Bear Longboards History | The forgotten story of a second hand gem
A friend from my hometown Scheveningen came up to me the other day and told me he was thinking of selling his 9’6″ Bear longboard. This came as a surprise to me, because I thought he would never let her go. But I was wrong. He recently bought another (newer) board and just isn’t surfing his precious Bear anymore. “I would rather have someone else surf it, than letting it get dusty in a garage”, he says. However, he isn’t able to let her go himself because of his emotional attachment. Although, he would never admit it, Renz is a bit of a softy. Anyway, he asked me for help. As I am cleaning the board, I begin to wonder, about the shaper, the previous owners, and about the Bear Longboards history in general. This gets me thinking. Let’s see if I can get to know a little bit more about this board. Who shaped it, where does it come from, and who was it shaped for?
Bear Longboards History
I start my journey at the beginning. In 1977 John Milius starts the Bear Surfboard brand for the all-time classic surf movie Big Wednesday. A time where boards are made of wood and men are made from iron. The first boards are made by legendary shaper Billy Hamilton. In 1980 legend Randy Rarick from North Shore of Oahu joins him.
But not all Bear surfboards are made in Hawaii because over the years shapers from around the world have been licensed to shape Bear boards locally. Well that’s a bit of a set back because this means the board could have been made anywhere. So I decide to follow my best clue about this longboard in particular.
9’6″ x 23 1/8″ x 3 1/8″ KB x MH 03187
The dimensions are pretty awesome if you ask me, but where it gets really interesting is where it says KB x MH. I think these are the shaper’s initials and perhaps the one who glassed the board. If I find the shaper he can probably tell me more about this specific board that goes by number 03187. In general shapers keep a log with information about the surfboards they shape and who they shaped it for. This gives me good hope to find out what I want to know. I’m getting pretty excited now. Just imagine this used to belong to a former world champion or a famous movie star.
From coconuts to pasta
My research takes a twist and brings me to something interesting that isn’t communicated on neither the official Bear websites nor the sites of official agents and license holders. In an ‘Industry News’ article of 2005 the principal owner of Wings Research & Development mister Maurizio Cocchi says he’s extremely happy to have the Bear Surfboards family back together under one owner. But what does this mean?
Wings is a company from Bologna, Italy, that introduced surf wear to Italy in 1986. In 1994 they acquired the Bear Licence for Europe, and have worked closely with the Hawaiian founders for many years. Finally, at the end of 2003 they got ownership of Bear Surfboards. So the Hawaiian company moves to Italy. But that’s not the end of it because in 2008 Maurizio sells his company to Milano Private Equity, and that’s where the trail gets a bit hazy. This seems to be another dead end.
To my great surprise however, I stumble upon an article from 2014 about “The Bear Era”. One part in particular makes my heart skip a beat or two.
As you may know the Bear Brand was owned by a company in Italy, and over the last few years, the ownership has changed hands several times. The new owners have been in discussion with me, and have decided to manufacture Bear boards and distribute them in a different way. So, after nearly 10 years, I am no longer the license holder for Bear Surfboards here in the UK – Keith Beddoe.
Wait, Keith Beddoe…could this be the KB I’m looking for? I write an e-mail to Keith and get a reply almost instantly.
“I am always curious to where all the boards I shape end up!!”. No way, I actually found the right shaper. Keith continues, “I had a habit of writing KB x another initial, if the board was a specific custom order for one of my own customers. So MH are the customers initials. Unfortunately my records before 5 years ago are lost. I can tell you that I shaped the board in 2003 and that it was number 187 of that year.”
So we know that Keith Beddoe shaped this particular Bear Longboard. That’s good news because Beddoe has a lot of shaping experience and shapes his surfboards by hand, from old fashioned templates. No computer data files, all from the top of his mind. A classically shaped longboard. Awesome! The bad new is that we will probably never know who the board was shaped for and who owned it before my gentle softy from Scheveningen.
These days Keith continues to shape high quality (classic) longboards from Newquay at the heart of Cornwall in the UK. If you’re looking for more info about KB and his surfboards check out his website.
I named all of my surfboards, all of them women names, don’t ask me why, but I do have a special connection with all of them. And I know this is the same for a lot of people I know. When you come to think of it, it’s pretty special that you often buy a second hand surfboard without knowing much about it. So I hope this gives a bit more of an understanding, or a connection if you will, with this board’s soul and the Bear longboards history in general. For now, I keep this beauty in my living room until it’s time to say goodbye.