(April 30, 2021) The surfing world lost one of its giants recently. On March 3, 2021, Mike Eaton passed away on the Big Island of Hawaii where he had resided with his wife, Marianne, for the last dozen years.
He had suffered a massive stroke six years ago. A second one finally got him on the night of March 3.
His interest in surfing began when surfboards were made of wood. Always adventurous and good with his hands, his five-plus decade-shaping career started with Jack O’Neill of Santa Cruz, California wetsuit fame.
Mike was stationed in San Francisco while in the Coast Guard at the time.
O’Neill, who also made surfboards was in need of help. Santa Cruz is a relatively short distance south of San Francisco, and so it began.
Eaton had the benefit of observing Dale Velzy make surfboards in the Los Angeles area where he grew up. The mentorship served him well.
After his time in the Coast Guard and shifts of dolphin and whale training, Mike also built boats for a time, favoring multi-hull vessels.
He had additionally taken a Naval Architecture correspondence course, all of which gave him a pretty good idea of how things moved through the water.
The shaping career really took off when he began working for Bing Copeland at Bing Surfboards in the mid-1960’s. It was a golden time for surfing and large manufacturers.
Eaton was in the right place at the right time, especially with Bing being known for high quality and good promotion.
Plenty of work was available to fulfill the high demand with Mike doing 20 shapes a day at times, which is totally unheard of as far as shapers and board builders are concerned.
By the early 1970’s, things began to change in a big way for Bing Copeland.
Deciding to move his family from the Los Angeles area to Idaho, Bing was able to sell his inventory to Larry Gordon of Gordon and Smith Surfboards in San Diego with Eaton as agent to carry on the Bing label.
The move was a good one with Eaton maintaining the Bing label as well as starting his own through the mid-2000’s.
From 1968 through 1981, Mike would spend winter months on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii.
Business would naturally get slow on the mainland, but winter time in Hawaii would attract some of the best surfers in the entire world.
Not only Hawaiians, but wave riders from Australia, South Africa, all coasts of the U.S., Europe, Japan, South America; any place where waves would break.
Eaton was able to not only work on his own surfing but shape for some of the world’s elite, gaining a wealth of experience to boot.
On a personal level, I was introduced to Bing surfboards through a surf shop I worked for prior to opening my own.
Having many different Bing models through the years the most radical was called the Bonzer with a complex bottom and fin design.
Originated by the Campbell brothers, Eaton embraced the Bonzer extensively from the early 1970’s on, despite it being more difficult to produce.
By the late 1970’s after a call from Eaton, I enthusiastically began to carry his boards, both the Eaton and Bing labels.
This led to a great business and personal friendship, so much so that I began to spend time in California in winter months to really hone my own shaping skills and come up with an Ocean Atlantic label and brand of surfboards.
All of this came about with huge help from Mike Eaton.
He was certainly a great mentor to me. I’m sure that I learned more from him than anyone else with the exception of my own father.
A lot of fun was had as well; road trips, trade shows, hot rods, surfing and shaping sessions, even glider flying.
In the 1990’s he got into racing paddleboards; sleek, lengthy, water craft only meant for paddling, produced by the master shaper. It’s amazing how fast they go.
Mike was never the best self-promoter, but those that knew him or at least knew about him were well aware of his skill and genuineness as a person.
Rest in peace Mike Easton. You were one of the good guys.
– Dave Dalkiewicz is the owner of Ocean Atlantic Surf Shop in Ocean City.