How shaper Jose Barahona quietly became one of the sport’s most prodigious surfboard makers
by Morgan Sliff
You can feel the power in the room. As you carefully step across snow piles of blank shavings, the sweet smell of resin filling your nose, your eyes are pulled to relics past and present — various tattered surf pictures masking-taped to the walls, old ‘60s boards strewn about and hanging from jerry-rigged ropes attached to the ceiling. Turning, you get a slight peek in the glassing room through the back door. Brig
ht colors from the tinted resin bombard you, splashed across the brick wall and bubbling up from the cracking floor.
And then you look up and see Jose Barahona. His tanned skin white with foam dust, he takes his mask off and is already smiling, the creases of time and happiness in his face deepening as you move forward to embrace in a handshake or a hug. The room starts to fade out of sight as Barahona captivates you. He talks with a soft-spoken confidence, ready to spend as much time as necessary to create a masterpiece, the board you’ve only surfed in your dreams, as he has been doing for hundreds of the South Bay’s best surfers for the past 30 years.
Barahona slid into the surf scene in 1981, making his way to the beach from humble beginnings in El Salvador, a country that had just fallen into civil war. His journey began when he was hired to sweep up foam leftovers of boards churned out by Phil Becker and other historic South Bay shapers, shortly after Becker Surfboards opened its doors in 1979. The gang of three – Dave Hollander, Steve Mangiagli, and Phil Becker — founded the business and took over the space in the tucked away “shaper’s alley” on Cypress Avenue in Hermosa, originally built by Rick Stoner, founder of Rick Surfboards, in the 60’s. Still in high school, Jose would ride his tin can of a bike — lacking any sort of braking mechanism — over 25 miles from 3rd and Vermont in Los Angeles to get to the alley, using only the sole of his worn shoes to scrape across steep hills of asphalt, slowing him and his bike just enough from speeding into oblivion (there were, however, a few bad spills).
His dedication and stoke of the surf lair kept him pedaling through the exhausting ride every day. Eventually he had to take a second job, up the street at a food supply company, working graveyard and returning to the shop at dawn, and often spending long hours on Cypress before his night shift started.
“After a while working there I was able to get a motorcycle – a little 125 Endura, and would ride through storms and get soaking wet,” Barahona said. “But it was a lot better than riding that bicycle.”
Barahona moved quickly from sweeping to hand-sanding. As Hollander became overwhelmed with the volume of airbrushing the burgeoning venture was requiring, he decided to show Barahona the delicate art of the airbrush stroke. Soon thereafter he delegated board artwork to Barahona. After six years apprenticing in this manner, Barahona left his second job at the food supply company and set his sights on eventual independence. He started his own ding repair shop directly across the street from the shaping room.