As a surfer, you form a special bond with the craftsman making your board. They know how and where you surf and use that knowledge to create your dream ride. Shapers, like Spring Lake native Charles Mencel (@mencel_surfboards), are a dying breed. A lifelong surfer, Mencel started building his own boards in 2003 and over the years has become a local legend. Every board, whether a retro fish or classic longboard, is designed specifically for East Coast waves. He might spend two months hand-shaping an order and still personally tests every single design.
Here, Charles dishes on what makes Jersey’s surf scene so unique and gives some local love to the surf shops that stock his boards.
How would you describe Jersey surf conditions?
“Our waves are this unique paradox. They’re typically weak yet really steep. If you go to Hawaii or California you can find slow, peeling waves.”
Why is having the right board so critical for surfing in New Jersey?
“When the wave isn’t powerful, it’s hard to get into. But then once you’re in you have this steep critical section to navigate. I design my surfboards to complement those conditions. The shapes get you into the wave quickly and are built so you can handle the steepness. Will another board work? Only when conditions are really, really damn good and that’s eight out of 10 days.”
What’s the best time of year to surf at the Shore?
“The season starts in the fall when we get the swell from the Atlantic hurricane season. Winter usually brings the biggest and best waves. April is a transitional month and it can also be a lot of fun.”
What are you suiting up in to keep warm?
“In fall I’m in a 3/2 wetsuit. Conditions are very Californian. But then temps precipitously drop off and I have to get out my 4 millimeter wetsuit and then the 5 mil and boots, gloves and a hood. You might start April in 4 mil conditions and be surfing in trunks by month’s end.”
What are your personal favorite board styles?
“I’m known for my fish. My personal favorites are on the opposite ends of the wave spectrum. I make these specialized 11 to 12-foot EPS gliders for ankle- to knee-high conditions. I call them cross-country surfboards and love riding them in the winter on those small days when no one else is out. You might paddle six miles in a session and you’ll feel great. I also love making really thick boards, like a 6’6” rounded pin, for those epic days of the year. I call them barrel boards as they’re shaped to handle hollow waves.”
Where can we find your boards?
Bare Wires, Spring Lake, NJ
“This place is run by two local surfers, Adam Holloway and Brian Smith, and it’s the heartbeat of our local Spring Lake surf scene.” @barewiressurfshop
Brave New World, Pt. Pleasant, NJ
“I bought my first used surfboard here as a kid so it’s pretty cool they now carry my boards. This place is the ultimate gear warehouse.” @bravesurf
Faria's Surf Sport, Long Beach Island, NJ
“Family-owned since 1969, this is a South Jersey surf institution.” @fariassurfsport
Pilgrim Surf + Supply, Brooklyn, NY
“Owner Chris Gentile brings in boards from top shapers around the world, including Australia, Hawaii, and Japan. It’s an honor to have my shapes in his shop.” @pilgrimsurfsupply