Z-boys founder Jeff Ho displays his latest surfboard creations in Mar Vista
By Michael Aushenker
Jeff Ho is a man in the present.
Stacy Peralta’s 2001 documentary “Dogtown and Z-Boys” and the Peralta-written 2005 Heath Ledger feature “Lords of Dogtown” brought mainstream awareness to the story behind the evolution of extreme skateboarding and the legendary skate/surf team Ho sponsored through his Zephyr Productions, including Tony Alva, Peggy Oki, Peralta and the late Jay Adams.
But beyond acknowledging those movies’ success in chronicling Venice’s role in skateboarding history, Ho is not interested in talking about what they got right or wrong. He’s focused on the same agenda he started with in his teens: creating skateboards and surfboards.
Eight of Ho’s handcrafted surfboards — descendants of his own “magic board” that Ho considers functional pieces of art — are on display through Tuesday at Christine Nichols’ intimate art and event space on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista.
Since the late 1960s, Ho has fashioned surfboards for a who’s who of professional surfers, including Usen Gusman, Craig Freebairn, Johnny Fish, Gary Gonzalez and Michael “Badger” Meier.
Several of the 10-foot-2-inch single-fin long-boards in the Nichols show are directly derived from “The Board,” a creation of his in the 1990s during a decade-long residency in Hawaii that tapped out in the mid-2000s.There are also 9’1” versions. Ho shaped and painted each of the boards by hand, including colorful designs, ghost striping and both his graffiti-style “Jeff Ho” emblem and “Zephyr” logo on them, with the fins supplied by his buddy Bill Bahne’s Fins Unlimited.
One of the biggest surprises to emerge from a conversation with Ho: Sure, Bruce Brown’s iconic “The Endless Summer” remains his favorite surfing film of all time, but it was a less obvious movie — 1959’s “Gidget” — that sparked him to join the surf culture. When he saw characters in the movie crafting boards on sawhorses on the beach, “it clicked in my head and I’m running and I’m building surfboards,” said Ho. He later got to know the real-life counterparts to the characters in the fictionalized Sally Field comedy based on Malibu teen Debbie Kohner-Zuckerman.
As a youth, Ho trekked out to Venice by bike or bus to surf with friends. His favorite surf spot was the breakheads at P.O.P., a.k.a. Pacific Ocean Park, long before its slow 1970s demise.
Food-wise, the main hangout was on Ocean Front Walk between Navy Street and Rose Avenue at what he and his buds called “the German Place” (it was German-American owned), which served generous breakfasts for 99 cents. Ho thinks On the Waterfront Café stands at the location today, but he’s hazy on that because
“the topography has changed so much,” he said.
Cora’s Café in Santa Monica and Tito’s Tacos in Culver City were other mainstays, but these days Ho and fellow surfers convene on Washington Boulevard in Marina del Rey for breakfast at Mercede’s Grille.
“That place is the bomb!” he said.
Ho divides his time between Venice and the North Shore, where he has opened several surfboard production shops. He misses the islands when he’s not surfing in Wiamea Bay, but he still loves Venice and Dogtown, despite gentrification pains in recent years.
“What are you gonna do about it? You’re either gonna cry about it or… I know so many people here in the culture that I have grown up with,” he said.
Ho, however, doesn’t perceive a positive cultural contribution from the influx of creatives surfing the web for Silicon Beach.
“I haven’t felt it,” he said. “It takes a little while for that stuff to filter down.”
The two smallest boards (six footers) featured in “The Board” include the very Ho model Allen Sarlo used earlier this year to weave in and out of the columns supporting the Venice Pier during swells generated by Hurricane Marie on Aug. 27, a.k.a. “Big Wednesday 2014.”
For Ho, it’s his trusty single-fin long-board that’s proved magical.
“This one has been good to me for the past 15 years,” he said, stroking his original — the one board on display that’s not for sale.
Going long or short with a board is a personal choice, he adds.
“Each person has a different set of circumstances: their weight, their height. Everyone has to find their own thing. Everyone who surfs can identify with that,” Ho said.
In some ways, time has not budged for Ho, who pretty much does the same things he did as a teen.
When he’s not making boards (unlike in the ‘60s, he paints them with non-lead pigments now), Ho still surfs up and down California, from Venice to Malibu to an Oxnard location he took an oath among the locals not to divulge.
“I thought my mindset would change. I thought I would quit by 35. No, I’m well beyond 35!”
“The Board” continues through Tuesday at the C. Nichols Project, 12613½ Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. Open noon to 6 p.m. daily, but closed on Sunday. Call (310) 915-1930 or visit cnicholsproject.com.