"I don’t know how long we can survive.”
Surfboards, the indispensable item.
Surfboard shapers, designers, glassers, sanders, our indispensable craftsmen.
World-wide they are being hit hard by the pandemic, or more accurately by the response to the pandemic.
Europe is the worst hit.
Zarautz based builder Johnny Cabianca who puts the steeds under Gabe Medina has been essentially shut down since Spain introduced almost total lockdown on March 23.
“My two employees can’t come to work, it’s not allowed” he said via Whats App. “ We’re a young company, only four years old and without cash flow I don’t know how long we can survive.”
The shaper to a dual world champ, for now, is fixing dings and finishing boards that have been sitting in corners of the factory.
“For us it all depends on how things evolve. When the beaches open again and when the shops open again, worldwide, as most of the boards we do are for export.”
Collapsing export markets have hit closer to my home, too.
Lennox-based Steve (Shuey) Shubonj of Glassing Division laminates for DHD and LSD. Glassing for DHD makes up eighty percent of turnover and has come to a complete halt.
“It’s put me in a precarious position,” he said. “I’ve already put two people off. As long as people can keep surfing around here, it’ll keep ticking over, as long as the landlord cuts me some slack, but I’m doing it all myself now.”
San Clemente-based builder Timmy Patterson was working around the clock to get boards ready for Italo Ferreira’s title defence.
A last-minute drive to LAX to meet Italo en route to the Gold Coast and handover boards was stopped at the eleventh hour as the tour opening was cancelled.
The undelivered quiver sits in a corner of the factory, “like a stash of gold.”
Patterson is still building boards at a reduced level behind locked doors with the shop shut, for now.
Marcio Zouvi of Sharp Eye surfboards is in a surer footed position than most.
“We own our own building, and our employees are on the payroll,” he said. “It’s the sub-contractors who are in trouble. Our business is diversified, we export a lot. We’re still servicing orders from Japan.”
Zouvi says the virus catastophe may precipitate a shake-down in the surfboard building game.
“We have very little receivables, we’re fine. Others have very high overheads. Rent, insurances. There’s an ageing workforce. There’s a question over how many factories will survive.”
The shake-down could extend to shops with “retail also struggling. There’ll be some impact, how deep we don’t know.”
Zouvi also worries with clothing companies struggling that payments with team riders are being suspended in an effort to bring surfers back to the negotiation table, presumably for far less shekels than currently offered.
His main concern is with the sport’s governing body.
“I hope the WSL can weather this out. We need an organisation such as WSL to standardize a format for competitive surfing which we can use as a reference. It’s very important for my business, with the type of boards that I make, to really gauge who is who, what they are riding and how they are riding.”
Ballina-based builder Gunter Rohn has been in the game for a long time.
He describes a board-cutting facility as being down from 400 a week to 100 a week.
Things are “patchy, but not dire” for him, with a loyal custom clientele still ordering boards as shop sales go through the floor. He sees surfing as important for “mental wellbeing” and hopes beaches stay open but admits lots of people will fuck it up.
Conspiracy theory pisses him off.
“I have to tell people to stop sending me shit,” he says.
Fellow Ballina shaper Wayne Webster is also surviving from custom orders, with his shopfront closed.
“I’ve had pneumonia twice, I can’t risk it. But the landlord wants full rent and I’m not eligible for the Government stimulus money, so I keep going.”
He describes success in these “absolutely nuts” times as “not going broke, having a house and food. This virus is polarizing and magnifying everything.”
For Webster, this is the start of a potentially long journey.
“A lot of people might feel like they are on holiday with no work, they’ve got more time to surf. That won’t be the case in a couple of months. Social distancing is here to stay. Who knows how long my showroom will be shut for.”
Not everyone is in crisis mode.
Maker of the hottest item since custom face masks, the mid-length channel bottom twin*, Simon Jones is in a good mood on this day that Jesus got nailed on the cross.
“Touch wood, and I feel I’m tempting fate,” he says, “the orders are still coming in.”
Where from? USA, Japan and Australia.
“Shipping is more expensive, I won’t be shipping until next month. It’s a time to catch up on domestic orders.”
For now, Jones has his eye on a local break.
“Gunna head down on a seven footer and try and dodge the crowd.”
The virus might be global, but the solutions will be local.
Happy Easter comrades.
*As ridden by Torryn Marten.