Phil Becker, one of the most iconic surfboard makers in the world who helped shape surf culture in the South Bay and beyond, has died. He was 81.
Becker, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and had a shop and shaping bay in Hermosa Beach, died last week in Hawaii, where he was spending his later years, according to Surfline.com. He had been diagnosed with cancer.
Becker was known for his hand-crafted designs, first making a name for his hefty longboards before transitioning into the progressive shortboard era.
“He was very much a wonderful craftsman,” said Derek Levy, cofounder of the South Bay Boardriders Club and a Becker team rider back in the 1980s. “If you wanted a board made by him, you could go to the shaping bay and watch him make it.”
Becker received numerous accolades throughout his career, including a spot on the Surfers Walk of Fame, with a plaque on the Hermosa Beach Pier, and an induction into the International Surfboard Builders Hall of Fame.
Becker, according to his Hall of Fame induction, is believed to have shaped more boards than anyone in the world. The total number, according to Levy and articles about his career, likely topped 100,000.
He learned his craft as a teenager in the early ‘50s from fellow South Bay board-building pioneers Dale Velzy and Hap Jacobs. Becker was the head shaper for Rick Surfboards in Hermosa from 1958 to 1979, according to the Hall of Fame.
In 1980, he cofounded Becker Surfboards, along with partners Dave Hollander and Steve Mangiagli. The shop would eventually become Becker Surf and Sport.
“Working at a rate of roughly 10 boards a day, Becker likely passed the 100,000-board mark sometime around the year 2000 – nobody else in the world was close,” reads his Hall of Fame induction. “In 2004, Surfing magazine estimated that Becker had shaped 130,000 boards; Al Merrick, in second, was at 45,000.”
The plaque on the Hermosa Beach Pier notes his contributions to the surf community, from his roots in surfing dating back to 1950, where he could be found riding waves at PV Cove, to his later years when he chased surf around the world.
Becker was a private, unpretentious, quiet man who was “a kind soul,” Levy said.
And he made beautiful surfboards,” he added. “He made boards for the common man.”
But he also was innovative and made progressive boards. There is one in particular that Levy said he remembers fondly: a 7’6′ board built for big waves that Becker made in 1983. That board was only brought out on special days when the waves were big enough.
“It was a magic board,” Levy said.
When shorter, more innovative designs started popping up in the ’70s and ’80s, many early generation shapers had trouble changing their styles to meet demand.
“It was a tough transition for surfers, but even more for shapers,” Levy said. “They went from these 9-foot behemoths to these short boards.”
But Becker knew how to create new designs for the ever-growing number of people wanting to catch waves and taught other board makers who wanted to follow in his path.
Becker had stores bearing his name throughout Southern California beyond the South Bay, from Malibu to San Diego, and even in inland Mission Viejo.
He will be remembered by the South Bay surf community and the entire surf world — his legacy still alive through designs he taught the next generation of surfboard makers.
“The South Bay is sort of surf central, a lot of good shapers come out of here,” Levy said. “I know there are a lot of shapers who trained under him.”