By Brian Lichterman | Sports Editor
Surfboard making has come a long way since the days of 16-foot giants made from koa wood.
The advent of the hollow board and the technical advances that came after World War II – such as fiberglass, plastics, and Styrofoam – sent surfboard making into the stratosphere. Local shaper, and newly appointed Corona del Mar High School surf-team coach, Cordell Miller knew he wanted to be a part of the industry at a young age, and began shaping when he was 18 years old. He named his brand “Cordell” and to this day, he operates his shop on 31st Street on the Peninsula and continues to be a growing force in Newport’s surfing community.
From the age of 9, Newport Beach’s Cordell Miller knew surfing was something special. Miller was born at Hoag Hospital in 1971 and began surfing down at 32nd Street about 1980.
When he was 15, Quiksilver took notice of Miller and sponsored the young surfer. England, France, Fiji, and Australia were just some of the places he was able to travel to and surf on Quiksilver’s dime. Free travel and merchandise were great, but once he turned 18, Miller shifted his focus from purely surfing, to shaping and manufacturing.
“I don’t really like to fly,” Miller said. “It’s kind of why I started shaping. It lets me have my own schedule.”
As a local brand, Cordell has become well known in the surfing community of Newport and his shop is coming off a good summer of sales. He’s also the proud father of a 10-month old daughter, and enjoys having his own timetable for work so he can spend time with her and his wife.
The board making process is fairly straightforward. The foam cores are computer cut and then sent to Miller. By hand, he meticulously sands and shapes the cores until they’re exact. The boards are then laminated, hot-coated, and glassed and then they’re ready to ride some waves.
The summer has nearly come and gone, but Cordell sold plenty of boards. The main shop is where most of the sales take place, but online sales are happening all the time, as well.
“This summer we sold about 30-40 boards in Japan,” Miller said. Having a wife and daughter has made Cordell scale back a bit in recent years, which as a local shaper selling to Newport residents, is a great thing. “My brand isn’t as big as it used to be,” Miller said.
Back when Miller was attending high school in Corona del Mar, he was a proud member of the surf team, and recently he was named the new coach of that surf team. Previously he was coaching the Fountain Valley High School team, but coaching Corona del Mar gives him the opportunity to coach his former team as well as be closer to home.
“We’re going to surf Tuesday and Thursday mornings on the Peninsula,” Miller said. “Mr. Fish was the coach back when I was at CdM, and it’s kind of cool to be the coach now.”
Miller has ventured out and tried making a couple of different boards, such as a couple stand-up paddleboards for friends and a specialty board he shaped for a friend who surfs The Wedge often, but mostly he sticks with the formula that’s made him such a popular brand in Newport Beach.
Miller said, “I think stand-up boards are for older guys that have trouble catching waves, or for when the surf is bad. For me, I’d rather play golf when the waves are (bad).”
Miller is also a former contestant in the US Open in Huntington Beach, but this year didn’t make it up there because it’s just too crowded. He competed about 10 times in the contest and made the main event a couple times, but the payoff wasn’t enough for Miller, and shaping was where he would make his mark.
Miller estimates that he’s made more than 20,000 boards. After doing something for that long, it almost becomes second nature, and every little detail and nuance of the craft becomes a bigger deal in an artist’s eyes.
“Every board is a little off,” admits Miller, in the same way a singer would say they were slightly off key. Cordell’s boards are made for surfing anywhere, but it takes a Newport surfer to make a board that performs well in Newport’s waves.
The last question I asked Miller, an amazingly talented surfer himself, was if he’s ever surfed The Wedge. His response: “It never looked too appealing to me, and getting slammed on the sand doesn’t sound like fun.”
To purchase pre-made boards, apparel, and merchandise or to order a custom made board head to the Cordell shop at 411 31st St on the peninsula or visit www.cordellmillersurfboards.com