It has been a decade since Santa Barbara’s John Bradbury passed away. Taken from his family and friends at too early an age by leukemia, Bradbury was known around the world for being a visionary surfboard shaper and a damn fine surfer, to boot (not to mention an absolute demon on the baseball diamond). His Creative Freedom label enjoyed a practically cult-like following among Central California surfers throughout the 1960s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s, before winding up underneath the feet of some of the best surfers in the world, such as Cheyne Horan, Brad Gerlach, and Martin Potter, during the high-performance firestorm of the mid 1980s. To this day, Bradbury-shaped surf craft hold a special status in the quivers of Rincon regulars and international surfboard collectors alike-mystical machines that simultaneously demand preservation and scream to be ridden until they die. As Channel Island’s Al Merrick, arguably the most well-known surfboard maker in the world today, put it recently, “Bradbury was the man!”
This weekend at the Ventura County Fairground, the third installment of the Sacred Craft Surfboard Expo will honor Bradbury and his legacy. A two-day gathering of the tribe dedicated solely to surfboards and the people who make them, Sacred Craft is a decidedly un-corporate coming together in the day and age of machine-shaped, mass-produced wave riding vehicles. Started by Surfer Magazine editor Scott Bass in 2007, the Expo is a feel-good effort to preserve the soul of a sport that all too often seems to be drowning in a sea of big-business agendas and high-gloss marketing campaigns designed to make you open your wallet more than you paddle out.
Recalling his motivation for the first Sacred Craft in Del Mar, Bass explained recently, “I noticed a lot of shapers that weren’t being given any space on the racks at their local surf shops. These guys are the lifeblood of the surf culture, and they deserve some recognition.” In the short time since, the expo has grown exponentially each year, bringing in craftsman from across the country, attracting surfers of all ages and ilk, and rekindling the essential stoke surrounding the most basic of surfing ingredients-the surfboard. “When you boil it down, surfers only care about two things” said Bass, “waves and the equipment to ride them.” To that end, the Ventura installment of Sacred Craft promises to deliver the goods with hundreds of surfboards of all shapes and sizes on hand, shaping demos by people like Gerry Lopez in two shaping bays, and a test track right out front at C-Street for people to demo the menagerie of surf craft on hand.
As for the Bradbury tribute, Bass has invited five well-known 805-based craftsmen to come out and shape classic Bradbury boards, each one interpreting a separate calling card of Bradbury’s various eras of design in a unique live shape-off format. Matt Moore, Wayne Rich, Max McDonald, Randy Cone, and Marc Andreini-all world-class shapers in their own rights-will be on the scene, planers in hand, reinterpreting vintage Bradbury designs such as his classic big wave guns, his point break specific round-tails, and his groundbreaking work with EPS epoxy foams and resins. In years past, similar Scared Craft shape-offs have dished out a first-place prize to the “best” shaper, but this year the first-place $1,000 check will be cut to the nonprofit charity of Bradbury’s son, Josh’s, choosing. “At each Expo, with the tribute, we are looking to honor the real legends of our surfing community,” explained Bass before adding, “And once we knew we were going to be in the Santa Barbara area, John Bradbury was a no-brainer.”
The Sacred Craft Surf Expo is as the Ventura County Fairgrounds on May 16-17. Besides surfboards from around the world, the event will feature heaps of live music, a surfboard recycling program, shaping seminars, raffles, and, hopefully, waves out front. Admission is $5 and groms are free. For more info, check out surfboardshow.com.