Shaper: Chris McElroy

Posted: Jan 12 2015

Dusty and suffocatingly dry. The desert meets the clear blue pacific in a glorious contrast of death and life in Baja California. Along with a friend and his dog, in a house ravaged by storms both human and not, Chris McElory lives on; seemingly indestructible, blatantly genius, with stories that take you to the edge of the universe. 

"How many aliens do you know?"

After a perfectly short bout of small talk, the conversation awakens my sun drained body, my tequila and beer soaked brain.

"Well... I'm not really sure. How can you tell if an alien is an alien?"

I think to myself while looking at McElory and his grey horned beard, cracked forehead, eyes deep as the Sea of Cortez... he might as well be my first encounter.

--

My first time in Mexico, a few days in the city to get acclimated and transition from a NY state of mind. We started our trip with a lost bag, a stone-cold car rental employee intent on selling us extra insurance, and a careful drive to a Bed & Breakfast that we rented from a lovely Oregon native. Her son, Zion, just as raw and untamed as the land that surrounded. It was the west coast flavor that satiated my hungry east coast appetite. Pollo, pescado, asado, plenty of jalapeño, and countless other things that end in O. After a few days of stuffing myself silly, and saying "Si, por favor" to cheap beers and Margaritas, I was ready to cleanse my inside and dirty my outside.

We departed Cabo San Lucas with full bellies, pockets full of pesos, and eyes once again bright and seeking adventure. We left behind some new friends - a drinking buddy from the states that had broken off from his parents and was seeking new experiences (i.e. girls), the wild child whose hair at only 6 years old was longer than mine had ever been, and the hustle and bustle.

A quick, and slightly less careful drive over to Todos Santos, we were home. If the universe were a book, we all existed on exactly the same page; the three of us, still-pale, eager travelers, and this place we were in. The rhythm was in sync with every thirsty cell of my body. We pulled up to yet another B&B and from there on, it was magic. Off the grid, solar power, organic farming, fresh fish, farmed fish making fertilizer, and the sweetest dog named Manzanita.

We watched whales breach from our front porch. The ocean was teeming with life. The swell was up and the surfing was fun and warm. Greg, my east coast brother, reeled in a gleaming blue/green Dorado from the beach on the very first day. Sashimi lunch and dinner. Despite it's appearance, this parched land was more lush than we could have imagined.

We rented surfboards from our host and soon realized we were neighbors with a legendary surfboard shaper for the next five days. The boards were emblazoned: McElroy, by their creator who lived on the next plot over. In a strange twist of fate, with no other effort aside from a desire to surround myself with surfboard builders, an extremely talented craftsman with an eye for curves had been placed before me.

I had to meet him. Our host gave him the heads up that we were in town and wanted to talk shop. It didn't seem that he had a very busy schedule -- unless by busy you mean drinking beers, eating cheap-and-good tacos, and fixing surfboards -- but I appreciated the warning. I am, after all, a skinny white dude from Long Island and wouldn't want to intimidate anyone by showing up unannounced.

--

Leading up to our chat, I had the opportunity to surf two of his creations. One single fin longboard, and a Bonzer type, fighter jet of a board. My longboard skills are much like my writing skills. It's not often I get to exercise them but when I do it feels pretty nice. The single fin was my go-to for the next few days. It glided effortlessly along the right hand point break waves for which it was carved. There wasn't a thing I would change, except "FOR IVAN" inscribed along the stringer would be replaced with my name. Ivan was close enough, though, since we were living on his property in his first Mexican abode, sharing home made enchiladas with his family.

The wave quality was far superior to what I'm used to. I was embarrassingly wobbly and rusty but having a blast in the water, sans 5mm's of head-to-toe rubber. Not a care in the world. Knowing your shaper and riding a product of his own hands is, for me, one of life's greatest pleasures.

--

Our chat lasted an entire afternoon and well into the night, with a walk through McElroy's compound just down the dusty road. He showed me his house, which was battered by two separate storms. The first, a recent Category 4 hurricane named Odile. The second, a woman that remained unnamed -- a long term relationship gone sour. He walked me around to his surfboard factory with templates and unfinished blanks strewn about. A wall once covered with magazine covers featuring some of surfing's professionals riding (and winning) on McElroy's surfboards, now checker-boarded with a few SURFER and SURFING magazines and posters. A world map that housed pins for every one of his travel destinations, now barren.

Underneath it all, underground, down a somehow weathered staircase built by McElory seemingly of dirt, wood, and blood, was a place I could tell was very special to him: his studio space where he would jam out on his own hand built guitar for countless hours and eardrum pounding decibels. The art on the wall oozed the pain of an over creative mind. He hadn't seen it in months and was afraid to reveal it's condition after the storm, but was surprised and grateful it was still in one piece. He turned into a cheerful child showing me his best toys. Music had become more sacred than surfing. He made his own waves with the vibrations of his guitar strings.

Later on that night there was of course, more beer. It was Christmas so there was also some egg nog, which found it's way into McElroy's mustache and comfortably settled there for long after his first sip. More fresh fish courtesy of Greg. Then, a speech that went something like this:

"I want to take a moment to say something, man. Look at where we are right now, in this beautiful place with our friends, drinks, and great food. This is really special, you know? Happy New Year everyone."

At the perfect moment in between stories of extra terrestrials with soundless voices, trips of all kinds, perfect surf breaks, motorcycle injuries, near death experiences, and countless other topics about the world and beyond, McElroy stopped to sum it all up. We were truly blessed to be sharing this experience with friends, old and new.

--

Chris McElroy, his house sitter and fellow mad scientist shaper friend known none other than Foley, his dog Dino: brother of before mentioned Manzanita, and the community that he built in this place made such a hugely positive impact on me. I feel compelled to help him rebuild his home. Look for McElroy surfboards here on SHAPYR.com in the future. Stay tuned, and stay thirsty, amigos!

 

Comments

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  • Posted by T on August 28, 2019

    Chris McElroy’s Celebration of Life
    September 2, 2019

    Paddle Out Memorial: 3:00 pm

    Location: Upper Trestles

    Beach: 12:30-2:30 pm
    Bring your own food, drinks, and stories to share.

    Words at the shore (for those not paddling out): 2:30-3:00 pm

  • Posted by Tonja McElroy on August 28, 2019

    Chris McElroy’s Celebration of Life
    September 2, 2019

    Paddle Out Memorial: 3:00 pm

    Location: Upper Trestles

    Beach: 12:30-2:30 pm
    Bring your own food, drinks, and stories to share.

    Words at the shore (for those not paddling out): 2:30-3:00 pm

  • Posted by steve curley on August 28, 2019

    Chris Michael and Coyne had such a great thing going in the late 70’s early eighties on San Fernando rd. in South San Clemente. Jones Town was what the two identical duplex units were known as. If you needed a place to crash between trestles sessions you were always welcome. Just be sure to give Carl Foley $$ for your stay. Otherwise he will hit you up at the beach. Chris was a gracious very talented surfer/shaper equally in both catigories. My twin fin 1981 was one of the best boards I ever had. He helped me with my own path as a shaper always encouraging. If you lived in this area and surfed during this magical time you knew Chris. I’m sure Dino is feeling the loss as much as any of us. Chris was his mentor/supporter. I was lucky to be there and to have called Chris my friend.

  • Posted by Robin Cox on August 12, 2019

    Rest In Peace Chris.
    You lived a life that many can only dream of.
    Adios Amigo, until the other side!.

  • Posted by Jacob borg on June 26, 2019

    Met the legend himself last night at Shut Up Franks in Todos Santos. Thanks for the stories! Stay safe bro.

  • Posted by Jim shubin on July 17, 2018

    Started thinking about my friend Chris from high school days and backyard parties and going to the Golden West Ballroom in Downey early days of surfing in the late 70s and my buddy al grumit who died from a gunshot. we all did the House Parties together I had one of Chris’s early boards that he shaped that Al grummit passed on to me. it’s great to hear you’re still alive Chris from your good buddy Jim shubin from Whittier

  • Posted by Jim shubin on July 17, 2018

    Started thinking about my friend Chris from high school days and backyard parties and going to the Golden West Ballroom in Downey early days of surfing in the late 70s and my buddy al grumit who died from a gunshot. we all did the House Parties together I had one of Chris’s early boards that he shaped that Al grummit passed on to me. it’s great to hear you’re still alive Chris from your good buddy Jim shubin from Whittier

  • Posted by Perry Faanes on July 17, 2018

    I got to know mc Elroy he is a cool guy and a ledgenary surfboard shaper who built San Clemente on rock and roll

  • Posted by Perry Faanes on July 17, 2018

    I got to know mc Elroy he is a cool guy and a ledgenary surfboard shaper who built San Clemente on rock and roll

  • Posted by Thorny on July 17, 2018

    We called the neighborhood Jonestown in south San Clements in the 70s…lived next door to Chris in SC late nineties. Lived in Baja many years down the coast from his place.He shaped me a 6’8" off the tail double wing pin. Weeks before I moved to the Philippines in 10 years ago. When I brought the beer to Coles (another San Clemente legend surfer)shaping room McElroy just looked at me and said," Thorny don’t even talk I know exactly what you want…" And it was. Tinted yellow, insane craftsmanship, just beautiful. It got lost after a typhoon while I was in China. 4 years later an older Kiwi surfer who had lived in Catangan Village on Siargao Island with me back then came walking up the beach, said," Mate I got something you may be missing and back at his pad had my Yellow 6’8" double wing channel bottom pin safely stashed undamaged!!. I have it still, along with my 1974 Herbie Fletcher 6’5" double wing stinger which are my two favorite boards. I’ll try and post some pics. We used to jam sometimes at his old glassing factory when I was in a band Sacred Haze, Chris is an inspired creative guitar player a great shaper and a huge inspiration to all of us in SC throughout the years. Long may you rock n roll Chris…if I ever get to Baja again see ya there. Que le disfruta la luz de cada tarde hermano…

  • Posted by carl Foley on August 17, 2017

    Thank you Donna! And yes there is always a place for anyone 2 stay down here in Todos Santos

  • Posted by Cindy on August 16, 2017

    Yeap good memories and i loved that music studio and Carl. Missing Fast Eddie Krajcik though RIP my dear friend Ill be there soon.

  • Posted by DONNA FREEMAN on June 17, 2017

    BACK IN THE 70’S AND 80’S I LIVED IN ARCADIA CALIFORNIA. WE WOULD DRIVE DAWN PATROL EVERY WEEKEND TO SAN CLEMENTE FOR WAVES. CHRIS MCELROY AND CARL FOLEY LIVED IN A DUPLEX IN SOUTH END OF SAN CLEMENTE CLOSE TO TRSTLES AND STATE PARK. THEY WOULD LET US STAY AT THEIR HOUSE. THEY WERE SO COOL ABOUT IT. WE WOULD CRASH WHERE EVER, WE NAMED IT JONES TOWN. JONESIN FOR WAVES!! THAT WAS ONE OF THE BEST TIMES IN MY LIFE. NO CARES JUST SURF,SUN AND SAND. CARL FOLEY AND CHRIS MCELROY ARE VERY GRACIOUS PEOPLE AND I THANK THEM FOR ALLOWING ME TO EXPERIENCE SOME REALLY COOL TIMES. DINO ANDINO IS ANOTHER GREAT SURFER TODAY, CHRIS TOOK HIM UNDER HIS WING WHEN HE WAS A SMALL CHILD AND DINO ANDINO IS NOW WORLD RENOWNED. THINGS COULD HAVE GONE VERY DIFFERENT FOR DINO IF IT WASN’T FOR CHRIS. AS DINO’S FAMILY LIFE WASN’T SO GREAT. THANK YOU TO CARL FOLEY AND CHRIS MCELROY FOR THEIR KINDNESS AND HOSPITALITY. I REMEMBER WHEN CHRIS CAME TO MY 21ST BIRTHDAY PARTY AND NOW I’M 55. TIME FLIES WHEN YOUR HAVIN FUN! HERE IS TO SOME GREAT MEMORIES!
    THANKS GUYS! NOW THEY LIVE IN MEXICO. GREAT WAVES AND BEAUTIFUL BEACHES. WISH I WAS THERE. MAYBE THEY WOULD LET ME CRASH AT THEIR PAD. LOL

  • Posted by Bruce Bishop on December 08, 2016

    While in college I lived in Pacifica CA and stumbled upon a board Shaped by McElroy. Living on the beach allowed me to surf several times a day and I had the best days of my life with my McElroy. At the time I did not appreciate it. Ahead of his time the board was wider an flatter in the midsection with some rocker in the tip. It pumped nicely with some snappy flex and kept its speed in the turns. If I go to Mexico will he make a board?

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