What was your life like growing up?
I grew up here in the South Bay and my brothers were a big influence on me. They were older than me so I would tag along whenever they went to the beach. I’m the youngest – my brother Tom is five years older and my brother Curt by eight years. That got me boogie boarding. My brother Tom stuck with surfing, and of course he has became pretty famous for what he’s done. My other brother Curt is a commercial fisherman. We were all water-oriented and never got into much else.
For college, I went down to San Diego to study at Point Loma for five years. Spent a lot of time surfing. The college was right in front of Sunset Cliffs. There was also Ocean Beach, Mission Beach. I surfed my way from there to Black’s. I really enjoyed surfing Black’s.
What was your first surfboard?
My first board was a hand-me-down from my brother Tom. It was a Rick “pig board” and it was a 6’8″ single fin round pin with kind of a big, wide. By no means a longboard nose because longboarding was not going on in 1981. And the next four boards were single fin round pins. It was Tom’s influence – he was into longboards at the time. There were twin-fins and thrusters out there, but my brother wouldn’t let me ride any of it. My brother was a strong proponent of the classic style of the ’60s and ’70s – no leashes, things like that. And that was my influence.
Do you remember the first time you stood up on a board?
My friend and I both went down to the beach with our little Hilton boogie board and that day, Rick and we both stood up on a little day at Rat Beach. And it was awesome! Boogie boarding was really fun, but standing up was a whole new thing. It was like being on top of the world looking down – and you’re just going along and angling.
Who inspired you when you were young?
My major inspirations were my brother Tom and his good friend Bill Burke. Bill was also a longboard rider who starred in a couple of Tom’s films in the ’90s. He was also a big time skateboarding and surfing influence on me.
But in the bigger scheme of things, it would have to be Gerry and Rory and the whole crew from the ’70s surf films. Also Larry Bertlemann and Buttons.
How did you get involved in shaping?
Again, it was my brother’s influence. He had started a couple of years before me and our parents were really nice about letting us work in the garage. We didn’t shape so much in the garage, but we did glass in there. Because we didn’t have a lot to spend, it was key that we did everything ourselves. We’d buy our fiberglass and resin either from ET Surfboards or J & C down in San Pedro. At that time blanks were like 40 bucks and glassing materials were about 40 bucks so we could make boards for about 80 dollars. We would ride the board and then go on to the next one.
What were the factors that led you into the wood surfboards?
My brother remembered the feel of the balsa surfboard. He decided to start making hollow wood surfboards that he remembered as a kid. Initially I didn’t get into the wood thing just because it was just so intensive. Then we started making the Alaia boards! I realize now what I was missing. It has a certain amount of flex without being too flexy. I’ve been working on the wooden surfboards for the last three years. You don’t need foam, fiberglass and fins to ride a wave. You can do it on a piece of wood.
What has been the reaction to the wood boards?
When someone stands up and angles on a wave with an Alaia not only are they hooked – they get super excited. The ride is unique enough that it separates itself from a normal day of surfing. It has a lot to do with speed. It almost feels like gravity because you are riding on a board that is sticking to the wave in a different way.
We’ve had riders like Dan Malloy, Rob Machado, Chris del Moro, The Marshall Brothers, Cyrus Sutton, Ryan Burch, Jacob Stuth, Dave Rastovich, Mike Stewart and Kassia Meador. And I get e-mails from guys all over that write and say “I’ve got it to go” and “I’m crazy about it.” Basically, any one that has an open eye for other types of riding equipment will try an Alaia.
Who do you want to give a shout-out to?
The shops that took a chance on us. Patagonia in Cardiff has been the biggest supporter. Icons of Surf, Thalia Surf, Mollusk Surf, Central Coast, and Wetsand. There are many others and I apologize if I left any one out. Basically anyone who took a chance on us and put our boards out there.
What’s next for Jon Wegener?
We got tons and tons of stuff going on. We’re transitioning the Alaia board into other types of boards. We’re working on making some wood boards that are more “floatatious” (laughs). And we’re having some good results. I got a new board I’ve been riding called the Bluegill model. I think you’ll be seeing a lot of these. Incorporating the speed of a finless board… we’re making ‘em and they are going to be hot!
This interview originally appeared in Liquid Salt Magazine, November 5, 2009.