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Jim Foley: Shortboards and Fast Boats, RIP

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The Santa Cruz surfing and sailing communities lost a long time friend when Jim Foley died yesterday after a year long battle with pancreatic cancer.

Jim was the consummate waterman, an outstanding surfer and board shaper, sailor, boat designer, and builder who was always enthusiastic about sharing his knowledge and experience with anyone who was interested.

Jim began his surfing career on rubber surf mats in 1950. By 1953 he and his father, Chuck, were building surfboards out of wood planks. Early on Jim was experimenting with shapes, materials, and construction methods. He was also experimenting with fin designs.

Jim realized the importance of a lightweight surfboard for best wave riding performance and in 1956 started gluing together Styrofoam insulation boards 2 feet wide, 4 inches thick, and 8 feet long. He coated these early boards with watered down Weldwood glue and covered the board with polyester resin. Jim's early boards were cheap and easy to build, so much so that he could experiment with practically any shape to try out, sometimes 3 or 4 boards in a day.

Working as a fireman in San Jose, Jim was able to take his one week a month off and return to his home in Santa Cruz to be near and on the water. In 1956 Jim took a 9’2" foot surfboard that had a broken off tail, added 2 fins, and created (arguably), the first short board, truly a revolution in surfing that allowed never before dreamed of maneuvers on waves.

Here's Jim riding waves off Santa Cruz's Steamer Lane and River Mouth in 1956, not on the short board mentioned above. https://vimeo.com/362664919 Jim’s style was similar to what Dewey Weber was doing down in Malibu. So Jim's moves were not new to the game but were revolutionary in Northern California.

While designing and building surfboards for long time friend Jack O'Neill, Jim Foley also designed the first O'Neill logo. For the logo, Jack gave Jim $900.
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With his sixth sense of what shapes worked on waves, Jim naturally caught the windsurfing and sailing bug. Jim's first boat design, in 1964, was the 27 foot trimaran PACIFIC LETTUCE, the fastest boat in Santa Cruz at its time. Then came something truly revolutionary, the narrow and ultra-light 32 footer THIRD REEF made with a core of Clark surfboard foam.. Nothing could beat THIRD REEF downwind. Unconfirmed rumor was Hobie Alter took one look at Jim's THIRD REEF, "borrowed" the idea, and created the Hobie 33. When questioned, both Jim and Hobie independently denied any association in the development of the H-33.

Next Jim built a 34 footer which he sailed to Hawaii and returned to build a Santa Cruz 40 DANA. Jim's slip in Santa Cruz only allowed 34 feet, so, typically creative, Jim cut off the back 6 feet and made the entire stern of DANA quickly removable for compliance with harbor rules.

It was on DANA that Jim and wife Linda completed a circumnavigation, bypassing the Panama Canal, by using a 2,000 mile overland passage.

In 1975 Hobie Alter paid Jim Foley the ultimate compliment when Hobie asked Jim, “how does it feel seeing all these young guys riding your short boards?”

Always creative, ready to help whether ashore or afloat, Jim Foley will be missed. Condolences to Linda, Dana, and Trevor.

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Thanks for some insight into a life well lived...

Inspiration is so needed in these times...and here it is...with a very cool Vimeo link!


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I am saddened to read this, having known Jim and being a partner in Third Reef for several years. He was always so approachable, friendly and very genuine. One day I asked him if he had the line drawings for Third Reef and he just laughed replying," no, I just cut some stations, bent some Clark foam around them and shaped it like a surfboard." I can attest to the articles truth about TR's speed off the wind, She would just light up when other boats were still just getting going. You will be missed Jim, Aloha.

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  • 4 weeks later...

Thanks for the article on Dad.  One correction, I was around - I would say about 12 years old for Pacific Lettuce, so that would have been about 1978.   Third Reef came shortly after that.  All of these boats Dad built in our backyard up in Ben Lomond, CA.   Cheers, Jeff Foley

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