Barking Up the Same Tree
Photos by Chris Aguilar
Joe Bark is not a small man. His face is wrinkled and sun-freckled from countless hours on the water and his strong hands have shaped thousands of watercraft: surfboards, prone paddleboards, and SUPs. But it’s his eyes that tell the real story: they light up with excitement as he talks about waves, water, and especially, family.
His son Jack, 18, has been helping him shape since he was 15. Gemma, the oldest at 20, attends business school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and offers unsolicited business advice, free of charge. Sam, 15, and Emily, 13, “test” boards. And the matriarch, Aimee, runs the family and the company books.
Bark runs his athlete team much the same way. He expects loyalty.
“I don’t want anyone who’s going to jump ship every time someone gives them a new trucker hat,” Bark says. “I support people that support me, my boards and gives me constructive criticism when we need to change things.”
The philosophy works: Any race in California or Hawaii looks like a Bark convention. Bark sponsors some of the biggest names in the game including Candice Appleby, Matt Becker and Morgan Hoesterey. He designed some of the earliest SUP boards for Laird Hamilton.
Bark is no shaping bay recluse either. He rekindled the Catalina Classic in 1983 and hasn’t missed a race since–2013 will mark his 30th crossing. He’s an avid fisherman, diver, surfer, bodysurfer, prone paddler and SUPer. He defines the waterman culture.
He lived a watery, sepia-toned childhood in the South Bay of Los Angeles. His parents would load the four siblings into the family van with boards and fishing equipment and charge down to Mexico for weeks at a time. They planted firecrackers in the sand and spent lots of time in the water. Bark has brought his family up much the same.
“The kids have all been in the water from day one,” Bark says. “They don’t care how bad the surf is, they’re getting in the water, the windier, the uglier the better.”
Jack says all the time in the water together has kept the family close.
“I’d go (surf) with Dad over my friends anytime,” he says.
Jack, who attends college at Cal State Dominguez Hills, has a shaping bay adjoining his father’s. Bark says Jack has recently come into his own as a craftsman.
“He’ll call me in and say, ‘How’s this look?’” Bark says. “It’s to the point now where I don’t correct anything. I just look at him, and say, ‘Those are your boards.’”
In 2012 Jack participated in Paddle2Live Junior Waterman Expedition, where he and other watermen and women traveled over 400 nautical miles from Point Conception to Newport Beach SUPing, paddleboarding, surfing, diving, fishing and learning parts of almost every ocean discipline.
“Now he wants to save up, buy a boat, and go out to the Channel Islands,” Bark says. “I’m letting him do what he wants to do. He’s got his head on straight.”
The Bark fruit hasn’t fallen far from the tree.—Will Taylor
This article originally ran in our Spring 2013 issue.
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