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'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 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:

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 I want to know how you feel about this.

Thanks, Alex

1970 MUSTANG February 17, 2015 04:14

My uncle called and asked me to come check out his vehicle  in Kailua, he had a later 1990s or early 2000s toyota supra if i remember correctly. The car had been sitting for a few years and would not start. While I was checking his car's battery trying to figure out if it would still be able to charge , in my peripheral vision i could see a black rectangular back end of a car something that  looked "muscly"

I immediately ran over and removed plant growth that had  enveloped it, and found that it was a 1970 Mustang with a Mach 1 emblem on the side.

I begged my uncle to go find the keys so i could unlock it and check what what the power house was. He took some time to search for the keys, this car had also been sitting for years just like the Toyota, I tried hard to keep my excited composure and didn't want to stress him out about finding the key because i really wanted him to stay calm and focus. He came back about 30 minutes later with the original ford car keys!

Underneath the hood was a 351 Cleveland V8 , duel double pump Holly Carburetor. Un-surprised the car didn't start, the battery had died. I asked him what his plans were for the car , he told me my cousin bought it off a man who lived on Maui and used it as a Race car for the track. So immediately i called my cousin and asked him if I could buy it from him, he said what he wanted $$$ , that's what he paid for it,  with out hesitation I went to the bank, got his cash and just like that i now had another project i didn't need in my life hahaha. Paid a tow truck $400 and took the Mustang home. 

With the car on jacks it was time to take a closer look at what I had to work with. I'm sharing this experience with you because looking back on this purchase, it wasn't a good move and I hope you can learn from my mistakes. I was in the process of building and moving in to Dust & Fumes, i wasn't honest with myself on how much free time i actually didn't have to take on more things in my life. 

The photo with the mustang with its wheels off, i could now see that the car was missing a bunch of things. The previous owner had removed all the chrome trim from all windows which my wallet found out would be $250.00 for front and rear window plus $70.00 in shipping to Hawaii, the driver and passenger windows were $175 together with shipping. 

He had converted the gas tank and fuel line to 3 different fuel injectors all pumping at the same time. When we did get the car running the fuel pumps sounded like an orchestra of bees. 

The fuel lines were also connected to house hold pipes and ran to an off switch in the back of the rear end, under the trunk lid. The reason for the kill switch back there is just in case there's a fire on the race track , someone can turn off the fuel from outside. To fix this was going to be such a nightmare. 

The shop build was almost complete and ready to begin production work , so i didn't have much time to get this car in decent condition , painted to slow down the rust until i'm ready to fully restore.

We did some light welding and body work , prime the car. 

In this photo of the rear end you can see we disconnected and removed the kill switch and welded the panel flat just like it was stock.

We also found the existing wire harness stripped , cut and left like a old bag of used rubber bands; un organized , brittle and discolored.  The Maui Owner didnt want any turn signals or lights to work. I'm thinking he wanted to maximize fuel and power to the motor that's why he did this. We tried going through each individual wire and hand checked to make sure the wire work and at some point we threw in the towel and gave in to buying a whole new wire harness from Painless Performance parts for $1,500 with free shipping. 

Once the Harness arrived, we ran  cables to the important parts of the vehicle just to get the car at least running so we could see how healthy the motor was.

Photo above: Tai Chi charging the battery.

The motor ran loud and pretty strong, the timing and idle was off and rough but it was a good start.

We purchased a rebuild kit for the carburetor , was roughly $70.00.

Here Junior is cleaning and prepping the surface for the new carb kit.


While the boys were doing their mechanic work i started fabricating a fiber glass piece to give the mustang its aggressive look.


... and with a little black paint i think it looks killer. 

Now it was time to rent a U-Haul tow dolly and take it to Juniors for a quick paint job. The Tow dolly was about $100-$200 to rent for 1-2 days. Black paint with matte finish was a few hundred bucks, i cant really recall and i don't want to give the wrong number but i think it was about $400-$600. Paint is definitely not cheap.

Mustang being taken to Junior's for some color.

Masking off windows and trim.

 I don't recommend painting a car this way. If i had more time id completely restore from the ground up. Remove all windows, rubers, body parts and paint them inside out, but with the deadline of the factory opening this was our only option. 

Here's first layer of black. 

Heres what the matte coat looks like when its applied. Its glossy at first til it dries and then mattes out.

.... and this is what it looks like the next day..

Thanks Junior , Taichi for your help!

She will rest here until the time comes for a full restoration... 

My first VW Van *1983 Vanagon* April 16, 2014 14:17

When does a car been come classic or vintage? 

Some may consider a car made in the 1950s as a Classic, whilst others consider classic cars to be ones from the 1980s. Although there is no precise definition, the Classic Car Club of America considers a car to be classic if aged between 30 and 49 years, and modern classics are defined as cars aged between 15 and 25 years old.

At the time I had never owned any VW classic or new car, and wanted to dip my foot in to the #VanLife trend and see what all the fuss was about. I searched Craigslist Oahu and found this 1983 Vanagon with a "Pancake motor" ,  it was called that because of how flat the motor would sit in the engine bay. 

I called up the owner via Craigslist and met him at a bar below Aiea Bowls, there was a little sports bar in the corner.

We grabbed some dinner and shared a pitcher of beer and began talking. I wanted to know why he was selling this beautiful van. He said he had this car for many years , and it was just time to let her go to someone else to enjoy. If you're a car guy/gal you'd agree, after being the care taker of a vehicle for so long, unless you are going to pass it down to your child (hopefully they appreciate and will take care of it) or a friend , family member you'd want the car to be loved and on the road again. I made him a promise that if he would allow me to buy the vehicle , that i would wash, clean and love this car daily. So with a hand shake and a hug we made the exchange. 

I love that license plate and wish the previous owner let me have it, but he kept it for sentimental reasons.

The Van was a bright orange bottom with a metallic grey top, House of Kolors paint. The owner  lowered the bus and she sat on some import car tyle , low profile custom wheels. 

I installed some Thule roof racks up top but whats super cool about this Van is inside the cabin of the van the previous owner fabricated and welded inside ceiling racks.

I was about to store 4 longboards  inside!! These benches open up to large storage , 2'x3' and 2'x4'.

Heres a better angle of inside looking towards the front. The Van had surround sound, with a bug sup hidden underneath the bench. The Van had 2 large Optima batteries , one for the vans operation and the other dedicated for the speakers 4 monitors for movies, and secutiry feature.

The Van had a touch sensory that would lock , unlock and alarm the whole car with out a key. This was the best feature, that meant I could go to the beach, hiking, camping without ever having to carry a key in my pocket and lose it. 

The sensory was a very thin low profile device that would lay behind the windshield.

With the security code put it,  all the doors would unlock and the car's smart system would allow the push button to be activated and work. That was also another amazing feature of the car was the push button. 


I just love the retro 1980s style spaceship, KnightRider dash gauges , buttons and wood steering wheel. 

These side vents are where the Air comes in to cool off the motor. All the windows, doors and sliding doors worked smooth and properly.

...But just as I was loving this Van things came up and I had to sell her. The shop  was being built and we needed more funds for materials and equipment. I had made a promise that who ever owned the van would love and cherish it, I plan to honor it. I  put the Van up on craigslist and interviewed ever person who inquired. I wanted to make sure they were going to take care of the van. 

A young military man called and said he would love a chance to care for the Van. He had just moved to Hawaii for work, and hope the van would help get him out of his shell to meet new people, share new camping and beach experiences and make some friends. He was shy and  the van would help. 

I felt his honesty was what helped me decide that he was the one i wanted to pass the van on to. Immediately i called the previous owner to ask for his blessings , and he agreed. So I met up with the young military gentleman , asked him to keep the same promise I did with the previous owner and with a handshake we made the transaction. 

As far as i know  , the young military man spent his 4 years here in Hawaii and got transferred to another state or country and took the VAN with him. I hope during those 4 years, he got a chance to enjoy the Hawaii surf culture made some friends and shared some great memories.