Saturday, April 01, 2006 | You hear him on FM94.9 three times daily, talking tides and wave heights and pitching his surf shops’ five locations. His mother and wife may call him Eric Huffman, but to the rest of us he’s Bird, co-owner of South Coast Surf Shops. He’s 48 years old, and a Mission Hills native. He’s been surfing San Diego’s swells for some 42 years. He sat down with voiceofsandiego.org to talk about how a grown man gets the name Bird, his plans for a local surf museum and the effect of the closure of Clark Foam, the largest manufacturer of the foam blanks used in surfboard manufacturing.

Where do you see San Diego ranking in the hierarchy of California surf culture?

It is the hierarchy. This is it. San Diego is it. I’ve got long-term goals of opening a surfing museum – I’ve been collecting things for over 30 years – that will focus on San Diego and the populace and the individuals in San Diego who were definitely the pioneers. The glamorous part of it, the Hollywood part, the connections up in Malibu and some of the innovators up there … are absolutely legitimate. But from a manufacturer’s standpoint, the bulk of manufacturing of surfboards is done in and around the San Diego County area.

You surf in a place where you’ve got sewage-threatened beaches in the south and a toll-road threatened beach in the north. Do you worry about that as a surfer?

Every day I surf. Every day. The effect of the environment, or lack of concern for the environment, is evident every day. It’s affected the wildlife, the animals in the ocean, the availability of what use to be commonplace – lobsters, abalone, fish. And there’s not a day that goes by that you don’t think about that when you’re surfing. Now you have to think: Has it rained this week? What is that area known for? There are areas that flat-out never get clean, and you surf those areas at your own risk. The toll road and all of that stuff is just one more example of the majority of people not seeing the value of the coastline and the ocean itself. It is not an indefinite resource, and people are chipping away at it and they are ruining it at an extremely quick rate. I mean, in 40 years, they’ve done more damage than they did in 4,000 years. You’d have to be an absolute fool to not be concerned about anything whatsoever to do with the ocean.

Tell me about some of your favorite breaks around here. Where, and why?

I’ve got three or four favorite breaks. I’ve got one in particular at Sunset Cliffs that I can’t name. But anybody who knows me or knows the area will know what it is. It’s a very high-quality break that takes a certain kind of swell. It’s top quality. It’s still one of those localized spots. It’s a demanding break, there’s only room for a certain number of people and so far it’s kind of survived on its own merits. That’s one of my favorite breaks in the winter. In the summertime and partly in the winter I surf at Windansea, world-famous beach. It’s a big, clean peak that has similarities to the waves in Hawaii. It’s one of the main focal areas of the whole surf culture in San Diego and California in general. I enjoy the camaraderie I’ve developed over the years being a member of the Windansea Surf Club.

Describe the perfect wave.

The perfect wave for me is not necessarily about size as much as it is about quality. A perfect wave for me would be in the shoulder to double-overhead range, which would equate to four to six feet, and it would be at a point break. Point breaks generally are very long and clean and well lined up. And the paddle out around a point break is easy.

When did you first start surfing? Who did you learn from?

I started surfing when I was about 6 or 7. Primarily I learned from my brothers. I followed my two older brothers’ lead.

Where did you grow up surfing?

I grew up surfing first when I was younger in the Ocean Beach area, near Sunset Cliffs. As soon as I was able, I migrated over to the La Jolla reefs.

How did you go from that first belly board to what you do now?

It was a passion. I was never very good at any other sports, and I’m a loner by nature. And surfing lends itself to that type of individual. It’s very much a cleansing process for me. I can get out there – crowded or not – and my mindset is such that when you’re on a natural wave, nothing else matters. It erases everything from your consciousness.

The surf industry freaked out last year when Clark Foam shut down. Was it an overreaction? How did San Diego shake out in that?

It was absolutely not an overreaction. It’s the most devastating thing that has ever happened to the sport since the missionaries made the Hawaiians stop surfing. It affected all aspects of the sport and the industry and everybody who had anything to do with it. Because the supply automatically was cut off. … Instantly it did two things. It caused certain people to lose their jobs, their livelihoods and it changed forever how people that surf now look at their equipment. What was once not acceptable two days later all of a sudden, things started opening up.

Tell me about your nickname.

My nickname was my older brother’s nickname. There are multiple stories about how it was achieved. In a nutshell, my brother’s a very popular guy, and he knew a lot of people. There were a lot of times he couldn’t remember people’s names. As a sign of affection, instead of saying hey dude or bro or whatever, for whatever reason he’d say ‘Hey, bird.’ That stuck to him. By osmosis, it kind of transferred to me through the surf culture. A lot of people don’t know me by my real name.

Eric Huffman.

That’s correct. If anybody calls up to the shop and asks for Eric, the employees don’t know what they’re talking about. If they’re asking for Eric, and it’s not my wife or my mom, I won’t take the call.

– Interview by ROB DAVIS

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.