How to honour someone that perhaps wouldn’t want me to make a fuss? A single minded, potty mouthed, charismatic, gifted and determined chap who would not like me calling him chap or even writing this.
I can almost feel his breath on the back of my neck. I know what he would want me to write, I know because we shared a passion, it’s something we talked about often, we shared an opinion almost. I never felt the need to check with Josh what his opinion might be, I just kind of knew. He got me and I got him, straight away. It doesn’t happen often in life but it did with us.
It also just so happened that Josh made my favourite things in the world, surfboards. To just say that he made surfboards was like saying Salvador Dali liked to paint. What Josh put into a board was, well, everything.
How did we meet? We didn’t. Never. Well, not physically.
Josh first sent me a message on Facebook about an article I wrote on a man called Bob Simmons, an absolute shaping legend from the 1950’s who never received any credit for his designs until 2005, a good fifty years after his early death. He was a massive fan of Bob’s work and a true student of great shapers of the past, their designs and how they could be implemented in surfboards of the future. Josh loved thinking outside the box and had the skills to take his ideas from drawing board and make them a physical reality.
The Starsky (pictured above) was mown out of a PU foam blank in the middle of the night by a man with a vision. Josh finished the board in a rush for a specific swell and only surfed it a couple of times, before lending it out to someone and promptly forgetting who. I was on Josh’s case to send the board out to us in Portugal for tesing and it looked like that opportunity had passed us by. About a year later, the board turned up looking brand new.
With the help of a visiting friend, custom board bags from Sea Folk and Boffle we got the Starsky here to Portugal in one piece. It is a truly amazing thing to hold, to paddle and to surf. It did not surf the way he intended but there was a part of it that was accidental genius. The long tail did something unexpected, it provided a huge amount of straight line speed and a lot of acceleration. Something very new indeed. There was a lot of other stuff going on with the Starsky but I can’t help thinking we had stumbled across something then. Something we could work on in the future. But now we can’t.
So how can I be so upset about him simply not being here any more? And that’s the crux of it. I find myself going to message him or leave him a voice message and then remembering I will never ever hear his cackling laugh or read his less than wholesome responses. Ever. The finality is something I am struggling with.
The Flexar pictured below is another one of Josh’s late night drawings. He phoned us one day about this idea, he was so excited. The idea for this board came from watching footage of Kelly Slater’s wave pool and the Surf Snowdonia wave pool. The Flexar was designed to work on a fatter wave pool like wave. The idea was that the two sides of the tail would flex independently during the turn and then ‘snap back’ into shape to provide greater drive and speed.
The Flexar was the product of more than 100 phone calls between us, countless messages and two versions over about 11 months. The board itself has never been surfed and is being modified to include an extra glass panel over the tail. I have a list of people waiting to test the Flexar and will keep you posted as to how it goes.
These are just two instances of his board building skills and what made him very different as a shaper and a person. Josh made many surfboards for a host of people, tons of special projects and he had a skill for restoring old boards, seeing the beauty and the heritage that each one held. I know many of you have stories of Josh and how he changed your lives, because I have heard some of them. I encourage you to share them again and again, it is one way to a type of immortality.
There were many projects we talked of together including one that involved a charity which helped get kids off the street and set them up as competitive surfers, get them sponsored and give them a shot at the stars. He would provide the boards, I would provide the contacts for the sponsors and do their PR. Maybe this was part of the Josh that people did not know quite so well.
It was obvious that he was talented and funny but above all he was just a very very decent bloke.
I had no idea that Josh struggled with depression or any other form of mental illness, he just seemed like a quirky, funny guy that was full of ideas and life. Part of me feels sad that I could not help him and that I never knew he had troubles of this magnitude.
What I would say to Josh if I could:
“ I know you would have secretly liked me to have written something, I know what you stood for and how you saw the surfing world. I share it and will help keep it alive
I feel sad that I never got to tell you directly what effect you had on my life and how much I valued you opinion and your sense of humour.
No doubt you would have something to say at the end. Something rude, something final, something to make us all chuckle and above all something that would not spare our feelings.
You will be missed dude.”
I like to think, and this might be a little whimsical on my part, that Josh (like Bob Simmons) was a genius born before his time. I’d like to think that in fifty years time, someone will dig out the Starsky or the Flexar and see within the designs, the functional genius that make up it’s parts.
I am saying this because I know Josh looked up to Simmons and would love to be remembered like this. Also because it’s true. Rest well my friend.