When brothers Bruce and Steve Wall paddled out at any of the premiere spots on the South Shore during the mid to late 80s, every grom out there knew one thing: No more set waves for me. They were great guys in the parking lot, but in the lineup they were all business. To this day, I'm not sure if I've ever been in the water with better paddlers. They also happened to rip better than pretty much anyone out there. Lucky for us groms, Bruce moved to San Diego and we only had one Wall brother with which to contend, but that was sort of like saying you only had to box one Spinks brother.
At fifty-eight, Steve still has a commanding presence in the water and he does so in the nicest way possible, but it's not like he's kindly giving waves out there. No, he takes what's his, fair and square. The fact of the matter is that the guy paddles like a machine. He's in better shape than most guys in their 30's (me included). He's always Johnny-on-the-spot for the biggest and best set waves. His swooping fade-back bottom turn is nothing short of iconic around the South Shore. I can't tell you how many times he used the maneuver back in the day to stuff me or a friend. He did it so gracefully that it was impossible not to respect and admire him for it from the whitewater. Steve also has a great top turn, but more impressive is his deep love and respect for the ocean.
Steve and his brother Bruce grew up in Hingham, MA. Their father Wes was a doctor specializing in physical medicine rehabilitation. He was also an avid outdoorsman who took his sons on numerous camping and fishing trips throughout New England. In 1965, he bought Steve's older brother a 9'8” Greg Noll at Diver's Den in Weymouth. That weekend, the family drove to Horseneck Beach. Steve borrowed his brother's Greg Noll and it was love at first glide. Shortly after, his father bought Steve a 9'6 Hansen and for the rest of the summer would drop him off at Nantasket Beach every morning on his way to work. Steve's mother would pick him up in the afternoon, but during those hours in between a thirteen year-old Steve would become immersed in the vibrant Nantasket surf scene of the late 1960's.
There were three major surf shops in Nantasket back in those days—the Hobie, Challenger, and Webber shops. Steve wandered his way into Roger Crawford's locally renowned Hobie shop. By 15, he was on the Hobie team and already one of the best surfers on the South Shore. Roger would pile Steve and other young surfers into his Dodge Power Wagon and take them on trips all over New England, even as far down as Virginia Beach. Riding his Hobie Mini, Steve was a top performer in ESA events, regularly qualifying for the ESA finals. Rumor has it he once beat Mike Hynson due to the Endless Summer star's tripping on acid during the heat. When I asked Steve about this, he just shrugged and with a modest smile said, “Ask Roger. I don't remember anything.”
Steve has always been an extremely affable person. He loves talking waves. He loves talking board design. This made him a valuable asset in the surf-thriving 60's. Joe Crossen of Challenger East recognized this in Steve and at 16 offered him the deal of any South Shore surfer's lifetime. He paid Steve twenty dollars a week to ride for Challenger. Mind you, this was back in 1968. Gas cost .33 cents per gallon and burgers .25 cents. In today's market, that's the near equivalent of $130 per week. Can you imagine anyone in New England, teen or adult, getting paid $500 a month to surf? Not in their wildest and wettest dreams.
There were lots of people losing their way in the late 60's but Steve always found a balance. He did learn how to sign his mother's name and would excuse himself from school whenever the waves were good. He always managed to earn high grades and would spend a year at U Mass-Amherst where he would earn dean's list freshman year. That summer, however, Steve decided that Western Massachusetts wasn't for him.
“I decided to leave in good standing,” Steve jokes, “before it was too late. I had to get myself to the coast.”
In 1971, Steve took a year off and went to Biarritz with fellow surfer Bill Graham. They met Cape Cod surfer/shaper Mike Losordo there. To this day, Steve claims the trip as one of his favorites due to both the cultural offerings of France and its formidable waves. Upon returning, Steve began riding for Losordo's then Losordo and Wirick label. Steve attests that he was done with contests by then. He didn't like missing good waves at premiere spots just so he could compete in lesser quality beach break. While he appreciated and enjoyed the boards he had received from both Hobie and Challenger, Steve was suddenly reaping the benefits of riding custom-made equipment. Losordo eventually developed into his Hawaiian Moon brand and Steve has ridden nothing else since.
Steve returned to college only this time opting for something closer to the coast. While at URI, he met boat builder Peter Olson. Along with some other friends, they decided to build their very own catamarans. They cut and milled their own oak, cedar, and spruce for the project. Building three boats at once, Peter's was the first finished. Steve met his eventual wife Peggy during the process. Within a year or two of meeting, he and Peggy started flat-water canoe racing together and today run a successful woodworking business out of a newly built workshop on their quaint sliver of paradise in Pembroke. The catamaran is under wraps aside the house.
In 1980, Steve discovered another way to enjoy the ocean while at the same time pushing himself against its forces. A good friend and master rower, Ed McCabe introduced Steve to the sport via the Hull Lifesaving Association. Always up for a contest, Steve began entering races with Ed and others in fiberglass gunning dories. Similar to his days of surf competition, Steve traveled all over the Northeast performing well and winning events.
“I've always enjoyed competition,” he says. “You meet so many interesting people and got to see so many unique boats. There was always something new to see and learn and you're always traveling to places you'd otherwise never get to visit.”
It's that mentality that exemplifies Steve's truly unique blend of competitiveness and grace. He seems to do everything for the right reason and it all stems from his love of the ocean. Whether it be catching a few hundred pounds of cod out of a canoe or dropping into a triple overhead bomb, Steve is the consummate New England waterman. Ten years ago, my friend Mike Walsh was a few miles out pulling lobster traps when he motored upon Steve out having himself a row. It wasn't summer and the waters weren't dead calm. Steve gave Mike a nonchalant wave and shouted something about there being decent waves in a few days. When Mike told me about the encounter a few days later, we put it down on the long list of daring ocean feats Steve has pulled to blow our minds, most of which I can't really share due to Steve's modesty and his not wanting people to know just how crazy he might be, but I will betray my word to him for just one more example of his fierce abilities. He and his wife once rowed from Marshfield to the Boston lighthouse in the middle of January. Sorry, Steve, the world has to know how ballsy you are.
Steve is a monster, but he's a poised and classy monster, sort of like the X-Men hero Beast played by Kelsey Grammer. He's never scared anyone except for maybe the Atlantic itself. I've never met anyone who respects the ocean more and fears it less.
Cape Cod native Jason Feist was a product of the '80's surf resurgence. He got his 1st board at age 10 and learned to surf alongside the Sullivan and Zavorskas Brothers, Matt Richards, Brendan McCray, Steve Esterbrook, Seb Frawley, Tripp Taylor and many more. After graduating Nauset High School in 1991 he moved to California and began shaping in 1997. Fast forward to the present. Now he has a shop and shaping room in downtown Santa Barbara and if you paddle out at any of the point breaks in the Santa Barbara area, you'll see that most of the best surfers in the water are riding J7s.
Interview by Brendan McCray
- What can you say about growing up surfing in New England in the 80's and what was your most memorable board from that era?
Having grown up as a surfer in New England and the colorful cast of characters that made up that surfing community in the 80's, definitely left me with some of my life's best memories. The greatest part is that every time I go to visit my family and friends, all the characters are still there and are always hanging at the beach! My most memorable board from that era was a 6'2" Town and Country. The shape was pretty simple but it had the quintessential 80's airbrush. Another board that I will always remember was my first custom. It was a 5'10" Local motion swallow tail with glass on fins. I was so friggin happy when that board arrived. That was the first board that I ever got barreled on.
- What are your thoughts about the return of 80's style board design ala dumpster diver etc.?
Short, wide, thick with low rocker. Pretty hard to beat that recipe when the waves are a bit slower or you just want to up your wave count. I personally feel that by combining the proven design elements of the 80's with the refinements of the more modern shortboards, you can maximize both performance and efficiency.
- Compare making a board for a WQS/WCT surfer, to making one for an overweight, out of shape New Englander who surfs good waves only a handful of times a year?
Super Size it! Haha, just kidding. You mean the difference in making a board for say Bobby Martinez versus someone like you or I? Well, probably just making sure the volume is adjusted accordingly. For the most part, the Pros have always dictated what we ride at some level. The difference being that when you surf everyday and are in top physical condition for surfing, you can sacrifice volume for performance. When your schedule only allows you to be on it when the waves are good or you have time, some extra foam can really help a surfer get the most out of a session. But overall, the basic design elements are always going to be similar. The trick for the shaper is to hide the volume in a way that does not sacrifice any performance.
- I noticed on your website you that you mentioned Mike losordo (aka Wolfman, aka Treasure Mike aka Big Guy) of Hawaiian Moon surfboards as one of your shaping mentors. I checked that out with Mike and here's what he had to say, " the only thing I taught that little f___ was to mow lawns, to f****n work and to stop kissing up to the old ladies we worked for." What can you tell us about that? Kind of a Mr. Myagi/ karate kid thing?
Hahaha! Well if that is not mentoring, I dont know what is. He taught me how to mow lawns and now I mow foam! As far as his other two lessons, well the one is a no brainer and if I didn't kiss up to the old ladies and left the customer relations up to Mike, we would have both been fired! So yeah, definitely a Karate Kid/Mr. Myagi thing going on there.
- Did you ever own a pair of Clam Diggers in the 80's?
No, I came from a family of well diggers not clam diggers. So I always wore jeans and work boots. But, I think that will be what we call J7's newest board model "The Clam Diggah"
- How do you compare living and surfing in CA to Cape Cod?
When I moved to California almost 20 years ago, I came in search of warmer weather and more consistent surf. Its funny though because my most memorable sessions are all from growing up on Cape Cod or from visiting my family there and scoring some good ones at my old home breaks. Good swells are definitely more common here in California, but there sure is something special about surfing in the Northeast.
- 10 years from now what do you hope to be doing?
First and foremost, living in good health and surrounded by my family and friends. Obviously surfing every chance I can and by working hard and always refining my board designs, I hope to have established J7 as a highly respected and recognized Surfboard brand.
- Any thoughts on the ASP on Long Island?
It is pretty cool that the ASP has decided to run an event on Long Island. The surfing that is going on right now at that level is incredible and it will be good for the younger generations of NE surfers to have the opportunity to see first hand the athleticism and skill the best surfers in the world have.
- What advice would you give to a young aspiring NE shaper?
Hmmm. Well first off, have fun with shaping. It is an amazing part of surfing when you made the board you are riding. The NE may not be the most consistent place on Earth to be a surfer, but there is still a wide variety of wave types and conditions and that is a great resource for a shaper to experiment. The next bit of advice is that if you are looking to make a career out of building surfboards, especially in the NE, have a good back up plan. It is a labor of love, not money.
- What is the story behind the J7 Logo?
I was born at Cape Cod Hospital on 7/7/73. The logo represents the day my amazing parents brought me into the world! July 7th.
- Are there any new designs that you are working on right now?
I am always refining and making adjustments to our existing line-up of board models. But most recently I have been working on a shortboard template that has been going good for many of my friends and team riders. It has a slightly fuller outline and a mellow rocker for glide and speed. It does not have a name yet so maybe it will become the "Clam Digger"
- Anything else you want to add?
Just if that you are surfing out on the Cape and a guy starts asking you a bunch of questions about what boards you ride and if you ever heard of J7? It is most likely my Dad. He has been known to patrol the beaches checking out who is riding what! He is also quite the salesman so watch out!
- Oh yeah! Where is the best place to find J7 Surfboards in the Northeast?
Check out Nauset Sports this summer in Orleans, Ma or Island Surf and Sports in Newport, RI. You can see more at www.j7surfdesigns.com or reach out to our NE sales Rep. Rob Jones @ 401-212-7457 Rob's Email is
- One last question. There's been a lot of debate in the surf forums about what color surfboard is the fastest. What do you have to say?
Probably the one with the racing stripes.