While I may not subscribe to Peter Schroff's beliefs, I am partial to a little Photoshop humour. Here, Kelly Slater, owner of Firewire, with Mark Price, company CEO, in his arms.

Relentless: Schroff’s War on Mark Price!

Noted anti-Asian surfboards warrior goes after Firewire CEO Mark Price… 

Some years ago now, I wrote a long-form story on the former world champion surfer Martin Potter. In the course of researching the story, which took six months, I spoke to the South African pro surfer turned Gotcha’s VP of marketing, Mark Price, who is now the CEO of Firewire surfboards.

Price spoke kindly of Martin despite accusations that he was “jealous” of Martin’s success. 

“There are a lot of pro surfers out there that kids wanna surf like. But there are very few pro surfers that kids want to be like. And, if you’ve got one of those guys, they’re worth their weight in gold. And that’s the fact of the matter. Pottz was worth his weight in gold,” said Mark.

I liked him. A calm, rational sorta cat. Always quick to return calls. Open. Honest enough.

A few days ago, in response to an Instagram campaign by the eighties shaper Peter Schroff against Firewire’s offshore manufacturing, and Price personally, I called again.

How did he feel about posts like this?

And this?

This?

anudder one from one our biggest contributors

A post shared by Peter Schroff (@peterschroff) on

Of course, I’d lost Mark’s telephone number long ago.

But then Schroff posted Mark’s email address and his personal telephone number.

Hello!

When Mark called me back, as he’s quick to do, he said he wasn’t interested in becoming embroiled in a blood feud, which I naturally would’ve preferred, but sent me the link to an interview he’d recently done with The Business of Surf’s Brad Bricknell. 

It’s an interview heavy on the buttered gravy (Sample quote: “In the last 12 years though, Mark Price has led a surfboard revolution… pioneered the space and indelibly changed the landscape… and not just in business, but for the good of the environment too.“), ooowee, dripping chins hither and yon etc.

But it covers, and covers well, the most contentious of Schoff and whomever else’s charges.

BRAD: It’s commonly known that manufacturing and selling surfboards is a low margin game. Do you ever see that changing at any point in the future? There are really only 2 levers to pull – either cost or RRP?

MARK: In the time we have been in business, we’ve seen the RRP go up. However, I think this is part of a much larger conversation around the overall surfboard marketplace and business model, which is pretty broken.

I think that there are 2 main factors that are driving down retail margins for surfboards (and wholesale margins), basically margins across the entire supply chain. One is probably the fact that it’s the only product category in the world where a very high percentage of surfboards (perhaps as high as 25%?) are sold outside of retail – factory direct, at prices that are below our wholesale prices. So that’s one challenge.

The other one is that it’s probably the only sporting good product in the world where there are 500-plus manufacturers of varying scale all competing for a piece of the pie. Therefore, you don’t get the economies of scale you usually get in other industries where the market leaders have a fairly large share of the total market.

On a related note, Firewire has copped a lot of flak over the years for building boards in Asia and this whole Asian sweatshop stereotype that’s out there. Two things on that:

Our factory is ISO9000 Certified, which is a quality control certification around factory processes and consistent outcomes, and within the next 12 months, we will be Fair Trade certified as well, which is a labor standard that no other surfboard factory, and not many other factories period, could meet.

Nor would they be willing to make the investments in qualitative labor practices in order to qualify for FT certification. Fortunately for us we already had the bulk of those benchmarks in place, so we were already almost there.

With that in mind, we are running the furthest thing from a sweatshop. But the bigger question is why did we go offshore? Some on Social Media like to claim that it’s because we’re greedy assholes who just want to get rich. (laughs). I’m sure you’ve heard the old joke, ‘How do you make a small fortune in the surfboard industry? Start with a large one!’

If you recall when we started in 2006, we set up factories in Burleigh Heads and San Diego and spent a small fortune to get those up and running.

But because of the complicated nature of our boards and the materials cost, we had to put them out there at a significantly higher price point than our competitors, and they didn’t sell.

And the reason for that is for decades, the domestic board builders have built disposable product. They have trained the consumer that your board is going to ride great, but after a year it’s probably worth next to nothing! Garage sale maybe, for a couple of hundred bucks. It’s yellow, time to get a new one and the deck looks like a golf ball. So, we were forced to drop our prices to the same level as the other premium PU board builders until consumers could appreciate what we were building which took time, and when we did that, the company took off like a rocket ship. However, our domestic manufacturing margins became so low that we could not support the business.

So rather than pillory us for going offshore I think they should look themselves in the mirror and acknowledge that they created a price to value equation in the consumer’s mind that was too low!

Over decades, they trained the consumer that that’s all a surfboard was worth. Because if you talk to board builders they will always tell you that surfboards are too cheap based on what it takes to build them. Which is true, but the consumer only cares about the value to them, they don’t care what it costs to make.

BRAD: And once you have precedence in the market, it’s difficult to change it….

MARK: Exactly. And what’s so ironic is now that we have entered the market and succeeded around technology, and we were forced to go offshore (and lost a small fortune) our competitors who are now trying to compete against us with technology are going offshore to manufacture as well, because they’ve hit the same wall that we did! And some of them are doing it in a bit of disingenuous manner – without fully disclosing the country of origin or acknowledging it in the subtlest way possible. Whereas we have laminated a decal on the rail since day one with that information.

I don’t mind getting sh*t for building our boards offshore because that is factually accurate, but I won’t accept the premise that we went there just to make a buck. We went offshore to stay in business!

We run a high-quality operation and we were forced offshore by the (broader) business model. And we’ve been instrumental in helping raise the price of surfboards at retail over the last 10 years as consumers realized that we offered increased durability without sacrificing performance (a higher price to value equation to come back to an earlier point), and that has benefitted all board builders.

BRAD: Part of your business model is also to hold a lot of stock – are there pros and cons to that strategy?

MARK: Yeah there are, but surfing is such a highly individualized activity, as you know. If you are a snowboard brand you could probably offer less than 20 SKU’s and cover a pretty high percentage of potential customers, whereas with surfing you wouldn’t even get out the gate! Remember when it comes to surfboards, the term SKU drills down to the individual model, length/dims and fin system. So, it’s a business necessity if you want to cater to a variety of surfing abilities, physical conditioning, and wave conditions.

On the plus side, unlike the apparel industry that is highly seasonal; a surfboard that didn’t sell in March, is still viable in July! I’ll take the trade-off of a lot of SKU’s relative to our revenue, but a fairly simple business model from a seasonal standpoint. That said, we have fairly sophisticated tools in place to rationalize every SKU so our inventory mix is kept tight.

BRAD: What does someone like the greatest surfer of all time bring to the business?

MARK: (Laughs) Nothing! (More laughs) Kelly’s involvement in the company was substantial for a number of reasons. Obviously, we were able to launch Slater Designs, his namesake brand, and if ever there was a product category that was perfectly aligned with an athlete, it would be surfboards and Kelly! So, it was a great entrée into the market for that brand and its had an impact already.

But I think of equal importance – when Kelly left a PU company and joined a company like Firewire that was exclusively EPS and epoxy, it caused a large segment of the surfing population to re-look at those materials.

When we first started we probably had the attention and interest of 20% of the market, maybe. With Kelly’s involvement, not only did we launch his brand, but now 75% plus percent of potential customers are now looking at the whole range of products we made.

The proof was that we initially thought that Slater Design’s would cannibalize some of the Tomo and Firewire business, but it didn’t. They all grew for that reason.

Etc.

Read the rest here. And do feel free to respond.

 


Hi. I'm Kieren.

Rumor: Bells to start late!

Days after the supposed "double-overhead" swell hits!

This morning, when the sun comes up over the sleepy town of Torquay, Australia the official window for the Bells Beach Classic, presented in association with Rip Curl and Kim Jong Un will be open. Professional surfing is back! Did you miss its absence? Julian Wilson won the season’s kickoff event just up the Gold Coast less than two weeks ago but it feels like a short lifetime ago. It’s a funny thing about professional surfing. It seems like it’s always here but also, and at the same time, never here. Some event always starting soon but no event ever running now.

I suppose this has to do with surfing’s unique playing field. Until all competition is moved into pools then we will be stuck in this limbo and the World Surf League will be there jerking our chain.

Take the Bells Beach Classic, presented in Association with Rip Curl and Kim Yo-jong. The waiting period begins today (Australia time) and the League says good swell on the way for tomorrow (also Australia time), posting a bold Surfline prediction on their landing page.

From Surfline Lead Forecast Kevin Wallis: A series of swells are expected, starting March 29 — the second day of the event window — including waves up to double-overhead.

But BeachGrit’s man on the ground says this is a bald-faced lie. That the event isn’t likely to start until Friday. Now, this is, theoretically just fine for those organizing the event. Friday is Good Friday and a fine time for the opening day of a surf competition. Bells, if you recall, is a ticketed event and all that money pouring into Rip Curl’s coffers will be very welcome in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Production orders of slave-stitched Rip Curl boardshorts can be doubled.

But for the stay-at-home fan, these days with a surf professional surf competition without professional surfing are tedious. Troubling even. Anticipation every single morning finally blunted by the World Surf League’s Live with Kieren Perrow show. Him standing their, wet hair’d, saying, “Ahhhh yeah. We got a little bit too much south in it so we’re waiting for the tide to drop which it might do in a couple hours here…” etc.

Day after day after day of Kieren Perrow.

 

The World Surf League overlords rejoicing over web traffic spikes as the masses, buoyed by false hope, click for Kieren.

Well, it’s not starting until Friday, says our man on the ground, so tamp down your expectations. There will be no escape from your mundanity until this weekend. None whatsoever.


It ain't quite the days of the lethal rubber leash but…stretch a urethane cord tight enough and it's gonna bite back.

Who knew: Surf Leash Recoil Kills?

Your legrope can ice you in myriad ways… 

Back in January, the Maui surfer Dusty Payne went over the falls backwards on a six-foot wave and slammed face-first into the Backdoor reef. Dusty, who was attached to his board, was pulled unconscious from the water before being resuscitated on the beach. Busted skull. Busted jaw. But he lived.

A few hours later, in a lesser known incident, a former pro was killed while surfing Rocky Point lefts. Glean Jeans, who was fifty six, was found unresponsive in the water and couldn’t be revived.

What killed him?

According to an email from a surfer who was there, and that was sent to the Surf Splendor webcast’s anonymous rumour line, the killer was his leash.

“Glen Jeans passed away at Rocky Point. I was in the water that day. I also was on the beach before lifeguards arrived. I stayed until they pronounced him dead. There are still rumors of Glen being hit by another surfer/surfboard. However, I submitted your webcam footage to a Honolulu Detective that showed otherwise. No media outlet has seemed to update the cause of death and I’d like this story to be shared. He was dropped in on, but he was not hit. He got off the wave and duck dived under the next one. He emerged and paddled towards the channel and duck dove a second wave. This is where the accident happened. His own board slipped out of his hands and shot up tail high behind him. It then returns down due to the leash. He never emerges from this duck dive, rather you see his limbs (arms?) flailing about two seconds after the impact. He drifts out of the frame to the right and the webcam pans to the left. The Medical Examiner told me that it was blunt force trauma to the back and left side of head that caused him to drown. First responders did the best job they could with CPR. Lifeguards got there quick and brought the AED. They continued until paramedics arrived. But the paramedics called it off and pronounced him dead. I want this story to be shared so that family, friends, and the larger surfing community know the factual events of that day. May Glen Jeans Rest In Peace.

“Ironically, I was also out at Pipeline the same day Malik Joyeux passed away. I paddled out two hours later to an empty lineup. Three-to-five-foot Hawaiian and picture perfect conditions. Only a few body surfers and two other surfers were out there. I paddled out on my 7’0” Mayhem without a leash. I had heard Shane Dorian mentioning there is no need for a leash at Pipeline as the beach is right there if you lose your board. Ultimately it was Malik’s leash that failed that fateful day. The Velcro was worn out and malfunctioning. He took a four-foot lip to the head and was knocked unconscious. His board was found floating but his body wasn’t recovered for 10-15 minutes.

“So leashes both can save you or kill you.”

Ain’t that the truth.

Stretch even the finest urethane and it’s going to bite back.

 


Question: Will pools kill power surfing?

Or just really really damage it?

The Bells Beach Classic, presented by Rip Curl in association with North Korean slaves, is less than one week from kick-off and other surf websites are awash in fantasy tips. We here at BeachGrit have dipped our toes into that pond but I’m glad we are well clear this year, pushing straight up gambling instead. Fantasy surfing is crazy lame no matter which way you slice it. The domain of sexless perverts. Oh, speaking of, and real quick, did you watch Stormy Daniels on 60 Minutes last night? Did you have any thoughts?

Back to Bells, though, the hot picks for the Bowl are unsurprisingly power surfers. The Jordy Smith/Michel Bourez/Wade Carmichaels of the tour. It all certainly makes sense. Bells lends itself to loping, big turns feat. lots of spray and grimacing O faces. It is a fine sort of surfing, one that has transitioned through the 70s, 80s, 90s and aughts relatively unchanged.

But I wonder, will wave tanks be the death knell for buried rails? Technology at other locations might be different but at Surf Ranch it is virtually impossible to throw any spray. I’ve been told it’s how the wave is generated and, on my lone visit, noticed a distinct lack of boom off the lip. It’s fun to carve mid-face but… not what the place is built for. As they become more ubiquitous and children learn on them etc. it makes me think they’ll dispense with burying the rail altogether, focusing instead on cool tube stuff and airs.

Power surfing will then become “an ocean thing” and only at certain breaks by older men. Then those older men will climb onto longboards and power surfing will only be something future generations read about in Matt Warshaw’s excellent Encyclopedia of Surfing.

Which brings me to another point. Just think how hyped Matt Warshaw must be. He has created a work that will never ever ever be repeated. Not next week, not next year, not in three-hundred years. Can you imagine someone sitting down and thinking, “I’m going to spend the rest of my life carefully cataloguing every little bit of surf culture, history etc. and put it all in one place.”? Yes, if my calculations are correct Matt Warshaw will live on while Kong Elkerton will be completely forgotten (save his entry in the Encyclopedia of Surfing).

Will you miss it when it’s gone?


Ms Coco Ho, twenty seven years old, current world number nine. Can do better. | Photo: Volcom

Watch: Coco Ho’s search for “her inner bitch!”

A thirteen-minute documentary on the rich life of Ms Coco Ho… 

What a wave of class Miss Coco Ho, sister of Mason, niece of Dez, daughter of Mike, is. In this very good thirteen-minute documentary, which was made by her sponsor Volcom, the torso-whiplashing, fin-throwing twenty-seven-year-old impresses the viewer with her…mmmm… spirit, yes?

“Sassy,” Stephanie Gilmore calls it, but says Coco still needs to harness her “inner bitch.”

John John Florence says watching her qualify at seventeen, and then finish that first orbit as the rookie of the year, inspired him to lift his own game.

Coco’s career has been a pinball, from fourth in 2009, to a pretty ordinary last four years: twelfth, eleventh, thirteenth, fourteenth.

“There were moments when I hated the tour,” says Coco. “I took it for granted. (And) I was distracted… distracted by what I didn’t have. I had a good childhood but I didn’t experience everything. I never had a boyfriend. And then the universe gives you something… my first love… that was the rebirth of me.”

A little history about the Ho’s, for context.

Coco’s dad, the former pro surfer Mike, was 30 years old and on his last tour circuit when his girl, Brian, a Caucasian American, became pregnant with Coco’s brother Mason.

Coco’s grandfather, Mike’s dad, was pure Chinese. His grandmother pure Hawaiian. Mike’s mom, Coco’s paternal grandma, was from Oregon.

Mike had bought land up there at Backyards, Sunset, and a small house was constructed. The marriage broke up after the birth of  Coco, two years later. And soon, the jokester and former-pro surfer was in the serious biz of being a single parent to two kids. “I was ‘fun dad,’” Mike says. “I’m like, ‘Surf is good, let’s go surfing. Okay, no school today.’ Yeah, I was bad. I was a bad, fun dad.”

Unless it was Pipe. “‘Go to school. Dad’s going to surf Pipe today.’”

Try and fight that DNA. Watch here.