People in the Outdoors – Owen DeMasi – July 2015

Hello, and welcome to my first installment of the monthly blog post, “People In The Outdoors.”  This section of my blog is meant to recognize people I think are killing it in outdoor sports.  Rather than limiting it to hiking, this section will include all outdoor sports and athletes.  Many of these people inspire me to try to be better, push my limits, and continue to learn in my outdoor pursuits and my sport of choice, hiking.

OD!
OD!

In honor of my very first post, I felt it was appropriate to choose the person I know best:  my twin brother, Owen DeMasi (more commonly referred to as “OD”)!  There are various reasons I have decided to feature my very own brother.  First, I think his dedication to his sport of choice, surfing, is unparalleled and inspiring.  Second, he’s my brother, and that’s reason enough.  Third, he just came to visit me in Seattle, so he was the first person I was able to contact and talk to about writing an article about them. I remember my brother’s interest in surfing starting at a fairly early age, as he would rent surfboards yearly as we spent our family vacations in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I feel that Owen was born to be on a board.  Throughout our childhood, he always excelled at board sports, most commonly skateboarding and snowboarding.  However, as we grew, it was clear to see his interest in surfing became significantly greater with the passage of time.

OD and his first board
OD and his first board

Which brings us to today.  Owen’s love of surfing has taken him to beaches near and far, including Rhode Island, North Carolina, California (where he once met pro surfer Dane Reynolds in a hotel lobby in Los Angeles), Washington state, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua.  He has not let living in a surfless state, Connecticut, affect his passion and his pursuit of it.  In fact, his time spent away from the beach is dedicated to surfing as well.  Owen spends countless hours reading about surfing and watching surfing videos to draw inspiration from locations across the world, the history of the sport, and the sports’ most iconic athletes (his favorite surfer being Phil Edwards) and industry professionals (his favorite shaper being Gene Cooper, and favorite glasser being Moonlight Glassing Co).  Most impressively, however, is that all this time has culminated into his own personal, and usable, expression of his love of the sport.  He, in fact, shapes, builds, repairs, and rides his own surfboards!  I believe this all began, when he acquired his first surfboard, a 7 foot 6 inch, Murphy Shapes board.  The board was not in perfect condition, so he needed to perform some repairs.  Owen did some very rudimentary epoxy repairs to the outside to prevent water from entering the inside of the board.  While his skills were new at this point, his intention was attentive and sincere.  He didn’t want to fix it quickly, but fix it right.  Turns out, he fixed it in a way that was effective, but wrong.  Thankfully, he is no longer making the same mistakes.  However, when I asked him how his interest in shaping and building began, he said he began reading about home projects online, saw what other people were doing, and thought he’d give it a shot himself.  However, Owen didn’t jump right to modern day surfboard building, but instead chose to explore the ancient roots of surfing.  His first project was a wooden Paipo, a Hawaiian ancestor to the surfboard, more similar to a bellyboard or boogie board.  Next was a wooden Alaia, another finless predecessor the surfboard, but one meant to be ridden on two feet.  Next was a foam Alaia, being a perfect transition to his modern surfboard shaping, which includes full sized, from blank to shaped, polyester and epoxy foam longboards.  Not to mention a few wooden hand planes for body surfing and constant repairs for himself and friends alike.  Owen claims the biggest satisfaction to building surfboards is being happy with what you do and having other people admire it too.  He says the most frustrating part about it is making mistakes and having to figure out how to fix them, and getting rashes from the harsh chemicals and resins used in production.

repairs in the workshop
repairs in the workshop, photo cred Ryan Cutter http://www.ryanccutter.com

Owen’s Current Lineup:

7’6″ Murphy Shapes Semi Gun

9’6″ Scott Anderson Brothers Marshall

5’8″ Chris Carroza Modern Fish

4′ wooden Paipo by self

6’8″ wooden Alaia by self

6’2″ foam Alaia w/ fins by self

10′ John Hannon, reglassed by self

9’4″ Pig by self

wooden hand planes by self

I admire this aspect of Owen’s dedication to surfing most.  In fact, the reason I can relate to it has do with mountains, not surfing.  Being a fan of mountain culture and history, I am constantly reminded about stories of Yvon Chouinard (owner of Patagonia), teaching himself blacksmithing, making his own climbing tools, selling them, and starting a business.  Or Doug Tompkins, formerly the owner of the North Face, inventing the first tent to use bendable poles.  I always think about how cool it would be to create my own gear, particularly when I have strong critical opinion about the design of a certain piece of gear.  However, I have continually made excuses not to address my own gear needs and designs:  “I don’t have the skills,”  “I don’t have the proper tools or materials,”  “I don’t have the time.”  Owen never made these excuses.  He didn’t have the skills when he first began, but he learned.  He made the time.  And he used the money made from his hard work to purchase the proper materials and tools.  He followed in the footsteps of the likes of Yvon Chouinard, and I’m sure many surfers/surfboard shapers, and turned his passion into his craft.  Not to mention, I have learned from Owen how much precise skill and artistry goes into a handmade surfboard.  Each board is designed specifically for a certain type of surf, geography, riding style, rider body type, and quite frankly, just damn good looks.  It is fascinating how the influence and vision of each shaper plays out to become a beautiful, usable, work of art.  A great surfboard is less like an assembly line piece without character, but more like a fine painting or perfectly composed meal by an extraordinary chef.  It is a combination of conscious decisions and great parts to assemble an extraordinary whole.  However, much like art or food, not every surfboard is for everyone.  Taste and style play a critical role for both the shaper and rider.  Owen claims that his current shaping style is representative of classic 1960’s and 1970’s surfboards.  It has been amazing to see Owen pursue this art with absolute love and dedication.

paddling with a smile
paddling with a smile

But ultimately, like hiking, surfing is about being outside, interacting with and becoming a part of nature.  So let’s get out of the workshop, and into the water.  As anyone who hikes knows, not everything goes according to plan.  One of Owen’s funniest surf stories involves a particularly big day at Point Judith, Rhode Island, a place Owen considers to be his favorite surf spot, gone slightly awry.  On this day, he was going out into the surf with his former college roommate, Matt.  It was an October day in 2014 and Hurricane Gonzalo was roaring.  It was one of the biggest days they had ever tried to go out in.  It took particularly long to paddle through the rough surf.  They paddled out for about 45 minutes to try and get to the farthest tip of the point.  I can’t think of one thing, particularly involving such a consistent and strenuous movement of my arms, that I could do for 45 minutes straight.  Despite the challenge, they paddled out.  Upon reaching their desired location, they got rocked by what Owen describes as “probably the biggest wave we’d seen all day.”  After spending a significant amount of time being rolled around under water, both Owen and Matt popped up, rejoined each other and decided being out there might not have been their best idea.  Without even attempting to catch a wave, they pointed the noses of their boards towards the beach and paddled right back in.  Owen says “we kind of got our stuff handed to us.”  To top it all off, on that same day, Owen both stepped on glass and got a bee sting in his right foot.  Thankfully, they got in a little later that day, and just messed around on the smaller, inside waves.  The way Owen tells the story is probably funnier than I have described here, but anyone involved in outdoor sports can relate to those days where they get out there, only to realize they’d rather not be there (despite their love of the sport).  Sometimes, you have to swallow your pride, follow your mood, and hang up your boots, or in this case, put up your surfboard.  However, Owen’s instincts and mood have also led him to extraordinary days in the surf.  He claims his favorite ride of all time happened at Jaco Beach, in Costa Rica.  He was riding a rented 9 foot 6 inch polyester thruster surf board.  He had been spending his entire summer in Costa Rica, trying different boards and figuring out the intricacies and nuances of many different surf spots.  Finally, a big wave came and he caught it.  He got a long ride, during which he was carving heavy turns up and down the wave.  He says it was a truly exhilaring feeling.  Upon paddling in, all his friends on the beach had seen him ride this wave, and were super stoked for him.  In fact, this was the last ride he had in Costa Rica, after a full summer of trying, learning, and improving.  Owen claims this was his first great ride, and Costa Rica is the place he truly learned how to surf.  Another day that stands out in his mind, was this past winter.  He went out in Rhode Island by himself.  In the morning, it had snowed, but by mid day, it was beautiful and the waves were clean, glassy, and waist high.  On this day, Owen executed his first true nose ride, one that he could stay on for the entire length of his ride and not have to retreat to the back of the board.  Owen says longboard nose riding is one of his favorite styles, so he was psyched to finally execute a great one.  Lastly, of course I’m sure this goes without saying, the number of extraordinary days spent with his very own and extraordinarily delightful and perfect twin brother, me (I kid, I kid).  We’ve shared some great moments together in the waves, including both cold winter days and sunny summer days in Mutunuck, Rhode Island, and most recently, a cold day together in Westport, Washington.  While surfing is far from my area of expertise, I feel extraordinarily grateful to be able to share in my brother’s passion alongside him.  I have learned so much from him, and the more I do, the more I like surfing.   Owen is a great surfer, and I have seen him succeed in all different locations, water and weather conditions, and on many different style boards.  From the history to the physics, he has a deep understanding of the sport, which I believe continually contributes to his success.  With that being said, his skills, particularly balance and fearlessness, also to transfer to multiple other sports such as snowboarding and cliff jumping (is that a sport?), where he always excels.  Okay, I’ll admit it, he’s a better fisherman than me too.

Me and OD fresh out of the water
Me and OD fresh out of the water, Westport, WA

So what’s next for Owen “OD” DeMasi?  Well, he claims his next short term goal is to truly get “barreled” (the act of riding inside the tube of a wave as it breaks).  He wants to make a few trips farther south to locations such as New Jersey and North Carolina, whose waves seem to barrel more consistently than the surf of New England.  He also plans to continue making surfboards, constantly trying to improve his skill and technique to execute each design perfectly to the way he sees them in his head.  Hopefully, I can tear him away from the beach and the boards long enough to get him to come on his first backpacking trip sometime soon!  Easier said than done…

IMG_9209
on a windy day in RI
OD always follows the rules
OD always follows the rules

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