In the early seventies a group of friends in Venezuela discovered surfing...
The sport was going through exciting times. It was only a few years before that a group of guys in California were using "short" boards instead of the traditional long-boards. These innovative short boards ranged from 6'6" to 7'11" depending on the size of the wave and the break being surfed. It was a revolution.
We in Venezuela were entirely disconnected from this world of surfboard evolution. Our boards were imported from the USA. However, all boards arriving in the country were "out-of-the-box" types and none precisely designed for the kind of waves we were surfing. Of course nobody noticed at first and we were so excited with the fact that a human being could ride a wave that we concentrated on the fun and not the technical aspects of the board itself. After a while I began noticing the different kinds of rails, tails, rockers and other details as I compared the boards around me and decided to explore the issue further.
I subscribed to every surfing magazine and began studying the art and science of surfboard design. After a couple of years and immediately after completing my high school, my father sent me to Los Angeles to practice my English and to surf. He did not want me in Venezuela wasting my time surfing "in Spanish". As I waited for university to begin, I embarked on the journey to learn the trade of designing and making surfboards (and surf, of course!).
When I arrived at the Los Angeles airport, I had no idea what to do. I was supposed to be in California, the centre of the surfing universe, but there were no waves at the airport and no indication on how to get to them. The only name I remembered was Huntington Beach, so I took a cab to the famous pier. The driver looked at me like I was nuts and demanded a deposit of $100, which was about half my budget for the entire trip. I had no choice but to pay and a couple of hours later we arrived in HB. It was getting dark but I saw the pier and heard the Pacific Ocean for the first time in my life. It was roaring to me in that indescribable language that only seamen can understand.
I found an affordable place to spend the night. Early the next morning I was out searching for a board and long-term accommodations. My first visit was to 414 Pacific Coast Highway, Infinity Surfboards. I fell in love! They treated me like a real surfer, gave me advice on what type of board to buy. I described what my plans were and when they realised I was interested in learning how to make surfboards they offered me a job. One of the guys at the shop, Bob Anderson, invited me to stay at his home and so, in a matter of hours I had a place to stay, a job and a surfboard. I was in heaven. That afternoon we went surfing for the first time.
Massive, slow at the beginning and deadly fast once it broke, the wave from the Pacific Ocean surprised me at once. Difficult to catch if one didn't have the proper board, I was discovering the basic concepts of surfboard design and how it's affected by the wave one rides.
For the next few months I worked at Infinity Surfboards. Cleaning floors initially, then laminating, sanding, hot coating and finally, assisting in the shaping room. At once I was fascinated with the process. It was a sculpting exercise. A work of beauty and sensual flow of lines and curves that transformed those ugly foam blanks into high performance water machines. The way the front rails merge with the mid-section and then finish at the tail. Deciding the tail based on your sharp turns. How the nose will help in a late take-off or determine the success in a fast-braking wave. Why the rocker could ruin the entire board or make it better. How many fins, one, two? It was all fascinating to me. I got hooked for life.
After six months in California I returned to Venezuela with my newly gained knowledge and my contacts in the surfboard industry. I told my friends all about the exciting world of surfing with a board that was designed to perform according to their surfing style and type of wave. At the beginning there was not a lot of enthusiasm, but when I opened my own shop, they were all lined-up to be customers. The first board was for my good Friend
Ricardo Durrego who had a very particular style and I knew he would benefit from a specific design I had seen at Infinity Surfboards.
This was my first board ever from blank to polish and I was very pleased with the results. We all went surfing the day after I completed the board and I had never seen Ricardo surfing better or having more fun. He was my best marketing investment. The word spread like gunpowder and in a few months I was making some money from ding repairs and making surfboards. I named my boards "Kuyagua Surfboards". Cuyagua was our favourite beach in Central Venezuela, but I decided to change the C for the K to add a little character and originality (?!?!).
My first Kuyagua was a 6'8" fish that Alison baptised Lady Kuyagua and was the benchmark of what a good board should be FUN! The board I'm riding in the photograph above is Lady Kuyagua. For the next few years I made a lot of boards for a lot of different people, but it was always my surfing buddies who benefited the most from this hobby of mine. We designed the boards together, painted them together and rode them together. Changed fins and fin placement overnight if necessary for a big swell. We rode hurricane Hugo in 1980 and a lot of other storms, but in general just had a lot of fun.
Kuyagua Surfboards paid for my university years. In 1984 I graduated as a Geodesist (a surveyor on steroids), began working in my field and abandoned my shop. Later I had two kids, moved to Canada, took up Snowboarding and forgot about surfing, except for the occasional trip to a place where I kept my skills somehow alive.
Since June of 2001 and due to a corporate transfer I'm now living in South Florida where surfing again on a regular basis has become a reality. I bought a board and together with my brother Carlos, began surfing again.
Guess what? There are no boards in Florida that I truly like, so I have decided to revive Kuyagua Surfboards, at least to make my own boards.
This web site is the step-by-step description of how the first Kuyagua comes to life after almost 20 years. This is also a tribute to those guys that shared the best waves of my life in the seventies and early eighties. This work is dedicated to:
…whose best waves are still imprinted in my mind like it was yesterday when I saw them going down the watery face on their own respective Kuyaguas.
Juan B. Plaza
Boca Raton, FL