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Bill Stewart, owner of Stewart Surfboards, at home in the Fun House. Photo by Chris Ahrens
Columns Waterspot

Welcome to Stewy’s Fun House

Walking down the ramp leading to D street, I encounter a surfer coming up the ramp after leaving the water. “How the waves?” I ask. 

I can see for myself that it’s 2 to 3 feet, peaky and glassy, and a bit fat due to the rising tide, but I ask anyway. (Asking about the surf to someone leaving the water is a traditional greeting, kind of surfing’s equivalent of “how are you?”)

“Fun,” he replies, offering the expected reply before moving on. “Fun” is a category of surf between “gutless” and “epic.” Nobody ever gets beaten up or barreled in “fun” surf and few if any good swimmers have ever drowned in it.

If I were to define it, fun surf consists of waves between 1 and 5 feet, offering a rider multiple opportunities to turn, cut back and hit the lip. There’s nothing threatening or spectacular about it and yet it tends to linger in your memory like a favorite song.

There are surfboards known as “fun shapes.” These are primarily speed eggs that ride well in the afore-described conditions. Every real surfer has at least one fun shape in the bag.

Thinking about it, however, I wonder what the point is of waves and surfboards that are not fun. Maybe they’re for recreation or something required to stay in shape or tune up for better days.

I assume some surfers use unfun waves to practice for upcoming contests. Then there’s the extremely unfun world of big waves. I’ll let surf over 20 feet be someone else’s bad dream.

While waves in the red zone may be fun for the few dozen elite athletes among us, it sends most everyone else to the beach or into survival mode. I am all about fun surf and fun surfboards and wonder why I ever entertained going beyond them.

At his core, surfer, shaper, designer, inventor, artist and harp player Bill Stewart (Stewart Surfboards—yeah, that Bill Stewart) is focused on everything fun. “Stewy’s Fun House,” which occupies the space directly behind Bill’s main house, is a wonderland consisting of a well-stocked bar, a musical stage, a pingpong table and a billiards table.

On the ceiling are some of the surfboards Bill has built and airbrushed. My favorite among them features Stewart’s heroes, The Three Stooges.  Out of all the boards in this vast collection, why this one? Well, because it represents Bill’s take on surfing and life, things he generally doesn’t take too seriously.

Anyone who knows him can tell you that Bill is competitive. He likes to win, a habit he acquired as a top surfer for over five decades, a leader in the longboard renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s, an inventor, a master designer, and a brilliant harp player. (I’m certain I’ve left something out.)  Regardless the game, he wins more often than he loses.

I consider myself slightly above average at pingpong and so challenge him to a game. I won’t call it a mistake, but it was hard getting anything past him. When after three games I broke into double digits I considered it a win and left the table stoked to have made a few decent shots.

From there, we move to the deck, toast the sunset and I try not to spill my drink as we laugh hard at the dying of the light. My friend Bill can add master storyteller to his resume.

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