[Noozhawk’s note: Gregg Tally was misidentified in an earlier version of this story. The article has been updated below.]
It was Gregg Tally’s mother who introduced him to surfing.
“She was a beach chick,” he said. “When I was 5 years old she put me on her board and paddled me out into the surf.”
It’s almost as if Tally’s mother birthed him twice: once to the world and again to the waves.
“She teases me that she should never have put me on that surfboard,” he laughed, “because I’ve done nothing else since.”
And Tally confesses that’s true.
“I always tell people that surfing is a way of life,” he said. “It’s not a sport.”
Fifty years ago, when Tally entered the waves, surfboards were massive fiberglass- and resin-coated balsa and redwood long boards. The young Tally struggled to drag those heavy boards back into the surf and, not surprisingly, he quickly wore the “tails” off them. But the youngster soon learned how to patch his boards.
“Back then you did your own repairs with resin and volan glass from a marine yard,” Tally recalled. “I got fast and good at ‘ding’ repair.”
So good that, before long, he was a “dinger” for all his high school buddies’ boards, too.
“I’ll always be a dinger,” he said as he reached for the electric hand sander his parents bought him more than 40 years ago.
By the mid-1960s, the short board revolution was gathering momentum and long boards were on their way out. Surfboard manufacturers, with a huge inventory of long boards to move, were reluctant to change, however. Not Tally, who seized the opportunity to stay ahead of the curve and began making some of the first short boards out of existing long boards.
“I stripped off the glass resin and cut them down to fit a template that I still use today,” he said.
He rapidly went from “dinger” to “garage shaper,” and while still in high school found he had a thriving business going.
Tally has lived long enough to see a renewed appreciation of long boards, and he now finds he’s one of the few garage shapers still around with the knowledge and skill to restore boards. His services are always in demand, not only for the restoration of old long boards, but also for building new custom short boards as well as short boards under the White Owl label. It’s a situation he is happy to find himself in.
Through all the changes in design and technology, Tally has kept his fingers in resin.
“Everywhere I’ve lived there’s been resin on the garage floor,” he exclaimed proudly. “We garage shapers are a dying breed — but it’s what I’ve always done.”
It seems the waves have shaped not only Tally’s boards but also his life.
Tally’s White Owl surfboards can be seen at Surf n’ Wear’s Beach House, 10 State St. in Santa Barbara.