Challenger Eastern Surfboards
Why Carl West or Tinker came to NJ was always a story. As told to me, he was brought to Court in Pacific Beach for one reason or another and released if he would leave town. After knowing Tinker, I think there was a lot of reason to come to the area. There was surely opportunity for growing a surfboard manufacturing business. He left Surfboards by Challenger in San Diego and headed east to establish Challenger Eastern Surfboards. He was known to be a real craftsman in the industry. But, aside from being a craftsman, Tinker was an incredible musician, playing the harmonica (Blues Harp) or 12 string guitar and making up lyrics on the spot while passing the gallon bottle of Red Mountain wine.
So aside from surfing music was always a big part of Tinker. At the time there were also a lot of things were happening in NYC, the era was heralded by the likes of Bob Dylan and some of the things that were happening in the village. Later, he was manager for Bruce Springsteen in his early career. He started to manage Bruce before he made it big and referred him to a producer who eventually put out Bruce’s first two albums. Supposedly, money got tight and Tinker had to have Springsteen reduce his band, which may have been the beginning of the end. But at some point Springsteen got a new manager and became “The Boss.
But this is a surfing history memoir so, back to surfing. Tinker was a craftsman, a true perfectionist. He would employ kids to just take a needle or pin to get the pin air out of his layups. His boards were precision, traditional, truly classics.
The Challenger East factory was always open. And everyone from the island would make regular treks up to Belmar to surf and visit the factory in Neptune. Tinker had a great workplace, all of the shaping, glassing through glossing was done there. All of the fiberglass nose blocks and tail blocks were done there as well as occasional batches of fiberglass skateboards.
Tinker with his red hair distinctive handle bar moustache and straw hat was the lead character. There was also Jim Phillips and Michele Junod who worked for Tinker shaping and building boards. Both Jim and Michelle are still shaping and both reference the impact of the time spent learning from Tinker.
As nose riding became increasingly the big move of long boarding all of the Surf Team riders clamored for Tinker to move away from the 17” nose template. Tinker constantly referred to wide nose boards for nose riding as a gimmick. He eventually conceded with an 18 “ nose with slightly harder rail design.
One of the team members that Tinker had imported from the west coast was Dale Dobson. After watching Dale surf it was clear why Tinker thought nose riders were a gimmick. Dale was incredible, as was Michelle Junod and several of the other guys here from the west coast.
It was also during the Vietnam War era and a favorite hang out of law enforcement trying to catch up with draft dodgers. It appears that the factory would look like a modern day immigration raid would look like with people out the back door and disappearing into the neighborhood.
If you Google Carl “Tinker” West you will find that he has an incredible history, engineer, musician, etc. And he has affected a lot of people in a very positive way. I know he has done so to many who hold the memory of Challenger Eastern Surfboards and the way he helped define the era of Absecon Island Surfing in the 60’s.