Tastemaker: A Surfer-Craftsman

IMG_3213Almond Surfboards isn’t a typical Newport Beach surf shop. Founded in 2009 by Dave Allee, 29, its bespoke boards, shaped by hand and in hues chosen from a custom color wheel, are so beautiful that some customers mount them in their homes as art. Similarly, Almond’s surfwear sports lean lines, subtle graphics, and elevated construction. Everything at Almond—including Allee’s blog and Almond’s gorgeous Instagrams—reflects a thoughtful aesthetic he refers to as “surfer-craftsman.” The Chapman University alum is building Almond to be a modern California heritage brand with a global following.

When did you make your first board?
When I was 19. I spent a year on that board, being a student just trying to sponge knowledge as much as I could find. I got to spend a day with the late Terry Martin, who shaped for Hobie for, like, 50 years. It was incredibly helpful.

How did you get into making surfboards?
My dad’s an engineer and my mom’s an interior designer, so I always kind of joked that there’s that form-and-function influence going on. So this kind of lent itself well to surfing and surfboards.

Where does the name Almond come from?
Almond met all these bizarre pre-qualifiers that I came up with. I liked that it was organic, but not related to the ocean because I don’t like literal names. I liked that it started with an A so it would be high up anywhere it was listed. I liked that it was six letters so you could break it into two or three. I liked that it appears a lot of places in real life—it’s a food, it’s a shape, it’s a color, it’s a flavor. And I like the shape of the word. Is that weird? I particularly like when it’s written with a capital A and ends with a lower case d so it’s tall, short, tall.

Are you a perfectionist?
I know what I like, but I’m not a perfectionist. But I do think about the impact and the influence the brand has to shape and affect a small microcosm of culture. I also think about trying to have a specific viewpoint so we’re the best brand to a very slim segment of the market. I don’t expect everyone to come in here and think “This is awesome,” but maybe 2 percent of people in the world will come in here and think this is the greatest shop in the universe. Almond doesn’t look like other surf brands.It’s an egocentric approach. We’re our own target market. I want to make stuff we’re excited about. There’s very little talk about what’s the trend for next season, or what’s the hot color. I don’t want to chase trends, and that’s kind
of where the timelessness comes in. I don’t like fashion. I don’t really care to keep up with the latest and greatest. I just want to make good, honest stuff. That’s the authenticity we want to keep at the core of everything we do.

Why such a limited color palette?
The understated color palette is the finishing touch that hopefully makes our surfboards stand out from the crowd. It allows the focus to remain on the details of the product. I’d hate for the hard work and precise execution of the vision to get lost in an overbearing use of color.

You’re in the surfwear capital of the world. Do you think about that?
We try to operate outside of it as much as possible. We don’t sell to surf shops; most of the stores that carry our stuff are USA-made menswear stores that sell Red Wing boots and Levi’s Originals. Those are the kind of stores I care to be in. I don’t care to be in a surf shop. Nothing against surf shops, but that’s not what excites me.

Been approached by the big makers here?
Yeah, we end up making boards for a lot of the execs of the surfwear brands, which is cool. They’re all super-nice guys. It’s just such a different world.

You recently launched a collection with Woolrich Woolen Mills. Why?
They’ve been around since 1830 and have had the same wool mill in Pennsylvania since that era, putting out quality things. We don’t have a deep history or heritage of our own to draw from, but they have archives of history so we kind of use that. It’s an unlikely partnership because they’re such a winter-heavy brand, but in a lot of ways we carry the same ideals of trying to do the best in our arena.

Your favorite designer?
Other than Almond, my favorite designer this week is Shinya Hasegawa from Battenwear. But I might have a different answer next week.

What other art forms inspire you?
Woodworking is extremely inspiring to me … mostly people who are students of their craft, who invest the time to become expert at whatever they’re interested in, so they can bend the rules in a way that injects their personality into their craft.

What are you trying to achieve with Almond?
At the end of the day, we want the things we produce to be just as relevant today as they would have been 40 years ago, and we want them to be just as relevant 40 years from now.


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