The Face of Malibu by Johanna Spinks

Jefferson ‘Zuma Jay’ Wagner

He’s a surfboard designer, Hollywood stuntman and practical effects specialist. He was the Marlboro Man for seven years. He was on the Malibu City Council and has a degree in law. He does E.O.D (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) for the U.S. Navy. He’s an author with a book at the Library of Congress. 

Sixty-two-year-old Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner is the owner of Zuma Jay Surfboards since 1975 and he designs all of the surfboards himself. He’s been an avid surfer all his life and became Jay from Zuma when he helped build The Whale Watch and first set up his shop next to it. He’s a joint master concessionaire for the Malibu Pier and in his spare time enjoys gardening, playing chess and knife throwing.

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the man who does not text, tweet, use Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn or any other social media outlet. He believes communication should be done face to face. 

In 2012 you decided not to run for a second term on the City Council, but said you might run again in 2016. Will you consider running again and why?

I didn’t run for a second term because of economic hardships. I lost the Zuma Jay building in foreclosure at that time. But I will definitely consider running in 2016. I want to run because of civic service, community spirit and all that fun stuff. 

If you could give one message to the Malibu City Council what would it be and why?

To try and retire commercial properties in the Civic Center area because we could control the growth with the checkbook.

How did the man who was studying law at the University of the Pacific in Stockton end up becoming a surfboard designer with a successful surf shop in Malibu? Any regrets?

The romance of the ocean and the indignity of high-rise buildings. The only regret would be the financial aspect of it. How many poor lawyers do you know? The surf business is not financially rewarding but it’s a lifestyle that I’ve chosen. 

What’s the inspiration behind your surfboard designs? Do you have a favorite surfboard?

Most of my inspirations are practical, not visual. We’re a practical surfboard shop, not conceptual. We’re one of the last few surf shops that you can come in with a blank and walk out with a board. The Channel Bottom Hybrid is my favorite. It paddles well and is loose. I designed it back in the ‘80s and it still works today. 

You have been a stuntman and also done special effects in Hollywood movies. Which movie was the most memorable and why?

“Flags of Our Fathers” is the most memorable. I did stunts and artillery. It was a big budget Spielberg movie with a good director and producer. I still do special effects at least once a week. That’s where my income comes from, not the surf shop. I’m licensed for practical effects, which is the real stuff. 

Do you still get recognized as the Marlboro Man from the past billboards? What do you miss about being the Marlboro Man? If asked, would you do it again today?

I don’t get recognized anymore, it was so long ago, my hair is gray now and I look old. I miss the financial rewards. I wouldn’t do it now because I don’t want to promote cigarette smoking. It’s not what it was 20 years ago. 

What motivated you to write books?

I’ve written several books about travel, inspiration and history. I wrote one about the history of surf wax. It’s in color and can be found at the Library of Congress. My other books are “The Armchair Adventurist” and “The Hobos Handbook.” In my spare time, instead of going on Facebook or Instagram, I’d rather write about my experiences. I don’t even know how to text or tweet. People think it’s rude, but I just don’t do it. 

What is your favorite thing about Malibu?

Right now my favorite thing is that finally the people of Malibu have stepped up to the plate and decided to be involved with commercial development. 

How has Malibu changed over the years?

It used to be a time when people were judged on how they helped each other and the community. Now they are judged on financial acquisition and status in entertainment industry, and fewer people are caring about the daily benefits of living Malibu. We have a bunch of people running around in fancy cars. Where before it was about what you did to enhance the community and school district and if you were involved in politics and the environment. Now it’s the Malibu of Me. 

How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?

Peaceful. There were no phones or computers. You get to sit down for a couple of hours with no one bothering you. It was the first time anyone wanted to paint me.