Never pay more than three hundred shekels for a new wetsuit again!
You might’ve noticed BeachGrit was enveloped by ads for the Independent Surf Co, an online-only wetsuit and accessories manufacturer, last week.
The common thread among the three companies is that all the founders came staggering out of the Stalingrad-esque ruins of Big Surf Industry: Need‘s Ryan Scanlon a former senior VP of Global Products for Quiksilver, NCHE‘s Simon Barrett and Jarrad Howse from Billabong and O’Neill, and Independent Surf Co‘s founders Vin Ryan and Royce Leu from Billabong.
A caveat: Royce is an old pal of mine. He worked at Surfing Life with me back when I was sorting mail etc. Love the guy. Surf to the core etc.
So when I heard he was involved in a wetsuit start-up, well, you help a guy. I try the two mil, short-sleeved steamer. It works. Two hundred and fifty Australian dollars or thereabouts (prices are listed as ex-tax).
Ain’t it a good time to be alive.
Just as the big surf co’s complete their transition from surfer-owned companies to assets in a VC’s portfolio there arrives a raft of companies operating in bedrooms, front rooms and little boats (Ryan, Need) .
I threw a line out to Vin from Independent yesterday ’cause I wanted to find out how a little guy, without much capital, can create an accessories company.
His story goes like this:
Vin started at Billabong, or more precisely its accessories arm Thin Air, when he was a kid. This was back when Billabong made their suits in Australia. He’d graduated to the cutting room and was making the suits when the company went public and, shortly after, the manufacture of suits moved to China.
Vin evolved. He liaised with suppliers in China. Gave ’em the specs. Negotiated prices.
Then after 24 years with Billabong/Thin Air, as Billabong moved designers and managers to the US, Vin got the tap of the shoulder. Redundant.
Vin was paid the minimum, legal redundancy. A quarter of a century of loyalty don’t count for much on balance sheets.
“That’s big business,” says Vin.
So he starts Independent Surf Co. Wetsuits. Tail pads. Legropes. Three hundred, Thirty and Thirty dollars apiece.
His angle is making suits with features that you’d find on the big co’s six hundred and seven hundred dollar suits: mesh panels, S-seals, a thermal lining, those little tech details you don’t notice but you feel.
Vin, who is paying the bills working as a waterproofer on a building site, says being on a construction site has sharpened his sense of offering value to surfers.
“You see how hard the average guys work for their dollars, to be able to go away and afford all these high-priced items, wetsuits up to seven hundred dollars,” says Vin. “Instead we offer ’em for 270 bucks.”
Regarding his old masters Vin says,
“The thing that disappointed me when I was working at Billabong was a lot of these people running the show are focussed on these products that make more money, which is fair enough. But when you’re making a core product for surfers, that a surfer really needs, they don’t put the effort they should, for the price they charge. That’s where guys like us, who’ve been in it for so long, are prepared to give surfers a quality suit at half the price.”
I’ll give an honest appraisal.
I’ve never had a suit better than the Rip Curl Flash Bomb my hams currently inflate. But I got a little discount. Not free. Enough to make it a choice between what works best. And y’gotta give it to Rip Curl. They make a fine wetsuit.
But if you had to make a choice between paying three hundred or seven hundred?
Is the difference big enough?