Surfing in New York City isn’t an amorous affair.
Through summer, Rockaway is a breeding ground for acai berry-fuelled influencers with lacklustre skillsets to match the waves, and in the winter, well, we needn’t go there. Despite this, a vibrant surfing culture still exists in New York’s northern boroughs and is made up of people who surf because they love it–not for the off-chance they’ll end up in the latest NY Times puff piece.
Joseph ‘Joey Clams’ Falcone is one of these people: a pillar of the city’s core surfing milieu. Born and raised in Rockaway, Queens—with a brief stint in Gravesend, Brooklyn—Joe and his boards are a staple in any line-up along New York’s coastline.
Inspired by Dennis Farrell, another Rockaway shaper, the teenage Clams decided he too wanted to shape surfboards. Not for clout, nor as a potential career, but because he wanted to improve his surfing by shaping the boards he rode. ‘Back when I started shaping, there was no such thing as your Instagram presence or whatever,’ Joe told me over the phone. ‘If you were into surfing, it was because you were into surfing. You got no street cred for it when I was a kid.’
Since setting up a shaping bay in his mum’s garage in Rockaway—now better known as ‘The Casino’—he’s hosted the likes of Andrew Kidman, Manny Caro, Josh Hall, and Ellis Ericson. ‘It was all-time when I was living there, we’d just hang out with our friends and shape boards and drink beers,’ said Andrew Kidman about his time at The Casino with Joe. ‘We’d just make boards for local friends. Everyone had their hands on the foam, having a crack.’
Time spent with these aforementioned shapers was crucial to Joe’s approach. ‘I still do it the old-fashioned way, there’s no machines involved. My boards are like Cadillacs, they’re fun to ride and I want them to look good and to last.’ For Joe, shaping surfboards isn’t the way to riches or fame—it’s his passion. But one of the positive side effects of this passion is the high demand for surfboards with Joe’s initials on them.
For the majority of Joe’s 16-plus years, he’s shaped custom boards for anyone who wanted one. Last year, however, he called it quits on customs; a decision mostly driven by his experience with customers who are more interested in image than surfing itself. ‘Everyone wants the latest thing and they want it now. I’d get messages like, “Why isn’t there a swipe up button…” If these dudes spent half as much time focused on their cutback as they do on their board’s colourway, it wouldn’t be embarrassing to watch them surf. I started to hate making surfboards because some people’s attitudes ruined the experience for me. The saying, “If you find something you love and you get paid for it, then you’ll never work a day in your life,” I found that to be complete bullshit.’
But Joe hasn’t stopped shaping, he’s just back to making the boards he wants to ride—fishes, egg-shaped mid-lengths, the odd single fin—without the impasse caused by precious customers. ‘I’m doing it on my terms again and I’m psyched on that. I put the stringer set-up I want, the fins, the outline, the colour tint, whatever. If I think something is dope, I just do it. That’s how I started shaping and that’s what I’m getting back to.’
The business model might not be as good as shaping seven days a week for platinum Amex-wielding Manhattanites, but surrendering his love for surfing just to make an extra buck wasn’t worth it. Besides, shapers always know best. Unless you’re the next Florence or Reynolds, it’s best for both parties if the shaper just does their thing. Now when Clams finishes a board, it’s sold in stores like Pilgrim in Brooklyn and Tokyo, or his new barber store in Rockaway, The Almeda Club, which he and a mate opened late last year (Joe’s good with a planer as well as a shaving blade). Right now, Joe is sitting on a 10-board order for both Pilgrims’ Brooklyn and Tokyo stores, which can be ‘whatever he wants to make’.
At one point during our conversation, Joe told me, ‘Today, if you want an asymmetric, you get one from Ryan Burch. If you want an edge board, you get one from Ellis Ericson.’ It’s worth adding if you want a good board in New York, you get one from Joe Falcone… although they’re a touch harder to get your hands on now.