Interview with Baggage Handler Mike Dismukes


I was fortunate to catch up with Mike Dismukes recently via email to pick his brain on the pitfalls and perils of traveling with a longboard. Let’s be honest. It sucks, but with a little prevention (and common sense) you can keep the damages minimal and be shred-fucking-ready upon hugging your boardbag at baggage claim. I was also able to get nerdy on his surfer/shaper relationship with Jim Phillips and get the low down on the Magic Ham. Enjoy.

- Bob Loblaw 

Mike,... as a surfer and a baggage handler at an airline, have you seen any serious carnage come down the conveyor belt?

 A couple of years ago we unloaded an Airbus and there was 1/2 of a Hypto, the tail half, no board bag no nothin' just half a Thai shortboard with a baggage tag stuck on it. Dude filed a damage claim. Probably didn't go his way but who knows? The board is still in our briefing room, we throw pencils at it. 

Have you ever personally had a surfboard not make it to its final destination in one piece?
 The truth is, there is far less damage than you'd think which I reckon explains the outrage when people post damage on social media etc... The impression people have is that we're down in the cargo hold kicking the shit outta your stuff like Rick James "Fuck yo' Couch!" We're not. We love you and we don't want to hurt you. You asked if I've had damage and I have. Dings suck but they're part of surfing and surf travel.

What could someone do to insure that their beloved log gets there in one piece, free of damage?
 First and foremost remember that commercial airlines are not shipping companies. The aircraft we fly, along with the supporting infrastructure is designed specifically to move passengers and their 40 to 70 pound rectangular suitcases and such. The cargo compartments of these aircraft are semicircular like a long tube cut in half. The hold is just big enough to accommodate a certain number of rectangles, your boards are square pegs in a round hole. Keeping this in mind, and I can't stress this enough, is that making the board bag, box, or whatever as light as you can will help ensure your shit is top-loaded. If you juuust gotta bring all three of your V-bowls', (V-bowlses?) Eggs or mid length's and a giant noserider, you can expect it will go on the bottom. I'm six one and two hundred and twenty pounds, I'll be lifting and stacking your board and up to 4 tons of baggage from my knees.  (A lot of Samoans do this job and thank god for that.) A big mistake people make is to also pack towels and wetties and clothes in their boardbag. These bags will get wet when sitting plane-side in the rain waiting to be loaded and will be too heavy for one person to lift. Cut some pool noodles and tape them to the rails and if you can, put a sheet of bubble wrap, cardboard or similar on the deck and the bottom. Board bags can use some design upgrades. Here's another pro tip: Remove all straps, zipper fobs and anything that can be eaten by a conveyor belt, there are miles of conveyors below the airport that can fowl and cause bags to miss flights. 

Didn’t you also work at Surfy Surfy packing boards?
 Yes, JP's mom Sally who is the size of one of my legs was boxing a huge volume for the shop at Moonlight so my son Ben and I would come by and prep shipments at the shop. I boxed for Gene Cooper, Jim Phillips, Campbell Brothers and the like, so many glassed on fins, soooo many. 

How and when did you start collaborating with Jim Phillips? I’m curious about the Magic Ham. What is this design based off of and what are the ideal conditions to ride it?
I met Jim about 12 years ago, my good friend Gene Cooper introduced us. I had heard about Jim but didn't know much other than the "Jim The Genius" moniker that Gene said was well deserved. I had been riding Velzy's and Velzy styled pigs for about 20 years and wanted to move out of the late 1950's and early 1960's style of boards and surfing and into that narrow window in time just before the mini-gun. I had talked to Nat Young on a trip to a contest in Costa Rica about Sam and asked Jim to take a crack at a Magic Sam style board. We changed the entry and tail rocker from period, and took out any belly. The board became pretty popular for Jim which is not surprising as it was just so easy to surf well, also the Oz influenced boards were about to catch on again here in San Diego. The Wombat was the second dive into the 67 to 69 period and was based (in outline) on a board I had seen Wayne Lynch surf on video. Basically a McTavish Tracker but with rocker and belly again modified. Both boards are really easy to generate speed in lackluster surf. Fast is fun. 

What fin do you use or recommend?
The Magic ham is finned with a Greenough 4a and the Wombat works best (for me) finned with a bit more tip.
I really love custom boards, the whole process is exciting and unique to surfing, I hope young surfers understand this. I also cannot say enough good things about Jim Phillips, so lucky to have him as a friend and an interpretor of my surfing whims. 

What was your first surfboard?
 A '7 ish S-Decked mini gun. My dad got it for me at a garage sale when I was 12, that was in 1976. Before the Softons, beginner kids got used boards. This is the way.

What surfboard do you wish you never sold?
 No. I don't collect or grind over creating or maintaining a "quiver" so I either wear boards out cuz I'm an ape, or I don't connect with them and I pass them on. 

What are you listening to? (Full disclosure, I listen to very little rap/hip hop)
 I listen to everything but EDM, cuz you know. I'd rather cry to Enya than listen to EDM. Anyway, given this is LogRap I'll go with Big Daddy Kayne "Ain't no Half Steppin'" and Eric B. & Rakim "Know The Ledge."

Any book recommendations?
I'm reading a book by a friend of mine named Ken Layne called 'Desert Oracle'  It’s a collection of short stories about the American desert southwest. If you like Edward Abbey and Hunter S. Thompson, or drugs, or weird shit I recommend you get the book and check out The Desert Oracle Podcast by the usual methods.