Island Sports Wrap-Up

February 14, 2010 by  
Filed under Eastern Surfing Association

February 2010 Surfing Report

Jim Stephens: Making More Than Just Boards On Tybee by Joe Richardson

It’s been said before that the Tybee surfing community is lucky to have a local surfboard shaper and repairer.  But we are more than lucky, we are very fortunate that Jim Stephens happens to be our local shaper.  In fact, it’s fair to say that the heart of our local surfing community is Mr. Jim and his Underground Boardworks Surfshop.  For many folks, part of their trip out to Tybee for a few hours of surfing includes a stop, either on the way out or on their way back home, at Underground Boardworks (UGB) and a brief visit with Jim.  More likely than not, he is in his board shaping shop working to complete someone’s new board or repairing somebody’s ding.  Even on days when a trip out to Tybee isn’t in the plans, many local surfers and beachgoers will pull up Jim’s website just to see how Mr. Jim describes the daily surf forecast for the entertainment value alone!

Jim Stephens has been making surfboards for about 20 years, beginning by making them for himself and friends on a part-time basis.  Early on, Jim crafted boards in a small shaping and glassing room out on Dean Forest Road.  He would work awhile, blow the foam dust off his clothes, and go to work for an airline company out at the airport.  Before long, he was making boards for the “Alakai” surfboard label, and actually constructed the last few boards produced by Alakai.  Some of them are still around (there’s one in Atsushi’s quiver).  In 1999, Clay Culvert of Alakai told Jim of a garage available for rent on Tybee behind Huc-a-Poos where he might set up his own workshop; and from there, Underground Boardworks was born.  UGB was just that workshop until 2004 when an actual retail shop on the back side of Huc-a-Poos opened and Jim retired from the airlines.  Following the fire at Hucapoos in 2006, UGB moved across the parking lot to its present location.

Over the years, Jim has hand crafted about 800 surfboards.  Presently he is making around 8 boards per month.  There is no computer designing or pre-formed blanks involved in an UGB board.  Every one of Jim’s board is totally hand shaped from large foam blanks, cut and shaped by hand, diligently sanded, examined from all angles, and smoothed to perfection.  On the other side of his workshop, the board is hand glassed and painted.  Jim’s boards are built to last and don’t include cheap, thin glassing jobs that are common of many mass-produced surfboards.  That is one reason that you see so many UGB boards not only on Tybee but up and down the east coast now days.

Jim’s philosophy regarding surfboards reflects his philosophy regarding surfing: fun and enjoyable.  He makes “good, clean, functional boards” that work, are easy to surf, and designed with Tybee’s waves and those for most of the southeast coast in mind.  As an avid surfer himself, who has surfed all over the world, he knows what works here.  He makes lots of boards for the average surfer who is more interested in getting lots of rides rather than struggling to catch our size waves on a high performance board.  It’s all about fun, catching waves, and enjoying your surfing trip, according to Jim.  It’s no surprise that he has lots of repeat business and orders. Don’t get the idea that Jim makes just your standard surfboard.  He is constantly innovating.

More than once, I’ve waited to talk to Jim while he was on the phone with some well known, famous shaper in Hawaii or California discussing new designs, techniques or materials.  He was one of the first to produce epoxy boards (I’ve still got one of the first of those he made).  He’s been adding bamboo decks to some of his latest designs.  Just recently back from the surfing industry’s large trade show/convention Surf Expo, Jim noted that more and more of the larger board companies are now making shorter, wider, thicker shortboards for east coast surfing.  Jim has been doing that for at least a couple of years.

It’s not just his craftsmanship, though, that makes Jim Stephens and UGB the heart of our local surfing community.  He has been deeply involved in most of everything that has happened over the past 10 years.  Jim was one of the founding members of our local Surfrider Foundation Coastal Georgia Low Country Chapter a few years ago.  With his support and efforts, Tybee has hosted “International Surfing Day” in June the past few years.  People still talk about the great October beach and surfing day enjoyed by many a few years ago when Tybee celebrated its birthday.  That was Jim’s doing.   He has been a strong and constant supporter of our Georgia District Eastern Surfing Association surfers and organization, and has many times donated a new, hand crafted surfboard for them to use as a fund raiser.

Over the last year, our surfing community has held a couple of paddle outs in memory of some members we have lost: Tim Fuller and Ashley Mosely.  Jim was behind the organizing of these special ceremonies.  Probably more than any other single person, Jim Stephens is responsible for the “community” of our Tybee surfing community.

We are more than lucky, we are very fortunate indeed.

You can learn more about Georgia District Eastern Surfing Association by calling 912-897-6651, or e-mailing, or by visiting:

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One Response to “Island Sports Wrap-Up”
  1. Asa Jarvis says:

    Great dude with a big heart

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