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Surfboard craftsman added luster to Virginia Beach
Surfboard craftsman added luster to Virginia Beach

By Lee Tolliver
The Virginian-Pilot
© August 22, 2012


Salsa music hums from speakers in a blue-hued room where Styrofoam dust covers the floors and walls.

Bill Frierson nods to the beat and runs his hand along the rail of a long blank of foam sitting prominently in the middle of the room. A wooden stringer running down the center contrasts with the glaring whiteness. Waist-high florescent lights, lined up perfectly with the board, show imperfections in its shape.

Frierson feels them.

Grabbing an antique-looking device called a draw knife, he shaves parts of the foam away like a surgeon, ridding it of ruts and bumps. He'll follow with a sure form - a tool that resembles a cheese grater - or an old planer, continuing to shape as crumbs fall on the floor around him.

Before long, the creation, after being coated with fiberglass, will be recognizable - something that allows a surfer to become one with the waves, slashing and cutting through the swells on one of the most famous boards going.

A Frierson Designs stick.

"Somebody will come in for something custom and we'll talk, sometimes for hours, about how they surf and what they can and can't do on boards they've ridden," Frierson says. "It's a one-to-one relationship between surfers... an old-school trust thing.

"I know from listening to them what they need. The old on-board computer still works pretty good."

Frierson has been shaping surfboards for a long time, since the 1960s, earning a reputation as a surfer's surfer and a shaper's shaper- a guy who could make you a board so special that it would make you better on the water.

Unknowingly, while he was making thousands of surfboards, he also was helping the East Coast surfing scene earn some respect from the rest of the surfing world.

Virginia Beach was a quaint resort town in the 1960s, with more cottages than hotels dotting the beach. But the place was enjoying a growing reputation as a surfing community.

Frierson arrived with a post-military family, his roots in surfing born on a California swell.

"I was a Navy brat, and we traveled all over. But always around the ocean," Frierson said the other day in his Frierson Designs shop off Birdneck Road near the Oceanfront. "When my dad went into the Civil Service, he asked who wanted to move to Virginia Beach.

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