Keeping the soul in surfing

Nickolas Halleran | Courtesy
Nickolas Halleran | Courtesy

By Rebecca Lazzeri

Dirt Bag Surf & Board Co. brings the surf culture of Virginia Beach to a new level. Not only can surfers purchase customized boards, but they can help make them.

Nick Halleran, a Virginia Beach local, started the business because he had a passion for making surfboards. When the waves are bad, you can catch him in his workshop off of Birdneck Rd., cultivating foam blanks into hand-made, quality surfboards.

His company offers board-making classes where customers can actually learn how to make a board under Halleran’s supervision and experience everything that goes into the process.

“If you come in and shape a board, you’ll know more about surfing than most surfers. We can work with people who have surfed for their whole lives or people who have never touched a board,” Halleran said.

Halleran said that before the commodification of surfboards, all surfers had to make their own boards because there was no other option. Even still, many surfers try to make their own boards as an affordable alternative.

“A lot of people still try to do it themselves to save money, but with all of the tools and chemicals that you need, you end up more in the hole than if you just went to a surf shop,” Halleran said.

When the board-shaping industry exploded, surfboards became much more uniform when sold in surf shops and online.

Halleran said this diminishes the value of boards.

“When you build a board, you definitely are way more invested in it,” he said. “Price wise, it’s less or the same amount to build a board with us. The personal investment is way greater and you gain the understanding of what it takes to make a board. All the things you know you’re supposed to do with a surfboard you find yourself doing with a board you’ve actually made.”

A handful of VWC students were able to learn how to shape with Nick’s help.

“It was a great experience to see all the details that go into making a surfboard and having an awesome person like Nick explain every step made it even better,” alumni Maureen Luerssen said.

Dirt Bag not only makes customized boards, but also provides board repair services and surfing lessons to beginners.

“I bought a board last fall online and the deck had a huge bubble. Nick fixed it within a week and usually it takes a lot more time,” junior Trey Queen said.

“It’s cool that Nick made Dirt Bag a local business because it gives customers a tangible person who they can go to to get a board and removes the big corporate aspect of factory made boards,” Queen said. “It keeps the soul in surfing.”

“It has been an absolute pleasure to watch Dirt Bag Surf Co. grow from the very beginning. When Nick started the company, he did not know the exact direction he was going but he always knew that he wanted everything he did to be relational, soulful, meaningful, and impactful,” alumni Scott Westfall said.

Halleran said that although he loves shaping, he would much rather do it with people than spend 40 hours every week making surfboards alone, which is why he loves to teach board making classes.

The time spent in the board-making process ranges. A custom-made board can take up to 20 hours, but sessions may range based on a customer’s availability.

Halleran said he usually teaches people shaping and tries to refrain from glassing with people because it is toxic.

“Shaping with people is usually an average of 8 hours typically split into two sessions,” he said. “I’ve also done marathon sessions on a Saturday, or split up on week nights for people with a school schedule.”

Halleran said that he only makes estimates after sitting down with someone to talk about what they need so that he does not overcharge them.

“If somebody is interested or has questions, I love getting together with people at a coffee shop or something to talk about what they want,” he said.

The essence of Dirt Bag was born when Nick and his buddies were getting ready to surf in the early hours of the morning.

“We were eating cold hot dogs at four or five in the morning before we went surfing. One of the guys said ‘this is dirty’ and after that we started calling ourselves the North End dirt bags,” Halleran said.

When Halleran started shaping boards, he wanted this grungy essence to be the heart of his company.

“I don’t want to get in the rat race of cranking out a bunch of boards rather than making the right boards for the right people,” Halleran said.

“I think it’s good because each board he does personally. I’ve been in the shaping room with him and when he works on a board it’s the only one so that it gets done well. He really enjoys it, and it’s something he’s passionate about” Queen said.

“It’s not for everybody. But I think it could be. Should be,” Halleran said.