A disenchanted August questioned his commitment. "There have been times when it was tough," he concedes. "About 20 years ago I got tired of [shaping boards] for a while and opened a restaurant. I hated it. Get 'em drunk so they spend money; then get 'em to stop drinking so they'll leave. Thankfully, it was short-lived. I'm never going to make much money shaping surf-boards, but at least I enjoy going to work in the morning. Make a guy a new surfboard, and he's the happiest guy in the world. I still get excited."
What keeps August's interest is the constant challenge of applying lighter, stronger materials to the classic form. Like all great craftsmen, he discards the outdated without sentimentality. "My surfing was not too bad in those old movies, considering how heavy the boards were," he says. "Those old dogs, they were miserable. Of course, at the time, we thought they were cool, high-tech stuff. I probably surf as well now as I ever have because the boards are so much lighter."
August has seen the classic longboard (in his updated version) stage a vigorous comeback in recent years as baby boomers, no longer so distracted by families and jobs, return to the surf. "There's a graying populace just waiting to get back in the surf," says Hulet. "A lot of these gentlemen surfed in the 1960s, then became fed up with the helter-skelter gymnastics as board lengths shrank. The irony is that younger surfers are also discovering the soulful, gliding, graceful style of longboard surfers like Robert August."
In the last three years longboard sales in the U.S. have increased fivefold, and August is racing to meet the surging demand. His staff of 12 now produces 72 boards a week, ranging in price from $300 to $700. With orders pouring in from such far-flung surfing outposts as Germany and Japan, August plans to double his production this fall, when he moves into larger quarters a few blocks from his current plant.
Last year August made an appearance in Brown's The Endless Summer II, which features a new pair of Californian surfers—Pat O'Connell and Robert (Wingnut) Weaver—who plan their own circumnavigation of the world after watching the original Endless Summer on TV "for the 100th time," according to Brown's narration. After a trip to an automatic teller machine, they stop by August's shop to pick up Wingnut's custom-made longboard. Today, the red-striped Wingnut model is a best-seller.
"For a while, surfers were wearing black T-shirts with skulls and blood coming out of the eyes," August says. "They had gotten away from the mood of riding a wave. When you're surfing, you go only about 10 miles an hour. Bruce's movie got back to what people go to the beach for: having fun. You go surfing with friends on a beautiful day and tease each other about falling off a wave."
August accompanied the two younger surfers to Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where he is building a house on a jungle hillside overlooking the surf. With its warm water and friendly residents, Costa Rica has the unspoiled beach atmosphere August found 30 years ago in California and Hawaii. "I surf my brains out down there," he says. "Then I come back to California and work."
It isn't all work, of course. When a respectable swell batters the Huntington Beach pier, Robert paddles out with his 27-year-old son, Sam (whose injury-plagued minor league pitching career was put on hold this year), or with the guys from his shop. "I'm given legend status for a little while," Robert says. "Then I'm just another guy in the lineup."