Mark Smalley of Small Craft Surfboards
Posted: Aug 31 2018
Mark Smalley has the conditions on the Galveston coast dialed in. The surf can get better than you would think but isn't akin to Southern California, and Mark has no disillusions about the wave quality the upper coastal bend has to offer. He has a solution for the average local surfer struggling with the latest pro-model board in gutless surf. Although originally from Houston, Mark has lived on the island for the past six years in a propped up house built in 1930. He first surfed at 13 years old, and it kicked off the pursuit of waves that led him to shape his own boards that are tailor-made for the Galveston conditions. Mark Smalley is the (above average) local surfer that has created Small Craft Surfboards.
Before attending UTMB, Mark moved out to San Diego for a couple of years with a childhood friend. He was tapped into the local surf scene and it was the first time he saw guys were using a wide array of board designs to better suit San Diego's variety of waves. This alternative shape approach stuck with him when he moved back to Texas and went to Galveston for college and graduate school. He surfed a bunch of different boards in a bunch of different waves to try and peg down what worked best for his style and the kind of surf that Galveston gets.
"With shaping and board design there's always a give and take. If you make a board that's highly maneuverable, you're going to sacrifice its ability to generate speed. If you're surfing punchy, beach break barrels or fast-point style waves every day, that's no problem" he explains. A board made for maximum maneuverability will rely on the wave for all of the speed and push to move it along. It's not built for picking up speed on its own so the question is, will a Galveston wave deliver the speed you need?
"We don't have that luxury here on the upper Texas Coast" says Smalley.
So what do you do if you want to get the most waves out of your board while surfing in Galveston? You make one. At least that is what Smalley and a handful of other guys in Galveston's surf community are doing.
"What really gets me excited is the concept of using traditional outlines and combining that with modern rails and bottom contours." Smalley is playing around with shorter boards that have wider outlines and different fin combinations. The boards have been referred to as "modern retro" and are in the category of alternative shape. The shorter board lengths fit into the local, small pocket waves and the increased width and thickness make it easier to get speed and glide through slow moving waves. "My goal is to build boards that increase your wave count, generate speed quickly, and still allow you to surf it aggressively."
Smalley has experienced more ideal conditions during his time in San Diego. He also takes a trip at least once a year to either South or Central America with his friends but his home surf is Galveston. The boards he creates are the product of a problem solver that is passionate about surfing. Shaping boards has kept the sport he loves interesting even if he can't paddle out that day. He knows the conditions of his backyard beach and knows what will function best. "What works for pros is not what works for the average surfer, especially in garbage surf. Took me a while to realize that, but I'm here to spread the gospel and evangelize the lost souls who would otherwise be destined to chop hopping and bogging half ass turns on their 5'11" Firewire." Better yet, Smalley wants to see more locally-made boards in the line up to bolster the Texas surf community. He has partnered with an established men's shop on Washington Ave. in Houston, Texas to help spread the word.
Every native Houstonian has a childhood Galveston memory. You have the towels, swim suits and snacks all packed up in the car and ready to go. The ride down to the Island will only take about an hour. Once the car is parked, you gear up and walk the sea wall to find a good spot for the day, fellow beach goers are strewn about. You see a spot in the sand with just enough feet away from the neighboring party. Towels are parachuted out and the day at the beach begins.
Smalley has a similar version of your memory. It's in a spot off the seawall near 37th street. It's 1998, Mark is 13, and his dad is going to teach him how to surf today.