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Grey Ghost: the Joe Falcone emerging shaper interview

Last fall Lawless and I met in NYC to attend the New York Surf Film Festival. One of the rad people we got to meet was Clams. Earlier in the morning we’d borrowed some boards from Mollusk kingpin Chris (thanks again Mick for the hook). When we came back to return the Christenson Bonzer  and Pavel Choice keel we met Clams working behind the counter. A friendly and unassuming character, Clams’ demeanor was a welcome departure from what we sometimes come to expect in boutique surf shops. As I gazed at the amazing collection of surf craft in the shop a particular board caught my eye. The label read Grey Ghost. I asked Joe where the board came from.

“I make those.”

“Damn” I thought. Nice work, clean lines and amazing finish work. Joe’s interview is a long time coming. After re-reading it again it strikes me that Joe is as stoked about shaping and surfing as anyone. He invested all of the money he’d saved since childhood to set himself up with a shaping gig. His full commitment to the craft is sincere. His sense of humour and love of life foreshadow a bright future no matter which road he chooses. If you’re anywhere in the Northeast and your looking for a custom board, be sure to hit him up, for it’s people like Clams who keep the craft alive and promise a future for hand made surfboards.

Can you tell us your name, where you live, shape and surf?

My name is Joe Falcone but everyone just calls me “Clams”. I have no preference though so feel free to use whatever name you want. I’m currently living in New York, in the borough of Queens. I shape at home in my garage that I converted into a fully functional shaping bay. People call it the “Casino” like Clams casino haha…I actually just had Clams Casino for the first time last week it was amazing!

Anyhow it’s honestly a pretty nice setup. Manny Caro and Josh Hall both shaped and stayed at the “Casino.” They both liked the shaping room setup. Josh taught my mom how to make Paella, which by the way, came out amazing too. I live a couple blocks from the beach and about a 5-minute car ride to some good breaks so I typically hold down Queens. I occasionally drive out to New Jersey or Long Beach but it’s hard to leave waves when you’re looking at them.

How long have you been shaping?

I’ve been shaping for about five years now. I was really intense when I started. I had all this money saved from when I was a kid, probably from birthdays and communion and what not. So I bought all of the tools I needed, a couple pails of resin, pigments and an industrial size roll of fiberglass cloth. I had to make it all happen with the money I had because I didn’t want to borrow any money. So as they say “a poor man can’t afford cheap tools,” I just bought the best stuff. Along with all of that I bought some lumber and got to work.

Who did you learn or apprentice with and how has that influenced your work?

Actually for the most part I’m self-taught. I’ve always been good with my hand for as long as I can remember and I’ve always had a fascination with making things. A big influence on my shaping and pretty much the reason I started shaping is because of my friend Dennis Pharrell. I’ve always looked up to him ever since I was little. It was hard not to. He was the only local hand shaper, the godfather of Rockaway Beach. He was also a good surfer and a friend. He showed me the ropes and taught me what and what not to do.

I pretty much just went for it after that. I knew that my curiosity for shaping wouldn’t be short lived so I cleaned out what ever little money I had in my bank account and I bought every single thing I needed. There wasn’t much in the account so I bought only what I needed to make it happen. From there on I just put planer to foam and got to mowing.

The first board I ever shaped was a fish. The fish design always intrigued me. That’s why I love working at Mollusk. We carry the freshest fish. They put Fulton out of biz! (heheh). You probably only get that if your from New York. Sorry.

Anyhow working at Mollusk has allowed me to interact with a lot of shapers and a lot of different designs. It’s been pretty nice to be able to study the boards and then get help from the guys responsible for them. I certainly owe a lot to Manny and Josh for continuously helping me and mentoring me. I’ve always held those guys in such high regard and they’ve always treated me like an equal. I think the most important thing is that I’ve made some solid friends out of it.

Do you have a specific design that you prefer or excel at thrusters, hi volume shortboards, logs, etc.?

My favorite board right now is the twin keel fish. I love shaping them and I love riding them. If it wasn’t for the twin keel fish I might not have been a shaper. I guess I owe a big thanks to Steve Lis! Oddly enough I shaped my first fish the same way he did, by cutting down a long board and reshaping it. At the time I didn’t know who Lis was but I knew about fish and I was obsessed with that design.

In my current working quiver I have three twin keels, two 5’5”’s and 6’9”, two quad fish – one 5’4” and the other a 6’0” and last but not least a 5’10” bumble bee Bonzer. I also have a 5’11” single fin and a standard 5’9” thruster plus a 9’3’ log. And I also have an 11’ triple stringer single fin Eagle in the works from Josh Hall.

Do you or have you used alternative martial such as Biofoam, wood or EPS?

I’ve never used EPS although I have some EPS blanks on the way. I’ve done a couple Biofoam boards and I love shaping that stuff. It’s like working with butter plus it doesn’t make you itchy like other foam does.

What do you think about the current state of handcrafted surfboards?

I think over the past ten years people have become more aware of how special it is to have a hand shaped custom board rather than one popped out on a machine. However I’ve seen plenty of CNC stuff that looks good and works good. I guess it’s more of a personal preference. I prefer a hand shaped board though.

Where do you see your career going in the future?

That’s hard to say. This economy is not conducive to a shaper supporting a family unless some sort of production is involved. I’m not too keen on doing boards on a machine so I guess I’m going to have to learn to shape faster. Either way, shaping has become more than a passion at this point and I will never stop. I love it too much. As soon as I’m done with school in a year I’m going to shape full time.

What do you love about being a surfboard shaper/designer?

There is a certain excitement, fear, curiosity, experimentation, serenity, anxiety, joy, happiness, love, thrill, and anticipation when making a surfboard. For me, knowing that each board I make is going to have its own separate life and have its own separate experiences, be under a bunch of different feet, be responsible for great rides, bad rides, ride completely different waves, be in totally different places, that’s what makes it so exciting for me. I think about this while I’m shaping every board. Sometimes, thinking of all of that is so overwhelming that it feels like heartache, but in the best way. The kind of ache that feels terrible and wonderful at the same time. The thought of all of that is what keeps me going. It’s like new love, every single time.

Check out Clams blog at Through the Eyes of A Ghost

• Category: diy, interviews,

12 Responses »

  1. Great interview guys. What a lot of heart Joe has.The last four sentences of the interview are poetic.

  2. I love every Ghost I have. After each session there is something new I’ve learned from his boards. That cat’s got an equal measure of craftmanship and professionalism. Great mini-view.

  3. unbeleivable-best of luck to you.great article

  4. Is my board done yet?

  5. I loved the article. It gives a true portrayal of the Passion Love and Flava Joe puts into everything he does. That’s the way to live. You make me Proud

  6. when is that triple stringer getting shaped?

  7. great interview

    seems to be really grounded, and focused on design, surfing and life…. which is refreshing.

    all the best

  8. All thumbs up !!! You’ve gotta gr8 spirit man !!! Everything you do will be official !!

  9. Wow, I don’t know a single thing about surffing! …and less about shaping! I stumbled over to this article while veiwing your father’s FaceBook page, Gerard and I went to school together. Well, needless to say, I couldn’t stop reading. “Clams”, Joe, you are a very interesting person, with a wonderful lust for life, keep up the good work! You gave me a new found respect for surffing, shaping, and the pure sense to follow heart. Love what you do and it will love you back!

  10. It’s truly nice to see another Northeasterner puttin it together all on his own….
    I’m glad I’m not the only one.
    Ressurrect Not Recycle

    Jim & Rhonda Witkowski
    Casimier Surfboards
    Jackson, NJ

  11. Great interview of an independent shaper in an unexpected corner of the surf world. I spent 2003-04 longhauling on the A train and surfing in the Rockaway area while in school in NYC. I wish I had known people like Mr. Falcone were out there. I would have felt less like an exile.

  12. Joey is a lovely guy and sold me a Pavel Speed dialer at Mollusk a couple years back. This past weekend I went out to Rockaway to help with the post sandy cleanup, and as it turned out, the house I was sent to work on was his! Seems like his shaping room wasn’t too badly hit by the storm, but the ground floor and basement of the house is a hot mess. Glad to have been able to help such a nice guy get back on his feet. Good luck Joe.