We caught up with Pro wakesurfer and board shaper Todd Johnson.
Welcome to the Wake Surfing Podcast. I’m here with the legendary Todd Johnson. For those of you who don’t know, he’s a surfer extraordinaire of all types – ocean, wake… He’s also the mayor of Linda Mar.
Unofficial mayor of Linda Mar. I’m just throwing darts here but I’m guessing that’s where you are today.
Yeah. Yeah. Up on the hill overlooking the beach. Looking down… It’s a pretty nice day here in California. I got offshore winds and probably about three-to-six-foot waves depending on what side of the beach you’re on. It’s a beautiful day.
Were you out this morning?
Yeah. I got a couple of waves this morning. I went for a little longboard session. I’m still kind of tired. We had a big surf contest this weekend so I’m still kind tired and just went out and got a couple waves and cruised around.
Nice, man. Nice. Speaking of contests. That means you probably have some sponsors that you want to thank.
Yeah. Yeah. Nor Cal surf shop. They’ve been there since the beginning. They have always showed support for all the local guys and kids throwing a contest at least once a year. You know, supplying us with all the good brands and swag. Its where everybody got their first wetsuits and boards and stuff. And then, I got O’Neill wetsuits that supports not only me but my surf camp as well. We get all of our wetsuits and booties from them. We use a company called Froth, which is a soft top board company. I actually don’t have that many sponsors because I started making my own boards about 10-15 years ago. And so, I kind of didn’t need the board sponsor anymore. I just kind of do it on my own and now actually working full time for JZ surfboards. That’s also here based out of here Northern California, Halfmoon Bay now.
That’s awesome. I saw that on insta. It looks like you guys moved into a new shop. Gone are the days of the containers behind the concrete guys.
Yeah, the containers, the bins, the shit boxes as some refer to them. Yeah, we’re not back there freezing. We’ve got a full warehouse now, two stories, heated. My brother and I ran all the HVAC ventilation, Me and a couple of my buddies did all the build out, the electrical, all the framework and everything. We’re a fully functional production surfboard and contract glass shop, which is super cool.
Dude, that’s really, really awesome. I’m really stoked for you guys. You also have your own board company besides that. Johnson Board Co.
Yeah. Yeah. A pretty well-known company in the wake surf game. I started out back in 2011-ish, ’12. Me and a couple of my buddies started a company called Mendoesia Surf, which really hit the wake surf world big back then. We were the official board of the World Series of wake surfing for a number of years. I was already making my own surfboards for me and my friends and family under my Johnson Board Co label. We just incorporated the Mendoesia Surf [brand] into it. Once that kind of faded out a little bit, I just continued on with the Johnson Board Co brand. I’ve been doing anywhere from 50 to 150 boards a year going all over the country, even a couple international boards here and there.
That’s awesome dude. I actually think you have the best logo in all of all the wake surfing. One day, if I beg and borrow and do whatever, I’m confident I’m going to get a t-shirt.
Yeah, that elusive Johnson Board Co t-shirt. We have made something like 6 of them… I make surfboards, man. But the requests have been coming in for years and I feel bad. I feel like I owe it to the wake surf world to pop out some t-shirts with that logo on it because everybody’s always super stoked on it. I got to give props out to Mike Boyle. He’s one of my buddies. He’s a tattoo artist. He’s done all my logo work for me over the years… Yeah, he really knocked it out of the park with that logo. Stoked on it.
I just want number seven. You can stop making them after that. I just want that elusive shirt.
You mentioned your surf camp Pacifica. I’ve been down there. Seen it in action. I even saw your new van. The old one, I don’t know what it was. Was it a milk truck or something? Whatever it was it was the sweetest thing ever. But I understand the…
It was a Cheetos truck. You can still see the Cheetos on the side of it. It’s funny. You can still see the decals. But yeah, it was a Cheetos delivery truck that we converted into a surf camp van. It ran for us for about 17 years, I want to say. Rest in pieces on the coastline, and just completely rusted out to the point where I couldn’t drive it anymore. It would hit 22 miles an hour and start rattling and uncontrollably jerk the wheel out of your hand. And yeah, it wasn’t good. It also ran on propane and nobody would fill up a rusty propane tank anymore. So, there was that.
For people that don’t know, its journey was like, I don’t know, half a mile every day.
Yeah. By the time you came around it was not going far. Pretty legendary truck for sure. Everybody misses seeing it around.
I think you should have just given it to the beach. Just had it sit there.
I mean, It pretty much did. The new business is in town… They weren’t too stoked when it was just hanging out in the parking lot in front of them. Yeah, I tried to make it into a surf Museum but it didn’t really work. They weren’t buying it.
That’s awesome. You employ a ton of the kids around town and give them a bunch of stuff to do and then coach a million kids in the ocean. How many kids are you doing a year there? It’s quite the operation you got going on.
Yeah. I would say we have about 15 to 20 staff, obviously not working every day but that’s the staff that we do have available. On a normal pre-COVID year, we’d be running morning and afternoon surf programs. Thirty kids in in the morning and 30 kids in the afternoon. We also have a skateboard program that I actually started years before actually taking over the surf camp business. We’ll also run a skateboard program during the same time as our afternoon program with anywhere from 10 to 20 kids in that as well. So… it’s a week-long program. Most kids come surf in the morning. We eat lunch on the beach, and then go to the skate park. We are running anywhere from 60 to 80 lessons a day bassically. It’s quite the ordeal. We only do it for three months of the summer and we’re pretty burned out by August.
I would think that wrestling kids into wetsuits is a skill on its own. You got to be one of the most patient guys in the world.
Well, coming from the ocean, how did you get into wake surfing?
2010? It’s been quite a few years now. 2010 or 11, a couple of my buddies, they called me up and said we got this boat. It’s like a centurion Enzo or something like that. It makes a wave. We don’t surf much. We want you to come and show us how to surf behind this thing. You think you can figure it out and teach us? I said, “Sure.” I Headed up North to a Lake called Lake Mendocino and we fire this boat up and we weighted it down and start driving across the lake. All of a sudden, it’s perfect. We set it up on what the wake surf world would say is the goofy side. Surfers, we just call it a left because it would be turning and trimming left down line. I just see this perfect left hander behind the boat, which I’m a goofy foot and love those left handers. We called it Mendoesia because of the perfect left-hand waves behind the boat on Lake Mendocino. It exploded from there. Within a month or two of that we were going to this grassroots contest that used to happen out here called the West Coast Open. It actually became part of the Tige US Open of wakesurfing. One of the three stops of the US Open. In a couple of months we were out there with banners and shirts and boards. I’m competing with some of those early legends of the sport – Chase Hazen, James Walker. I’m not sure if the Flegel brothers were out there just because it was still a small contest but in the later years they were coming out. Dom Lagace, Caroline, and it just went from there. We ended up getting invited to the World Championships that year and by the next year we were the official board of the World Series of wake surfing and going to all the stops all over the country, Mexico, Thailand. It really blew up fast. It was crazy.
That’s pretty awesome. Not just with your wake surf career, but you were pretty instrumental in helping push along what some people might… well current pros that are extremely dominate. Ashley Kidd, Raleigh Hager, Chris Wolter. I think you probably worked with Jake Breedlove.
Yeah, yeah. There’s been a ton of kids I’ve been super fortunate to work with… They’re not kids anymore. They’re world champions and adults. Some of them have their own board companies and wake surf schools and stuff like that now. Yes. Going out to Austin and working with Ashley Kidd and Raleigh Hager has been, I mean, super cool, super rewarding.
I was there when Ashley was actually riding for Mendoesia. I was coaching her and shaping her boards. Them Raleigh came along and they got to go back and forth and battle for World titles. That was super cool to be involved in that. And then like you said, Jake Breedlove, Drew Drennan, I worked with a couple of times on his first year on tour, go out with his dad and just surf with these kids.
Everybody was so talented already. Just a little direction in competition, kind of the mental game, understanding the format and just, you know, giving them a little bit more on the style and the amplitude side of things, not just doing a trick, but making a trick look good. Being able to do it with more amplitude, bigger tricks. As the sport progressed and the judging criteria changed in that way from a form of judging that was really just… they were checking off the tricks that you did no matter how big or small or smooth you were landing them. If you completed the trick, you completed the trick. Well, it was really cool to watch that grow. They started judging it more in the way of a surf contest. I was really stoked to help them. Chris Wolter… you know, he’s from about an hour and a half away from here. We would get to work together once a week. I would go out and ride with him and his dad Frank in the Sacramento Delta and I was really able to dial him in and he’s still out there tearing it up. Him and Frank started their own board companies zombie surf. It’s just been cool to just watch the progression of all these kids and the progression of the sport. I’m super thankful, still travelling, still competing on it. Yeah, rad!
All of those riders that we talked about all have one thing in common and it’s when they do any reverse style trick like an air 180 or an air reverse, that tail gets so high in the air I can’t help but think that somebody I know was responsible for that.
Yeah, I think that started with Ashley. She was doing this on her air reverses. I can’t really claim that was all me because Ashley grew up with brothers surfing around Corpus Christi and stuff. They know what a good air reverse looks like but that tail up, nose down, kind of nose pick is just something I always loved. Seeing Ashley really come into her own and start pulling those off, I still say… I mean it rivals anybody’s… Her reverse rivals anybody. Same with Raleigh, Jake Breedlove, Chris Wolter. There’s another kid from California here, Hunter Clement. He absolutely boosts. I mean I’m pretty sure he’s got the world record highest frontside air on a wakesurf board. He has a good boat and a good wake behind it, you know. That also helps but yeah, that’s what I’m talking about. Doing those tricks… not just doing the trick like really doing it well and making it look good. Style.
All these guys kind of make it their own. They really truly do. You see a guy like Jake Breedlove ride. He’s got to have springs for legs. Like it’s the only reasonable explanation that he pops that high. Actually, Raleigh is pretty incredible when it comes to her own unique take on things. It’s not cookie cutter checking boxes.
Oh, yeah. No. They couldn’t be farther from each other. They’re not opposites but they definitely have their own unique style and way of just seeing a wave and looking at it. And, you know, putting together contest runs is never… it’s never the same with any of my riders. They all have their different strengths. You want the judges to see, you know… I want the judges to see what I see in my riders, you know.
Yeah. That’s one thing that kind of… I think it’s getting better. I know that we have the CWSA to thank for getting away from that point, just checking boxes and turning wake surfing into trick skiing is no good but I think that as the sport keeps evolving… We are getting more judges and they are getting better educated. They’re doing a really, really fantastic job. There are so many new people to the sport all around the world that I really hope it’s not lost, as the sport just keeps growing exponentially. The growth in wake surfing. You’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. It’s insane.
Yeah. I mean, when we first started out it was right when wake boats were a wakeboard boat that could be weighted down and had enough engine to be weighted down and still operate without blowing up motors and make a wave, you know and drive nine and a half, 10 and a half miles an hour underweight and not 20 miles an hour, right. And nowadays it’s like the surf boat… Like, how does it wakeboard? It used to be how does the wakeboard boat surf. Not all the companies but you know, the folks… wakeboarders are going to hate me for that one but I saw the shift in a lot of boat companies go, “All right. We need to make a surf boat.” I mean, honestly, wakeboarding for me… I used to do it back in the day before wake surfing. I haven’t touched it… and I haven’t had a concussion in a long-time from wakeboarding. We’re going 10 and a half miles an hour. We are surfing with no rope and don’t have as much impact anymore. Wake surfing is kind of for the whole family. Anybody can get out there and wake surf. I think the oldest person I taught how to wake surf… I taught a 72-year-old woman one time in Austin. And she did great. She was a really good athlete playing tennis and stuff like that. A very active woman but she picked it up like it was nothing. She used to ski and stuff so… she knew what was up. She’s probably still surfing right now. You’re not wakeboarding right now. At 72 years old, wakeboarding might be a little hazardous.
As a coach, I honestly find days like that are some of the most rewarding. You still think about that day. You’re like, “She’s 72. I taught her to surf.” You can’t think back to certain days with a lot of crews on the boat. You’re like, “Yeah, they all blend together. But that? Like, that’s special.”
That’s definitely one of those days. There’s been so many times when I just find myself somewhere in the middle of America going, “How did I get here?” This woman, 72 years old. I’m in Austin, Texas under the 360 Bridge. I got Raleigh driving the boat. She’s a two-time world champion. How did this all happen? It’s just so cool. Super thankful and blessed for those opportunities.
Yeah, I think that’s probably the best way to look at is to kind of take a step back and just enjoy the ride. It’s pretty awesome.
Right. I’m still surfing every day.
And my teachers in high school said I couldn’t.
Well, yeah. Yeah. I’m 37 now. Unless you’re Kelly Slater, you’re not really making a living as a professional competitive surfer at my age. That just wasn’t in the cards for me, but I still get to put on a wetsuit every day or vest or what not and do my thing. Still surfing as a career. It’s my dream.
Absolutely dude. You are truly living the dream. Speaking of dreams. Let’s go back to Texas. Tell me you’ve been to BSR and all that crazy dream that that thing is.
Yeah. Talk about those times when you find yourself… I find myself in the middle of America. Actually, I’ve been to BSR number of times. Their old director of surf operations, Shane Magnuson, we met a long time ago. He was on a Body Glove trip. We both were riding for Body Glove Wetsuits. We became friends and he calls me up one day, he goes, “Yeah. I’m going to be running surf operations at this wave pool in Waco. I’m going to be moving there from Maui. What do I do?”
And so, I came up and he showed me the pool. It wasn’t actually the first time I dealt with the wave pool. When Doug Coors opened inland surf park in Austin. I actually got introduced to him through Raleigh Hager’s dad, JB. We took him out on the boat and we went surfing. He actually had me come out and work. I was already running the surf school here in Pacifica, and he had me come out and train a lot of his staff for inland surf park. So, knowing Shane and then also meeting Stuart Parsons, who’s the owner of BSR in Waco. They did the same thing. I came out and checked out the facility and just kind of brainstormed with Stuart about how a session kind of gets run. How do you do lessons? How many people you should have in the pool? What are the currents like? It’s the first time these things are getting done. So, it was kind of like, “I don’t know. Turn it on. Let me in there.”
Yeah, I’ve been out there a bunch. I’m going to actually head out there probably next month or as soon as it warms up and opens back up. Hoping you know, everything’s all COVID safe and I can travel. Yeah. Those places, the wave pool, is amazing. We’ve done some big trips with a bunch of the boys from here. Pacifica, Halfmoon Bay. We’ve gotten out there and it’s a blast. Stay on site in the cabins. They have a swim up pool bar right next to the wave pool. You’re screaming. Howling for your friends getting waves. It’s pretty epic. It’s an oasis for sure in the middle of Texas.
I cannot wait to the day that we can travel again, man. I miss seeing you. At some point, I’ll get back down there. Or maybe we’ll just meet up somewhere even warmer.
Maybe we’ll head out. Shane’s got a new pool out in Palm Springs. That sounds kind of nice.
That’s not too far from where I normally spend winters. Only about a three-and-a-half-hour drive.
I’m about six. I don’t know. Maybe more than six hours away. I haven’t driven to Palm Springs in a long time. I don’t play golf so…
Well, now you can take up golf and just surf in the mornings and then golf in the afternoons.
Right. Yeah, absolutely.
Live that country club lifestyle. Is that the one he’s doing with Kalani Rob?
Yeah, Kalani. I’ve only seen footage. I haven’t been invited yet. Shane, if you’re watching this…
I’ve seen some sneak peek vids. I’m not going to lie. I’m doing the math. Three and a half… I could probably go once a week for this day of the week, just clear the schedule out. So, yeah. Hopefully. If you get an invite, let me know if it’s good. And then, I’ll let you push me into some waves.
Well, this has been awesome. I really appreciate it.
Good to talk to you. We really can’t wait. Like you said, to travel again and see people again because I do miss all my friends all over the country.
Yeah. We will. Let’s do this again. Hopefully in the next couple months here, we can catch up. Let’s talk board design.
Absolutely. I’ll take you down and give you a tour of the new facility down there. You’ll love it. Right at halfmoon Bay down by the world-famous Mavericks big wave surf spot, which we had incredible year this year. It’s insane.
I saw a bunch of the footage. I know people throw out the word “all time”. But it could have been this year. Was there a bunch of records broken there they figure?
We had probably the biggest cleanest surfable day. Some of my buddies got some really big waves. Peter Mel from down in Santa Cruz… Probably one of the biggest most well written waves ever. I mean, just there’s too many to count. I mean, just some of my boys – Travis Payne and Collin Dwyer. They were absolutely sending it. There’s so many guys that are so good now and with the life vests, the rescue team, you know. Water Safety here is absolutely insane.
Yeah, Kai Lenny would be… Kai Lenny would have been dead about 17 times if it wasn’t for the rescue team, I’m sure.
Yeah. No. Those guys are hands down the best in the world.
The real heroes.
Yeah. No, for sure. The hero’s heroes.
Exactly. Well, dude. This has been a blast. This has been fun. Thank you.
Yeah. Right on, man.
We’ll talk to you soon, buddy.
All right you guys. See you guys later.