Thoughts on Off-shore Surfboard Production and Visiting Almond Surfboards April 22, 2019 22:13
The idea of advertising where a board is made hasn't always been stressed until recently, as far as I've noticed. With the recent mass off-shoring of the production of major surfboard brands, with major financial backing, lots of makers have begun stressing where their boards are made as a selling point.
I have always just made surfboards where I lived. When you're basically a one-man show, you work where you live. For me it just happens to be Hawaii.
Meeting and having conversations with other board builders, all pumping out different amounts of boards per year, they are from all over the world, most are just making their boards where they live. I've encountered different board builders with each their own challenges to making boards where they live. To someone in Russia or Norway they've told me how hard it is to work with resin in cold weather. A builder in the Philippines explained to me that they primarily have to use epoxy resin, not because they are trying to be "eco-friendly," but because polyester resin is hard to source. I assume that their boards are made where they are living. It's interesting to see how you don't usually see "Made in Norway" or "Made in the Phillipines" as part of their selling point. Maybe it's because people who are buying their boards in their regions just assume, and expect, for their boards to be made right there. Maybe it's Americans who have been the drivers behind the movement of knowing where your boards are being produced because it's a lot of American companies who are starting to off-shore their production. This makes me think it's mainly because making boards one at a time, by hand, by yourself, does not usually provide a very comfortable livable wage in the beach cities where there is a demand for surfing. Beach towns usually are pricier to live in, due to their desirable location, so I completely understand when there are companies who see outside production as the only option.
I started looking around more intentionally, and found out that a huge portion of surfboard goods in America get imported from places like China, Thailand, Taiwan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. Australia, another large portion of the global surfboard market, is also seeing more and more imported goods.
What does that mean for the surfboard economy? But more importantly what does this mean for the future of surf culture?
I personally have nothing against a hard working person doing what they need to do in order to feed their family in Asia, and this could mean making a surfboard for a surfer miles and miles away while they've never had the privilege to have surfed a day in their lives. I lived in Vietnam for 6 years, and my family (and I'm sure many of yours) has experienced first hand how hard it is to make a living there. When it comes to manufacturing a surfboard, it honestly takes just as much effort to sand a board in Asia as it takes for me to do in Hawaii. The amount of labor is practically the same. I know some will argue about the extra time, effort, and expertise spent by someone who is trying to perfect their craft, but I'm speaking generally here.
My concern is what happens in 100 years when surfers won't know what it's like to meet with their shaper, glasser, or sander, get to know one another, and build a board that both parties will enjoy making and surfing. I'm not even talking about hand-shaped versus CNC, poly versus epoxy, expensive or inexpensive. I'm talking about human-to-human interaction. The thought of purchasing a surfboard and having it shipped directly to consumer (ala Amazon prime) without having the thought of a person behind making it is concerning. But should it be? Should it matter? We already live in a culture where people would rather order Postmates than having to deal with people face to face because that's what they prefer. Maybe we are moving away from more human interaction, and maybe the consumer market is shifting. Do people care about this stuff anymore, and should we be concerned about preserving our old ways?
Here's an example from a different industry: Lets say you wanted to get a picture to hang on your wall about 50 years ago. If you wanted a photo...you'd have to find a photographer to take the picture and get it developed for you. Nowadays you don't even have to call someone on the telephone, you just go online and print it out or order it to your doorstep. The name of the photographer isn't even a concern the majority of the time.
Children today don't know of a world without printers, most don't know what developing film is, nor do they care...is this okay? How do you feel if it were surfboards being distributed with out a persons touch?
My gears have been turning for a while regarding this topic because I feel like we can do something about it, or just let the Amazon culture take over. Surfers make up such a small portion of the overall population, but maybe we should push back a little on this new digital world. With so much more of business moving online, transactions are speeding up and the consumer is also demanding a faster made product as well. Maybe it's inevitable. **EDIT just as I posted this I came across a Casey Neistat video that he just uploaded that speaks on the same subject I'm trying to address here. Human to human connection.** Link: http://bit.ly/2VYv3OE
This discussion makes me question, which surfboard brands are known for being made in the US and is this something that can be sustainable? Almond Surfboards in California came to mind. I've admired their work, art, marketing, and overall esthetic for years now. They've been able to successfully capture an authentic timeless Americana feel and it seems they've developed a very authentic and desirable following. I also like how I don't hear people criticizing them for their surfboard pricing because it seems fair (I could argue that it could even go up). While in Los Angeles, CA I wanted to make it a point to go check out their shop and see their Instagram feed in person (spoiler alert, they did not disappoint).
California is a magical place, if you haven't been there I'd recommend going. Los Angeles is so so in my personal opinion. Once you get outside the city California is wonderful, the people are warm and friendly, and the pace of life is a little slower, more like what I'm used to in Hawaii.
At the Newport location the parking lot is around the back. At the time, it was newly paved, construction was happening on the street, but it was overall a pretty peaceful vibe.
The store was just as I've seen in pictures and imagined.
(pics above belong to Almond)
As soon as we stepped inside I recognized Dave Allee (co-founder), as he was helping a customer order a custom board. Dave acknowledged and welcomed us, in my book friendliness goes along way. There's been so many shops I have been to where people don't look at you, let alone use words to say hi.
(pic above belongs to Almond)
I love their art pictured above!
There were no advertising images of bikinis or abs on the walls to hard sell us on the seductive lifestyle of a surfer. What a breathe of fresh air!
I heard Watermen's Guild glasses Almond's boards and I had to see their work in person because their reputation preceeds them. Living on Oahu, and Watermen's Guild being in California, I've only been able to see their boards via Instagram. The photos on Instagram look amazing but seeing these boards in person is a whole other thing. The boards were each well thought out and executed nicely.
All the small details! If you've glassed and sanded a surfboard then you know what I mean. To make something colorful and cool is one thing, but to get it clean is so much harder than it looks, with so many variants for error. Especially with the nature of surfboards having only one shot to get it right the first time.
A clean and beautiful board starts from a good blank, a solid shaper with a clean shape that is also thoughtful and mindful of the glasser and sander. Without everything going perfectly, the customer will grumble, and it is so much harder to get every step perfect than the average consumer realizes.
"Simplicity is the most difficult thing to secure in this world; it is the last limit of experience and the last effort of genius." -George Sand
When we opened up our small Dust & Fumes factory, this style and approach to glassing was our focus, it takes a lot of dedication and sacrifices to achieve. So many mistakes, hiccups, and learning experiences along the way. This is where the term "Do it for the love" comes from in the board process. I truly appreciate and respect what Almond Surfboards and the crew at Watermen's Guild are doing. They are both working hard to keep this art alive, and I have so much respect for them.
These close-up details show how even and clean the white resin panels are. It looks basic, but this takes tremendous amounts of planning and execution. You can tell the tape was pulled so cleanly. So satisfying!
Resin panels running evenly down to the bottom tail end of the board to show off the 3/8" dark wood stringer and classic glass-on D Fin. I can just picture all the hours of labor right here.
I'm sharing this story with you in hopes that it starts a discussion and brings up questions about where our surf culture is going. These surfboards are tools to bring us closer to nature, people, and ourselves. Would your future self care if all surfboards were made by someone you don't know? Is having a human touch important to you? Leave a comment or email me firstname.lastname@example.org I want to know how you feel about this.