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

  • 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?

  • Posted by Paul on November 29, 2016

    Great article! When did Chris start shaping boards under his own name? I saw a McElroy board that has a label that was block letters instead of script letters and it was letters printed on a piece of plastic which was put under the clear coat . Does anyone know what years he used that type of label

  • Posted by Matt Hamilton on August 23, 2016

    Hey Bro, McElroy here hanging out in San Clemente right now. We just caught what you had written in your travels….Anyways hope all is well lookin forward to seein you in Mexico. adios

  • Posted by Anna Ward on August 22, 2016

    I purchased a late 1960’s McElroy from a friend that used to own a surf shop in Huntungton Beach. We have a 59 Ford Ranch Wagon my husband restored. We have many people ask more about the surfboard versus the car! Just wanted to say thank you McElroy for the memories!

  • Posted by Tonja McElroy on August 11, 2015
    My uncle is and has always been an amazing person. He is so talented and unique. He is innovative and extremely generous to whomever he needs. I hope that he can get back on top and shape boards like he once did. My uncle Chris been called many things; innovator, best surfboard shaper, legendary, Mac, but here in our house we like to call him Manny…. We miss and love you!
  • Posted by Tom McElroy on August 10, 2015

    Great article about my unique brother. He is definitely one of a kind.

  • Posted by Jeff Clark on July 02, 2015

    Though I was never great, surfing was my passion. I went to junior high and high school in Mission Viejo, and would get up at dawn to ride a bus from there to surf 204 or Trestles with friends each weekend. The only brand-new board I was ever able to buy, and for which I saved money for a long time, was a beautiful McElroy, purchased directly from Chris in 1988. Though it’s long since destroyed, I sometimes dream about it—how in love with it I was, how proud I was to be seen with it. Thanks, Chris.

  • Posted by GC on June 08, 2015

    Very nice article. Lots of sadness and hearbreak unspoken.

    Call him Mac. He always said ‘Muck’ is what you find in the bottom of an old beer can.

  • Posted by jeff ronnow (hydro) on May 14, 2015

    i never write stuff but just thought of what a brother mcelroy really is.we just took my dog buddy on a four day camping trip to catch the first real south swell of the year.i surfed he watched the dog and truck.we had akiller solo desert trip.on the way home back to todos santos on the new highway i was going 70 mph and my front tire broke off the akel.it wasknarley we skidded like 100 feet with sparks flying off the highway into the dry bushes.when we finally stopped we were tripping out whith a fire blazing behind us .me buddy and mc elroy all fine. good times still charging to live another day.be a bro and give mac aride he always needs one and it doesn’t really matter where your going……..adios…..

  • Posted by ted d on April 03, 2015

    chris mcelroy its been a long time ,uppers crew , still ripping, need a new squash tail nobody makes a squash like you ever,

  • Posted by Hollywoooood Uppers Palapa Crew on April 02, 2015

    Hey Chris/Muc!! Just Checking In!! I just stumbled onto your post on Shapyr.com website!! Way Cool Brah!! I’m Glad you are living the life you seek!! Reach out to me sometime! Cell: 619-865-7846 Later Brah!! Hollywooood Out!!

  • Posted by ione on March 15, 2015

    I met ‘Muck’ back in the early 90s when I was living in Baja near one of the popular weekend Socal surfer get-aways. We hung out often when he came down and remained good friends when I moved back to CA. The last time I saw Chris was when he came to my place in sunland. He was not in a good place mentally after just losing his mom and brother. It was that visit, in fact, he showed me his very first McElroy guitar prototype…. Anyway, after that, we lost tough. I’d heard rumors that he’d quit shaping in San Clemente and moved to CSL to open a surf camp or something. I always kind of wondered how he was – even tried to find him on the Internet a few times.. unsuccessfully.
    So, I was checking out a site offering the top 10 destinations for single females… CSL was one of them… and as I was doing a quick once-over on the other CSL links, his name jumped out at me. And here was the very current story reporting he is alive and kickin’, and, indeed, living in Baja.. cool!! Is there a way to get ahold of him?? Catching up with and surprising old friend is definitely the best!

  • Posted by mark on March 08, 2015

    I never met McElroy. Spoke to him briefly once on the phone. His unamed girl, I know her. Your story fails to establish for the reader the impact she had on his life.

  • Posted by Marilyn M. on March 01, 2015

    Last week on a dark, desert highway … I was lost. Earlier, I had dropped off some folks who had been on my snorkel excursion and got disoriented on my way back to Todos Santos in the dark. I passed a hitchhiker. Drove a couple more miles and, realizing I was hopelessly lost – decided to go back and pick him up … hoping he wasn’t an ax-murderer … and hoping he’d help me get my bearings. Turns out his home was 8 miles further down that dark, desert highway – in the opposite direction from where I wanted to go! But I trusted my intuition and picked him up (did I mention I was female – and alone – and had never picked up a hitchhiker in my life?).

    He told me his name was Chris, a legendary surfboard shaper who had traveled all over the world.

    I’m writing a story for my travel blog and decided to google him to see if I could find anything out … sure ‘nuf – he’s the real deal!

  • Posted by foley on January 24, 2015

    taking orders now for hand made McElroy surfboards no computers needed

  • Posted by patricia pilon on January 18, 2015

    l met Mac years ago in Todo Santos…and visited him for many years…lots of jam sessions in his dungeon and parties on the beach…this man and his stories can change your life.l will always have a special spot in my heart for him….love ya Mac…glad you made it back

  • Posted by Ivan M. on January 15, 2015

    Awesome article about an awesome shaper!

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