Ward Coffey is sitting on a stool in his two-room workshop on the Westside of Santa Cruz. It’s late in the morning and he was up early helping his two sons, Ben and Sam, get their quivers ready for an upcoming trip to Australia. Surfing and family go hand-in-hand in the Coffey house. Ward first paddled out in 1973, tagging along with a group of older friends. Growing up in the East Bay, he learned to surf at Ocean Beach, later moving to Santa Cruz where he founded Ward Coffey Shapes and raised a family. He’s seen a lot of cultural shifts both inside and out of surfing and holds a unique perspective. For him, watching his two sons, Ben and Sam, grow into their own as surfers has been a rewarding sight to see. As sunlight beams in from the small windows in the workspace, we turned the tape recorder on…
Ward, thanks for sitting down with us. Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Spokane, Washington of all places. Haven’t been back since, but that’s just where I happened to pop out. I grew up in Alameda, in the East Bay.
What was the vibe like in the East Bay back then?
Alameda was a neat town. It’s an old place and has that sort of vibe. There’s a beach on one side facing the bay and then it’s got a marina with a bunch of boats. It has a naval element so there were always big ships coming in and out of port. It had a bit of that “Leave it to Beaver” quality too. Everyone knew each other and there was always something to do. Playing baseball and all the traditional sports. Then I started skateboarding.
You started skating first?
Oh yeah, in the late ‘60s. I started skateboarding and got into sailing. Then, it was the summer after eighth grade, my older brother’s friends on the swim team took me surfing. We went over to Ocean Beach. The wetsuits were full beavertail-style tops with long johns. Like two sizes too big on me (Laughs). It was foggy out and you couldn’t see at all. Those guys took off. So, I paddled out, got tumbled and rode a few waves. From there, I just started getting into it. My brother’s friends kept taking me to the beach. It was mostly Ocean Beach back then ‘cuz it was really close to Alameda.
What was the beach scene like at that time?
It was a lot different back then. Kelly’s Cove, with all the rubble from Playland, the old amusement park they knocked down was still there. The Hell’s Angels guys hung out. All the hippy busses and whole San Francisco scene was going off too. It was different. And once you went over that way to surf, it was a total trip. But I got really into it. Surfing’s super addicting.