Charles Mencel is a local surfer and shaper (Mencel Surfboards) from Monmouth County. His surfing is focused on smooth, stylish and powerful carving turns that make him a stand out in any line up in the area. Charles is also a nice guy (we need more of those in the water) with some great insight into the art of surfing and the craft of shaping surfboards. When initially thinking of surfers I wanted to feature here, Charles was one of the first to come to mind. So it’s fitting that he is the subject of my first surf related interview for The Anchor. Read on as I think there is a lot of value in what he has to say and offer the local surf community.
ZAPPO: When and where did you start surfing?
MENCEL: I started to consistently stand up surf at the end of fourth grade, which was about 1993. Before then, it was just the kids who grew up in the North End of Spring Lake. We’d bodyboard, cruise the Pavilion, then shuffle south a few jetties and be at the stand up surfing beach. There were two stand up Beaches then, so it was an open and empty scene.
ZAPPO: Describe the feeling you had when you cruised across the face of a wave for the first time?
MENCEL: Limitless. The first memory of an open face I had didn’t come until 1997 though; it was my first “winter” surfing. Alex King and I were surfing up the street from my folks’, and the surf was overhead, offshore and blue bird. I think I did every maneuver you could do (then), and I’ve been chasing that day ever since.
ZAPPO: Were you hooked after riding that first wave or did it take you a few years to commit yourself to surfing?
MENCEL: I was a kid, so the process was summer fun for a long time. The whole, biking around, making weapons and mischief was primary, but I was always impressed with surfing. The older guys showed how surfing was a serious endeavor and how the whole process of learning really revolved around the ocean and less about the board or the shorts you wore. I’d say it wasn’t until I saw those older guys “doing it” that I actualized a goal toward being accomplished in it. Once I said, “I want a bottom turn,” I then went toward it. The years until that point were just studying and falling.
ZAPPO: When I first saw you in the water I thought, “this guy has certainly watched ‘Searching for Tom Curren’ more than a few times”. Your approach to surfing is full of style, flowing turns and precision. Who or what has inspired your surfing?
MENCEL: I didn’t get surf magazines for a while and frankly, our town never really had a core surf shop, so we rarely saw that year’s sick stuff. I own a pirated version of ‘Searching For Tom Curren’ from Video on the Ritz in the Heights. That place had all the classics but never any of the Momentum Generation’s films. I always idolized the late 80’s/early 90’s approach (Amazing Surf Stories, Sarge’s Scrapbook, Session Impossible). All the live action in the water was of that era, too. I always thought that surfing relied on a tight, well projected bottom turn and then any redirection was all done with the speed you had left. That’s all the guys did by us. Clean, fast, powerful surfing. And I guess that’s where I am still going.
Names to remember: Mark Scorzo, Mark Carpinello, Mark Villani, Billy Steets, Mike Pelleck, Tip O’Niell, Mike Carr, Tom Fayey, Larry Devine, Mark Wilbur, Joe Gregnano, Jack Uden, and The Boyles. Missing so many in here, but these guys make/made my heart stop.
ZAPPO: This past summer you won two local contests, namely the inaugural Bare Wires
Competition and the Lightly Salted Surf Rodeo. You also placed third in the Annual Manasquan Longboard Classic. I saw your surfing on the day of the Surf Rodeo and must say it was fairly flawless. Give me your feelings on surf contests. Do you think they are a positive piece of surfing culture?
MENCEL: I don’t and yet, I do.
I see surfing as a performance art- like lyrical or interpretive dance. It’s fairly limitless and really depends on you and this moving piece of salt water. So quantifying a weird, subjective act like surfing should be and is an impossibility. Surfing should be left without qualifications. No right or wrong, no good or bad. But sadly, some bully (because that’s what they probably were), made sure for that kind of thought/approach to enter surfing. I strongly feel it never should have been made to sound or seem like a “sport.” Surfing is an expression. And nobody should say whether one is “good or bad.”
That all being said, if one is to enter a surf contest, they should, as dependent on the conditions, be able to attempt a varied array of maneuvers. And one must willingly acknowledge that it is contested sport- hustling, sprinting, injury, hurt feelings are all fair game. The rules must be followed to a “T,” and the primary object is to win. If this doesn’t sound like “surfing” to you, then….
ZAPPO: Going backwards a bit again, what was your first surfboard? We all have stand out boards in our surfing life. What have been some of your favorite boards?
MENCEL: My first was a dog. WRV flip tip “team” board from some dude in Ocean County. It barely went. My first “good” board was a custom Michael Baron. Rounded tail, full rails and a mellowed entry; it had a cool, hot green pin line. I lost it in the South End rocks; it was 2003ish-Super Bar era. It was the first board that felt truly neutral under my feet. It went anywhere and was a great paddler. I honestly evolved because of it. I sold it to a younger guy, swiss cheesed with clear filled ding repair jobs. I’m actually making him a board this week, and he’s bringing it back to template.
ZAPPO: I have been seeing more and more people riding your boards recently. Everything I have seen are unconventional shapes. Soap bars, asymmetrical shapes and the like. When did you start shaping and what other shapers out there would you say influence your work?
MENCEL: The industry is “The Industry!!!” So I’m really not interested in making boards that compete with that big of a monster. However, lots of people fully subscribe to industry standards and therefore, I’ll make boards for them. Frankly, the majority of boards I make are standard, thrustered plane shapes that have some modification for the person’s need. Thinner or thick rails. Kicked tails or lowered entries. I like modern times, but I like the old, too.
I started shaping boards out of my folks’ garage in 2002. It was more a hang out than anything, but there, I made boards “The Industry” didn’t provide. Since then, I guess that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Give people unique equipment that serves their individual needs. Some people really just want to go fast. Some people want to just make a drop. Some people just want a Mini Simmons. So I guess I’ve been trying to give people want they want.
My inspirations toward shaping really came from within. I wanted to make boards. I wanted to learn the process. But I was living in New Jersey. Then, there really weren’t that many board builders openly making boards, so it was me and my own errors for years. Over time, I got boards from Steve Seebold and through my board ordering, I got a lot of knowledge in conscious design choice and how those choices rode. It was and still is a really nice relationship even though I am ordering less and making more (sorry Steve!). I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Chris Chaize. The guy is straight aces in most situations and has a serious handle on his craft and what he wants to make. The big part of the board making world has to do with risk and problem solving; it can become very lonely and scary. Chris has helped me though some tough, quirky times. And I hope I am there in return. He’s taught me a ton and I’m lucky.
ZAPPO: On the West Coast people have been tooling with alternative surfing equipment for a while now. It’s finally hitting the East Coast, I think it’s exciting and invigorating for the local surfing community. How do you feel about the ascension of people moving away from the standard thruster and using a variety of shapes, fin set ups, etc to experience riding waves?
MENCEL: I think it’s great! Sadly, however, I really have begun to question why people want “alternative craft.” If it’s for look, then that breaks my heart. If it’s for choosing a different way to dance or to accentuate a certain feeling, then I’m all for it. As far as “The Industry,” it will change once the top 33 decide to change. But if Slater is losing at The Lane and the first reasoning is connected to “unusual equipment choice,” then things aren’t gonna change for a while. Again, if your model of surfing is professional surfing, then the 5’10” thruster is your go to. If surfing is more to you, if surfing is that performance art, then you have many, many different songs to dance to. Why not learn and try them all out? It’s the reason I’m still so in love with surfing…
ZAPPO: Besides surfing what other activities fill your daily life, work or “play”?
MENCEL: I love to shape and keep tight with the craft. If I miss a day or week, I feel kinda lost, so I’ve committed a lot of spare time to the process of board building. Aside from work and surf related tasking, I’ve been skateboarding a lot lately. I like parks and ramps, and I feel like it’s been paying off on my bottom turn. Plus, skaters are way cooler than surfers, so it’s always nice to hang with skaters and feel cleansed rather than soiled.
ZAPPO: Any final words of wisdom for the people out there reading today?
MENCEL: Little guys! Be an individual and stop caring about the small stuff. Take risks, drop the obsessive nature toward getting “The Shot” and try to talk about things other than surfing while in the water. Oh, and be accepting of those who do NOT want to be like you. Allow for people to just, be. Be cool. Be you. Stop caring so much.
Old dudes? Hold it down! Be a local. Be a hero. And explain to the growing many how they might not be either of the two. Sadly, one cannot be a local everywhere, and the learning curve is shortening drastically, and in the next few years, things are gonna get confusing for those who once got their fair share of waves. Critical Mass is coming; be a steward for your area/town.
Shawn Zappo is a local surfer and skater who rules the stoves at Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. He’s also a musician and will be writing about his surf and skate related experiences as well as reviews on bands and whatever the hell else he feels like writing about.
Photo above by Chris DeLorenzo
Photo by MA Spagnuolo
Photo by Max Korn
Photo by Max Korn