Ross CauvelComment

OnBoard: Nine Questions with Bill W., Engineer

Ross CauvelComment
OnBoard: Nine Questions with Bill W., Engineer


Where did you learn to surf?

I learned to surf in California and Hawaii, on the island of O’ahu and Kauai.

I got comfortable in the ocean growing up in San Diego at Moonlight Beach and the San Elijo area from Seaside to Swami’s as my grandparents lived in Cardiff-by-the-Sea. 

Our family moved to SF for my junior and senior year of High School.  I bought a used surfboard for $15 and paddled out at Ocean Beach and Kelly's Cove in an old original short john wetsuit with a double snap on one shoulder that I picked up at a swap meet in Alameda, CA in 1978.  The rubber was no more than 1-mm thick, stitched with cloth thread and it might have kept me from chafing up my chest, but it did nothing to keep me warm in the cold SF ocean temps that are typically in the mid-50s Fahrenheit. 


In High School, I traveled up and down the California coast, from SF South to Pacifica, Montara, Pillar Point at Half Moon Bay, and to Santa Cruz and under and across the Golden Gate from Fort Point and North to Stinson Beach.  When I graduated from High School in 1979, I couldn’t wait to return to the warmer climate and waters of San Diego.  There I surfed from Northern Baja in Mexico to the border region at Boca Rio in Imperial Beach, up to Sunset Cliffs, OB, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach (Law Street, Tourmaline, PB Point), and Blacks.  But my main go-to spots were always in North County in Encinitas where I could count on an evening glass-off behind the kelp beds even when South SD was blown out in the afternoons.  I surfed mainly from Tabletops and Seaside, throughout the Cardiff area to include Georges, Cardiff Reef, Suckouts, Turtles, Barney’s, Traps, Pipes, Brown House/Dabbers, Swamis, Boneyard, D-Street, Stonesteps, Beacons, and Grandview in Leucadia.  We’d chase South swells up at San Onofre and Trestles and stay closer to home during the winter months when San Diego and North County catch the best energy from the West and NW swells. 

I had the opportunity to move to O’ahu from 1983-84 and had the privilege of surfing all over the South and North Shores of O’ahu. I was a very average surfer when I moved to Hawaii, but I improved quite a bit after a full year of surfing all over O’ahu and also traveling to surf on Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island. I

From 1984 to 1999, I lived in the South Bay area of Los Angeles and surfed from Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Malibu to the North all over the South Bay to include Playa Del Rey, Hermosa, Manhattan, and Redondo Beach, San Pedro (Cabrillo, Royal Palms), and Palos Verdes where I lived within walking distance of Lunada Bay and surfed Indicator, Longs, The Cove, Exiles, and Haggerty’s. I had the privilege of working on a government installation that happened to provide me access to one of the best top-to-bottom beach break barrels I’ve encountered anywhere in the World.  It’s actually very close to the place where I was born in Ventura County and as a young boy, I used to watch guys surf this spot from a now long destroyed fishing pier.  Returning to this spot during strong South swells gave me the opportunity to learn how to get tubed. That particular private break is a freak of nature and one of my favorite waves of all time. 

I was lucky enough to get to return to Encinitas for good in 1999 and now and I’m back in the rhythm of checking the coast from Tabletops and Seaside to Swami’s and Boneyards to make the call on where to paddle out on any given day.


What was your first board?

A narrow, 7’ West Cliff single fin swallow tail minigun that was shaped in Santa Cruz. It was up in some guy's garage rafters. My friend and I went over to his house and pulled it down.  It turned out to be one of the worst possible shapes to learn on.

This board was made for people who already knew how to surf well, and wanted to ride faster and more hollow waves like Ma’alea on Maui, a wave that was once called “the fastest wave in the World.” 

But I didn’t know any better and persisted in riding it out of sheer perseverance. 

When I got back to San Diego after finishing High School I had access to many other boards.  I had the most success riding a slightly wider 7’ G&S diamond tail single fin.  I also had another G&S single wing pintail gun that really shaped the way I approached waves.  I had friends that loaned me old 1960’s vintage G&S logs and more modern Infinity single fin longboards that I’d ride at Law Street, Tourmaline, PB Point and up in the Encinitas area.  This was the Skip Frye single fin era in San Diego.  My first 6 or 7 boards I ever rode and owned were single fins.  In Hawaii, I picked up a 7’4 Ken Bradshaw “Planet Crusher” model that I rode on big days.  By 1984 when I returned to California, the twin fin and thrusters were in full bloom, so I too migrated to those “performance boards” for small waves and then acquired a full quiver of big wave tri-fin guns (7’2, 7’5, 7’10, 8’2, 8’6, 10’) for Winter surf in PV, Northern Baja including Todos Santos, and trips back to Hawaii.


What boards have you ridden on this trip?

I've been riding a 6'6" Lost Quiver Killer on the days when there is decent surf at K59 and Mizata and at home. I also brought a 9'8' Bing California Square Tail noserider for the novelty of surfing a log up at the point at K61 when it’s small.  At home, I have a 5’10 keel fin fish that I ride if conditions are right and a wide range of other boards depending on where I’m surfing and the size of the surf.


What'd you do for work?

I'm an engineer and had a nice career arc that included leading technical projects, running an organization as an assistant vice president, and securing and being responsible for the execution of large contracts as a program manager. I do a lot of business development to bring in new work and keep our organization healthy and growing. Over the years, I’ve also had some really fun consulting gigs, e.g. laser controllers for fiber optics, cybersecurity, surfboard protection technology, and even had the privilege to work with the Kelly Slater Wave Company; these projects have kept my work life very interesting, even while holding down a “day job.”


Something you learned on the job?

I learned that I don't have to know everything. I've worked on some highly technical systems that have software, hardware and all kinds of complicated stuff. It used to be overwhelming because I felt responsible and wanted these projects to be successful. But I learned over time that it's okay not to know everything about every aspect of a project, but rather to rely on and trust other smart, capable people. I’ve learned that if I do the best I can each day, that will probably be pretty darn good, so I don’t worry about the results as much as I used to as things have been turning out just fine for quite some time and that’s gratifying and a confidence builder.


Favorite surf days of all time?

So many. One of the more special places was on a closed, secure government installation. The area happened to be in a strategic location on the California coast that is open to South Swells directly – with no impediments such as offshore islands or a headland that might lessen the swell energy. This spot is oriented in a fashion that's very unique. So the waves come out of deep water and pitch top-to-bottom on a sand-bottom beach, fronted by a very secure lab that I used to work in. One time, I got barreled and came out, then saw another section ahead of me, so I pulled into a second barrel and came out of that tube too!  Full double in and out barrel. And that was such a private “wow” moment.

Also, another time, I got slammed to the bottom and when I came up, I had sand in between my lower lip and my front teeth in my lower jaw! I’ve never ever had that happen before or since.  Shows the power of that wave. 


What's your favorite movie?

Sea Of Darkness - Lopez footage at G-Land.


Who's your favorite surfer?

I always loved Lopez's style and as a person, nonchalant, unassuming, very chill, very happy, very gracious.


What would you eat for your last meal on earth?

A fruit bowl with some granola on it. An espresso. For dessert, the crepes and bananas with Nutella at K-59