Forrest Minchinton Shapes Surfboards in the Desert, and the Desert Shapes Him
Words by Nathan Myers
Photos by Harry Mark, Aaron Brimhall & Drew Martin
“At first I was just shaping surfboards to pay for motorcycles,” explains Forrest Minchinton. He elaborates, “Way out in the desert, somehow that made perfect sense.”
The road to Johnson Valley high desert passes through a few small towns. Smaller and smaller, until there’s just one store. And it’s closed. There are a few homes outside of town… then a few abandoned trailers… then nothing at all. Beyond that, there’s the place Forrest calls home.
The Compound resembles a scene from Mad Max: a ramshackle outpost of scattered structures and curated debris. Forrest and his dad call it the “what-you-got construction” style, inspired by the scavenger aesthetic of Baja, California. Everything on this high-desert property has a story. Some from previous lifetimes when the property was an illegal grow operation. Others salvaged from back alleys of Huntington Beach or yard sales between here and nowhere.
Back in the “real world” of Huntington Beach, Forrest’s dad Mike is a respected surfboard shaper. A humble priest of the sport, underpaid and wholly devoted. In an age of foreign pop-outs and Walmart foamies, Mike builds his boards entirely by hand, even doing his own glasswork.
Despite his longstanding reputation, it’s a hard way to make a living. So their tumbledown shaping operation in the desert offers respite from the distractions, inflations and restrictions of the city. This is the Wild West. They come here between swells, to wait out the tides of life and disappear into the dust. Out here, hours from the ocean, he taught young Forrest to shape surfboards. And he bought him a bike. The rest was up to the desert.
“We didn’t have any internet or phones out there,” says Forrest. “Just this one VHS copy of On Any Sunday that Bruce Brown gave my dad. That movie pretty much became my bible.
“The adults would be out drinking beer and shooting guns by the fire, and I’d be in the trailer reciting the narration word-for-word for the ten-thousandth time. I still watch it every time I come out here, at least once.”
By day, he’d ride. First, endless circles around the camp. Then, way, way out on his own. Earning it the hard way. Breaking down or getting lost, then pushing home across miles of sand to start again.
“The desert teaches you things,” says Forrest. “Real life lessons that they don’t teach in school. And I embraced it. I loved it.”
Once, on a remote dune, he went over the bars and broke his arm and leg. With his little YZ80 too mangled to ride, all he could do was lie there helpless in the sand. In the sun. Eventually (miraculously), a random dune buggy came along and saved his life.
“My leg hurt so bad I didn’t even realize my arm was broken,” says Forrest. “But I had these new Alpine Star boots that I didn’t want them to cut off, so I had the dune buggy guy pull them off me, even though he said I shouldn’t. He took me back to camp, and Dad drove me three hours to the hospital back in Huntington.”
From a young age, he spent half his year in Costa Rica surfing and the rest in California riding. But over time, his two-wheel obsession consumed him. He rode, mostly alone. He rode a lot. Pushing his limits across the empty wastelands. Progressing for no one to notice.
His talent never added up on paper. He qualified for the Loretta Lynn’s at an early age, but couldn’t afford to attend. Sometimes he’d ride on his own out to compete in the local Hare & Hound events. It was a 5-mile ride from the compound across the desert just to reach the start line.
“I’d arrive dusty and rough to the start line,” he says, “while everyone else was clean and fresh from their box-truck. Then my dad would show up with a tank of gas for me, and off we’d go.”
He did well in those events, but what did it mean? Forrest was better off pushing his luck alone. His solitary communion with the dust. He rode everything. Different bikes for different feelings. Dad’s vintage bikes on the turn track around the compound; a TT Flat Tracker for the dry lake bed; his beloved custom 2005 Honda CRF 450 that he bought for $800 and built specifically for the desert; or his modern-day 450 for the MX Track. Like his long-gone heroes from On Any Sunday, Forrest’s riding transcends genre. Different tools for different jobs.
In 2015, he competed in the Baja 500 as part of an all-Mexican racing team. Dad was his crew. No rig. No chase car. No radio. No GPS. They camped out for the pre-race training weeks and survived until the main event. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” says Forrest. “We were going pretty good until the bike blew up.” Just another day in the desert.
he surfing caught up to him again. Eventually. All those boards. All that shaping. All that dust. They’d stay in the desert just to wait out the swells. Dry their gills. Then back to the beach to deliver the boards, score some waves and reconnect with humanity.
“Most people struggle to see the comparison between surfing and motorbikes,” says Forrest, “but for me it’s all about reading shadows, drawing lines and connecting with the flow.”
Forrest shapes like he rides, defying the genres that cuckold the sport. He’ll shape a high-performance shortboard one day and a down-rail log the next. A classic fish or a hybrid single fin. Different tools for different jobs. It’s all about chasing a feeling.
These days, the surfboards spend more time than ever underfoot. Aside from his yearly sojourns to Central America, Deus Ex Machina has been taking him surfing around Indonesia, Australia and Japan, while his moto skills help lead their surfer/riders deeper into the jungles and uncharted coasts. He’s expanding his horizons. Discovering new dreams. Evolving.
But the desert remains unchanged. Unevolved. Timeless. And it’s here that Forrest always returns. The trips get longer. The leaving gets harder. He wonders sometimes whether he shouldn’t just stay there full-time.
No, not yet. That’s not his line. The shadows are leading him elsewhere. More flat track racing. The Baja 1000, perhaps. More Indonesian treks, for certain. Japan. Europe. Australia. The desert travels within him. A frame of mind. An answer to any question. A tool for a job.
“Some people look at this place and see a wasteland,” he says. “They might wonder why anyone would want to live out here. But I look out there and all I see is fun.”
Featured in Volume 010
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The desert is our troubled state. It is the dwelling place of our demons. This is a land of illusions and thin air, the vision is so cleared at times that the truth itself is deceptive...