perfectly into my roundhouse cutback. I won the contest and Phil’s WAVE Hollow model became our best seller. 

Phil never looked like your typical surfboard shaper. The tall, slender, balding character with a giant handlebar mustache that curled up at both ends looked like he should be working at Disneyland in The Barber Shop Quartet. He went bald in high school, he said, because he grew faster than his hair. Phil didn’t have a gram of fat on him and ate a tuna fish or peanut butter sandwich he brought to work everyday in a brown paper bag. He loved to surf when the waves had size but loved to shape even more.

In the ‘60s he started making Bing surfboards with his best friend Mike Eaton. Mike stayed with Bing and Phil went with Rick Surfboards. I thought it was kind of weird because Bing and Rick were partners before splitting up after they got run off The Strand at 15th Street in Hermosa Beach by the city council for sweeping their foam shavings on to The Strand everyday. 

Phil became Rick’s main shaper and surfboard designer. He worked with Dru Harrison on his Rick Improviser model and then Rick’s Barry Kanaiaupuni model. When Rick’s board sales started slowing down, Phil and Ron Garner got together and designed the Rick UFO model, which became one of the ‘60s most popular longboards. I hated the board after one of them hit me in the back of my head, resulting in 54 stitches and keeping me out of the water for half the summer.

Phil also shaped surfboards for Val Surf, Natural Progression, Reef Surf Shop and many more up and down the coast. In Hawaii, he made surfboards for the Bronzed Aussies and Duke Kahanamoku winner Jeff Hackman. 

Phil shaped the perfect surfboard rail, which could only come from shaping more boards than anyone else. You could jump on a Becker board and surf it like you had been riding it for  months. It was the perfect egg bottom contour, with no hard edge and nice tail rocker. Phil was always ope minded, pushing the limits with the Bonzer design from the Campbell Brothers. He made me one that almost killed me riding Sunset but worked well at Pipeline. ER

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Written by: Mike Purpus

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