Prolific surfboard shaper Jim Phillips has built boards in almost every U.S. state with an ocean shoreline. He got his start as a military brat in Hawaii, where he repaired dings at the famous Hobie Surf Shop. When his father was transferred to a base on the East Coast, Phillips took his talents to the mainland. He did a short stint shaping for Micris Surfboards on Long Island before moving to New Jersey.
Phillips had a tendency to be in the right place at the right time when it came to developments in surfboard design. In Jersey, he met Carl “Tinker” West, a scientific shaper with a background in physics, who would have a profound influence on Phillips. A happenstance encounter with legendary surfers Bob McTavish and Steve Bigler led to Phillips witnessing the two shredding their eight-foot V bottoms — a moment that made Phillips realize the sport had changed forever. Then, in San Diego during the early 1970s, he watched Mike Hynson test the first down-rail boards, an experience that gave Phillips early exposure to the design that would become the modern rail.
Serendipitous encounters like these heavily influenced Phillips’ forward-thinking design aesthetic, a quality that earned him the nickname, from fellow Hall of Famer Peter Pan, “The Genius.” He would eventually team up with Charlie Phillips to open a shop in Rhode Island that sold his own hand-crafted Phillips surfboards.
Another fortuitous meeting solidified Phillips’ place in surfing history — this time with Long Island pro Rick Rasmussen (aka “The Raz”) at a surf contest in Ormond Beach, Florida in the mid-1970s. The conditions were diminishing, and Rasmussen requested a new board be constructed at Phillips’ factory, located three hours down the road. Phillips instead lent Rasmussen his 7’10’’ “shortboard noserider,” and The Raz went on to win the competition on Phillips’ board.
Phillips’ incredible legacy goes beyond the surf industry. During his time shaping boards in New Jersey, Phillips doubled as a concert promoter. He became known for his portable sound systems, which helped launch Bruce Springsteen’s career. Phillips saw “The Boss” perform his legendary concert at Asbury Park, and the two even surfed together in Belmar.
Photos by Dick “Mez” Meseroll, Mike McIntire, Bob Richardson, Kevin Walsh, Mark Walther, and courtesy TSJ and Jim Phillips