iDol Surfboards


idol Xmas Gift Ideas

iSurf SUP

10’6″ Aloha Cruiser Carbon/Bamboo

A stable, stylish, and lightweight SUP.  The Aloha Cruiser is our top-selling stand up paddle board shape.   This year the Aloha Cruiser is available in three finish options:  Carbon-fiber/Bamboo (shown)painted color fade w/ bamboo deck, and basic fiberglass construction.

Sota Clothing

Cascade Jacket

The perfect two tone jacket made for those early/late morning shred missions! graphic badge on sleeve, teal zip pulls, slimming princess seams, with practical heavy duty zippers on pockets. Let’s not forget the thumb holes in the sleeves and the adjustable hood.

Cascade Jacket 2.0

Patriot Pad

18 x 6 ft Patriot Pad

The perfect lake life accessory! This is a must have for those lowkey lounge days on the lake! Float around with friends and family with your own personal island!

GoPro

GoPro Hero 7

Our friends at GoPro have done it again with their lucky number 7 cameras! Introducing the new Hero 7 black. We love this new camera because of the great new features it has: New image stabilization for less shaky footage, Superior image quality. But still holds all the cards for everything you need for wake surfing, stand up paddle boarding, or any day to day activities.


Anything Worth Doing is Worth Doing Right

“Anything worth doing, it’s worth doing right!”  -Hunter S. Thompson

It was about 7 years ago when some friends and I were sanding away at insulation foam with whatever tools were laying around when I dropped my sanding block and muttered those words in ambitious frustration.  You see, we wanted to build our own wake surfboards, but we were lacking the tools and materials to do it properly.  Fortunately, I had budgeted about $1,200 to buy myself two new surfboards for an upcoming surf trip to Central America.  I had been researching what it takes to build surfboards, and realized I had enough money to either buy two new top-of-the-line shortboards or purchase the tools and materials to build about 6 boards.  So there I was, a recent college grad with a bachelors degree in economics doing some cost/benefit analysis.  You have $1,200 in your pocket.  What is better:  2 surfboards or 6 surfboards?  The choice was easy, so I started purchasing tools, foam, fiberglass, epoxy, and fin boxes.

DCIM101GOPRO

Me and the first two idol ocean surfboards in Dominical, Costa Rica.

I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into, but at the same time I knew exactly what I was doing – I had a dream, and it was one worth pursuing.  I had an office job doing Business Development for The Brost Clinic, my family’s chiropractic clinic, right out of university.  I tied my tie neatly every morning, arrived at my desk each day with coffee in hand, spent most my time in front of a computer, liked the people I worked with, and did good for the clinic.   During my time there, the patient base doubled, and in order to accommodate the increased patient load, I led the project of building out a new facility that was double the square footage of the clinic I first clocked into – one of my mother’s dreams which I was proud to help make a reality.  It was new and exciting.  I was learning and accomplishing.  It was fulfilling for some time.   However, it was not my dream nor my passion to work at The Brost Clinic.  If it was, I would have likely gone to chiropractic school like my mom, dad, sister, step-dad, and brother-in-law all did.

The original garage workshop (click to enlarge)

The original garage workshop (click to enlarge)

My passions happened outside of work – If I wasn’t wake surfing with my friends, I was in the garage working on boards or spending my evenings searching websites like wannasurf.com for my next surf travel destination.

If you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”

If you have followed this blog at all, you have probably noticed I love quotes.  I think the title of this blog may be my favorite quote to which I do my best to abide, but there is another quote I hold closer to my heart.  It’s something my mother said to me during my adolescent years, “If you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”  Surfboard design is something I love.  I don’t mean to gloat, but over the years I have gotten really good at it (feedback and performance from riders tells me this is true).  I can spend hours going through the relationship of rocker, rail shape, bottom contour, and fin placement in my head, the shaping bay, or on shaping software.  Wake surfing lends itself perfectly to the mad-scientist/surfboard shaper in me – it is effectively the most controlled environment in which to experiment with different surfboard design concepts.  I can put the board under my feet and feel subtle changes I put into the boards as the wave remains the same, and I can watch closely for hours from the back of the boat while my friends/lab rats test a design, analyzing how water flows and refracts around the board and fins.

Where was I going with this?  There was a point to all this… Oh yeah

“Anything worth doing, its worth doing right.” 

shapingRemember that $1,200 that I spent building my first 6 boards?   It didn’t take long before that turned into about $20,000 of debt building a couple hundred boards over the next several years.  By that time, idol surfboards was functioning as a business, just not a profitable one.  And there was a big problem: as demand and production quantity increased, quality suffered, and so did my free time.  It got to the point where I spend most my summers sanding away in the workshop, and I was forced to sacrifice nearly all of my surf time for the time-consuming build process.  In the summers the company would do ok, but my personal life would suffer.  In the winter/off-season things would slow to a crawl and idol would sink deeper in debt (but hey I got to go surfing!).  Something had to change about business operations.

I made the decision to take production to another factory in hopes that the surfboard company could continue to operate in a financially sustainable manner.  I went to Surf Expo, the world’s largest surf trade-show, in September 2013 with a specific mission in mind – find the highest quality surfboards and find out where they were made.  I would then find the best factory that fit my build criteria, and begin production on a 2014 line of surfboards.  The criteria fit the motto which founded idol – “Anything worth doing, its worth doing right.”:

  • Quality:  First and foremost I want to be building boards of the highest quality construction and shapes.  I want to do it right.
  • Integrity:  Fair and safe labor practices were prerequisite:  Since I first learned what child labor was, I have forever opposed this practice – Children are meant to play and learn, not work in factories.  There would be zero tolerance for child labor, unsafe, or unfair labor practice.
  • Profitability:  The price had to be right – It was time to turn this passion of mine into a legitimate business venture.

My first Surf Expo was a fun Surf Expo… in fact, every surf expo is fun!  It was my first one, so I had a bit of a honeymoon while I was there.  I partied hard and worked harder.  I made a lot of friends, but I also got a lot of flack as I went to every surfboard booth on site and dug my thumb into boards and scratched at pin lines to check construction quality (After building boards long enough, I am able to apply pressure to the fiberglass of a surfboard and safely estimate the amount and quality of fiberglass and foam density used for construction).  I would strike up conversations with manufacturer reps and eventually drop the question:  “Do you feel like sharing which factory you use with a young wake surfboard builder looking for a new manufacturer?”  Most of them would laugh and give me a polite version of “hell no.”  However, most of them would go on bragging about how their factory was superior to the competition, and then go on to list the factories their competition used.  I took notes and cross-analyzed everyone’s responses, and in doing so I was able to figure out which factories most major suppliers used (most people use multiple factories for various reasons).

My initial thought was that I would use a domestic factory – Factories in the US have the advantage of knowing the material quality is high and labor laws are strict and fair.  However, I quickly realized by checking prices that a domestic factory was out of the question, as the prices were too high to allow manufacturer AND dealer distribution profit margins.  After the first day I knew I would need to source boards abroad where cost of materials and labor are cheaper (you may be thinking the idea of cheap and fair labor is contradictory, but there here is a link to a previous post titled “Fair Labor Practices From my Surfboard Factory in China” which touches on Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) and its effect on material and labor costs).

Like I said, I looked at every board at surf expo.  Surprisingly, the brand that I found to have the best traditional foam/fiberglass construction quality was a small SUP company from the East Coast of the US with a very simple 10×10 display, the smallest booth space available for vendors at Surf Expo.  On the first day, I complimented the owner on the incredibly quality of his boards.  Then I asked the golden question, “Which factory do you use?”

carbon bamboo sup

carbon bamboo construction (click to enlarge)

He laughed at me, “Sorry I’m not going to share that information.”  I understood and carried about my business.

On the second day of Surf Expo I returned and told him, “I’ve looked at every surfboard here, and congratulations, I think you have the highest quality product at Surf Expo.  You sure you don’t want to tell me where these things are made?”

“Sorry bud, not happening.”

On the third and final day of Surf Expo I stopped by his booth again near the end of the day, well into happy hour when the kegs come out and people begin to drink.   “Seriously, I’ve checked every board twice, and you have the highest quality construction of any board here…”

Before I could ask the golden question he interrupted me with a, “You know what, I like you.”  I could tell that his happy hour had started well before most.  He was drunk.  ‘This is good’ I thought.   “I really shouldn’t do this, but I like you.” he reinforced as he picked up one of his brochures and began to write something on one of the inside pages.   I wasn’t about to interrupt him as he handed me the brochure and said, “Do not share this information with anyone, and don’t tell anyone you got it from me.”  I opened the brochure, and saw a word I didn’t recognize and an email address.  “That’s the contact info for the factory I use.  Like I said, don’t share it with anyone, and don’t tell anyone you got it from me.”

I had my golden ticket.

I was in shock.  I did not know how to respond.  All I could do was smile and say, “thank you,” as I scurried away before he could change his mind and take my golden ticket from me.

Mr. T and I (click to enlarge)

Mr. T and I (click to enlarge)

The next day I was emailing the factory, getting price quotes, and asking if they would be OK with me visiting the factory to check labor and production quality.  The prices were a bit higher than most in China, but the quality was worth it.  The person with whom I was communicating, we’ll call him Mr. T, ensured me that I would be welcome at the factory any time I wanted to come.  “Sweet!”  I didn’t know it, but it turns out Mr. T was the owner of the factory, and better yet I would come to find he is the same age as me (28 at the time) and would eventually become a good friend of mine… but that’s a whole story on its own.

I added up the numbers on what it would take to fill a shipping container, necessary to keep the freight price per board down, and quickly realized I would need a bank loan.  I went to my community bank where I had a savings account since the age of 11 and my grandmother served on the board or directors (Remember kids, “it’s not always what you know but who you know”).   They moved things along quickly as I was in a hurry to get into production.  The day they approved my bank loan, I booked a flight to china, and on the day after thanksgiving 2013, I boarded an airplane to China and traveled to Asia for the first time in my life.

I had done my homework, but I couldn’t help but be nervous as I soared across the Pacific Ocean en route to China.  I was risking a lot on this dream, but there was a certain serendipity to it all that helped to calm my nerves.

I was headed directly to my first factory choice, but I had this fear that I would walk into a factory full of child laborers.  If that was the case, I would move production to one of the more well-know backup factories that I had lined up.  Fortunately, that was not the case, and I was able to use this factory which fit and exceeded all my standards.  I arrived to China and caught a connecting flight to the airport nearest the factory.  Mr. T and some new friends greeted me with smiles as I exited the baggage claim area.  They took me to lunch, then we made the 1.5 hour drive to the factory town.

That evening, we stopped by the factory although it was closed for the evening and had tea in the office, like I would countless times thereafter.   I had made it.  I was standing at the threshold of a dream coming true, tired from jet-lag, yet euphoric; there I stood at the threshold of my dream.

surfboard factory

Hello from the factory!

You see, when I was a child, I was often asked, like any child, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

lao tzu quote“International businessman,” was always my reply.  I’m not sure I even knew what that meant throughout most my childhood.  I was gutted when I went to college and learned that “International Business” was not a choice of major, and in fact, I don’t think I considered myself an international business person when I walked into that factory for the first time.  I was just a guy chasing a dream of owning a surfboard company, and this smallish factory in China is where that had led me (I think this proves that Lao Tzu quote to be true).  How many kids grow up to be the thing that they said they wanted to be all their life?  And how many of them are able to combine it with a dream they had in their adult life?  I don’t think many, but holy shit I did it!?

I spent the following two months in the factory over-seeing production.  I wanted to make sure that the proper processes wouldn’t be switched out as soon as I left (a common issue in outsourced manufacturing), but I watched my boards get produced alongside several other brands, and the standard processes and materials never changed.  My trust in Mr. T and his factory grew quickly.

I thought I was going there to teach them how to do it the “right way.”  That was a naive thought to say the least.  Their practices, though very similar to those I was used to doing myself, were so dialed there was almost nothing I could say or do to improve them.  I can count on one hand how many times I have taught them something they didn’t already know.  Instead, I became the student, not just in terms of surfboard construction, but in terms of every aspect of being and ‘international business person’ working with china.  Its amazing how much I have learned in the last few years.  I’m not trying to brag – I’m trying to inform you, so that if any of my friends out there have any questions about foreign production, shipping, etc etc, feel free to ask.  Well… except the golden question which is, “what factory do you use?” ;-p  (*Disclaimer – I do offer private label production, but it goes in under my order ticket to increase my volume discount)

Secret Point in Bali (click to enlarge)

Secret Point in Bali (click to enlarge)

Once my work was done at the factory, it was time to fulfill the heart of this dream – go surfing!   For those who are less familiar with ocean surfing, you may not know that Asia is scattered with world-class surf destinations.   The Mecca for many surfers is Bali, Indonesia.   Bali attracts long-fetch southern hemisphere swell.  Waves travel un-interrupted from storm systems that originate anywhere between the tip of South America to Western Australia.  Bali is littered with reef passes and beaches.  The combination of open ocean swell and some of the most exposed coastline in the world make it the ideal location to catch consistent waves year-round.

So this has become my fall and winter routine.   I go to the factory for production, then head off to Bali to score waves in a tropical paradise.  Last year and this year, instead of spending months at a time in the factory, I spend a few weeks initiating the production, head to Bali and surf, then check back in to do some quality control (QC) checks when I need to.

Right now I’m writing this post because I have some free time in the office, as I just finished submitting my final board designs.   The only thing left for me to do this week is approve a few skim board shapes that are being machined as I type.  Then, I’m delighted to say, I ship off to Bali with two brand new surfboards on Monday.  I know in my head and my heart I am doing this right, and I will continue to live by that mantra.  When you buy my surfboards, you can be assured there are no moral concessions in the name of increased profits – I found a way to turn profit but not sacrifice integrity.  It’s a lot more work than I let, but sometimes doing it the right way is a lot of work.

So here I find myself typing away in a surfboard factory office in China thinking about how, when I was a child telling people I wanted to be an ‘international businessman,’ I pictured myself in a suit and tie shaking hands with foreign people and having important business meetings in big glass high-rises in major cities.   That is not my reality.  Instead I’m sitting here in flip-flops and board shorts, and my most important meetings take place over beers or cups of Chinese tea (and a lot of emails).  Somehow, my dream came true, and it is even better than the dream I dreamt as a child.  For this I am ever-grateful to all my family and friends who helped, encouraged or just believed in me along the way.   Thank you to all of you, my noble helpers along the way.

Next post should be less formal and more awesome coming from Bali.  As for now, thank you and see you down the road 🙂

-Alex

Cruising Bali with good mates.  Photo: Terje Talpsepp

Cruising Bali with good mates. Photo: Terje Talpsepp

 

 


Southern Surf Fest 2014

This year’s Southern Surf Fest, on Lake Lanier near Atlanta Georgia, took place over the weekend of May 2-4 and was a huge success with most inboard surf boat manufacturers and wake surfboard companies present.

image of wake surf boats on a dock
The format if this event was simple – fill each boat with a variety of surfboards, and rotate groups of 3-4 people through each boat for two days straight.  Nearly every major surf boat company was represented. The list included Centurion, Malibu, Axis Wake, Supra, Moomba, Nautique, Tige, and MB Boats. The big Centurion FX44 and Nautique G23 were favorites going into the event, but it may be the Supra SC that turned the most heads and got the nod for best wake out of the field (or should we say river?).

picture of wake surf boat

Click to enlarge

The official results have yet to be published, but based in public opinion and personal experience, the Supra arguably produced the highest quality wake surf wake of any of the boats equipped with surf systems, but biggest remains a debate between Nautique G23 and Centurion Enzo FX44.

 

image of wake surfing grom

click to enlarge image

There were forty-some wake surfboards available for demo to the participants. Wakesurf board brands included iDOL SURFBOARDS, iSURF, Inland Surfer, Phase 5, Liquid Force, Soulcraft, Chaos, Wake Wood, Brigade, Evercarve, Walker Project, Day 1 Wake, Triple X, and LipSnap.  The favorite board amongst the smaller riders was definitely the iSURF F-Grom – every little shredder at the event was absolutely stoked on this board, and some of them were landing surf-style tricks on the F-Grom they had never completed before.

 

image of wakesurf boards

click to enlarge image

Many of the older kids, some of them well into their 50’s, claimed the iSurf Tonka Kahuna as the best board at the event.  There was even some verbal tussling at the end of the event for who would get to take home the iSURF Tonka Kahuna demo from the event. Luckily, they are readily available at idolsurf.com.
Honorable mention certainly goes to Wake Wood. These hand-crafted hollow wood core skim style wake surfboards received a lot of attention for their unique looks, and several people claimed The Big Easy and Sputnik to be their favorites of the event.
All in all, it was a fantastic event. With pro riders and coaches like Sean Cummings, Trevor Miller, and the Surf NASA crew on hand to coach riders, there was just as much fun and progression to be had. Thank you to everyone who organized and participated in this event! We’ll see you next year!


Big Monday

Tomorrow is the BIG day… 6 ft at 16 seconds = double over-head barrels in Nusa Lembongan

big waves bali

“Lacerations” on a big swell

I’m currently sitting on the balcony of my hotel listening to waves detonating on the reefs of Nusa Lembongan.  It sounds like a combination of thunder and explosives, one after another, with no silence in between.  I tried to look out into the darkness to see the size, but the half-moon has not yet risen.  The roars of the ocean and the surf reports are our only indication to what we surf tomorrow.  The biggest swell of my Bali trip has arrived in the dark of tonight, and its building for tomorrow.

scratches on back

My first Bali reef bounce

Jay and I are both a bit nervous, and its obvious.  When we hear a bigger set hit the reef, we exchange semi-nervous looks and say things like “We shouldn’t have partied that hard last night.”  or “What are our safety precautions?”  We are both sitting in silence going through all the worst and best scenarios in our heads.  Long hold-downs, reef bounces, and stand-up-barrels are all possible, and they are not mutually exclusive or inclusive.  Anything is possible tomorrow.

Nusa Lembongan and neighboring Nusa Ceningan offers 4 main reef breaks, each with the potential for epic waves.  We’ve been told by a local friend to not surf Ceningan on anything larger than a 5 foot swell because the clean-out sets will be double (that means 15-20 foot rouge waves to wash you onto the shallow reef and into the punji-stick-like seaweed farms on the inside.  Thus, Cenigan is out of the question.

We will decide tomorrow between Playgrounds, Lacerations, or Shipwrecks, three quality reef set-ups out in front of the beach near our hotel.  We will balance wave quality, crowd, and risk to select the wave with the highest potential reward.

Thunder and explosions on the horizon remind us that this is real, and this is why we came here.  Time now is for sleep, tomorrow is for barrels.

-Alex


Nusa Ceningan’s “secret point”

The view from Secret Point hotel's pool

The view from Secret Point hotel’s pool

I have found paradise, and it’s on a small island near Bali called Nusa Ceningan. Everything about this place is perfect: the waves are good and consistent, the locals are friendly, the water is clear, the beer is cheap, the food is good, the sunsets are beautiful… The list goes on forever.
The two main reasons I travel are (1) to surf waves and (2) to meet people. Locals’ attitudes make or break a surf spot, and I have never met more friendly locals in my life. Every time they paddle out, they do it with a big smile and say hello to everyone in the lineup.

20140227-181523.jpg

Ceningan Locals

Today, I was surfing the main point at Ceningan, and Jack, a local working at the Warung (restaurant) on the cliff over-looking the break, sat on the cliff and directed traffic. He called out when sets were coming and told us, “out farther, farther, farther… Stop!” The the set would arrive and everyone would be in perfect position to take a wave. Amazing! I have never experienced such a thing. Sorry Stoney Point crew. I never thought it would happen, but I actually found friendlier locals than you guys!

20140227-180108.jpg

Lembongan/Ceningan bridge

Even the non-surfing locals here are all smiling and saying hello. To reach the island from Nusa Lembongan, you have to cross a dodgy bridge, which is so narrow only one moped can cross at a time. Once on Ceningan, locals smile and say hello as you pass, and kids high-5 you as you ride by on the scooter. The guide books say “this is what Bali was like before tourism.” But now there are a few boutique hotels popping up around the surf break. Let’s hope Cenican can maintain its authenticity along with its surf-side infinity pools. Ok… Time for another surf. Ciao!
-Alex


A Quick Note on Quality

In the US, Chinese goods get the reputation of being cheap and low in quality compared to western goods.  I believe this is probably mostly true when it comes to molded plastics, machined textiles, and pretty much anything made by a machine and later assembled.  But there was once a time, before machines and molds, that oriental goods were sought after because of their incredible quality.  Back when oriental goods were all hand made, asians were considered among the craftsmen in the world.  Traders and dignitaries would travel from Europe the long way, by boat around the horn of Africa, to China because their materials and craftsmanship were higher quality than anywhere else in the world.

I was reminded of this when we stopped into a furniture store tonight with the factory owner and his friend, who was in the market for a new coffee table.  I couldn’t believe the detail and quality of construction of the woodwork.  Here are some photos.  Click to enlarge:

hand made woodsup mn234sup mn236sup mn237

I find this tradition of quality and craftsmanship very much alive in my little (its not really that little, but it is smaller than most) surfboard factory in China.  I recall when I was interviewing factories to build my surfboards, the factory owner said to me, “We are not the biggest, and our prices are not the lowest, but our quality is very high.  You will see for yourself if you come here.”

He reminded me of this today.  At lunch, a flatbed truck drove by loaded with EPS foam.   I asked, “Is there a foam factory nearby?  I’ve seen a few trucks now with EPS.  Do you source it locally?”

“No,” he replied sternly.  “Our foam is extremely high quality.  They can’t do high enough quality there.”

Ahha!  I had an epiphany.  I’d wondered before, “why do his foam cores look so much cleaner than anything I’ve seen from china before?”  I have been doing ding repairs on SUPs for several years now in Minnesota (iDol Surfboards is the only business in Minnesota that does surfboard ding repairs), and its amazing what I have found under the paint and lamination of several ‘quality’ name brands of stand up paddleboards.  I often find a dirty foam core disintegrating around the dinged up area.  No wonder the boards dinged so easily – there is no foam backing the fiberglass!  Most people don’t realize, that eps foam is soluable in a variety of chemicals.  Thus, the EPS foam core needs to be kept as clean as possible until it is laminated to protect it from possible solvents.  When you use dirty foam, you risk your EPS being exposed to some of these solvents, and the core of the surfboard can, over time, dissolve underneath the fiberglass.

Here’s a link to that video of an iSurf SUP being shaped.  Notice how clean the foam is – not a speck of dirt can be found.  The shaping room is also very clean – yes there is a lot of foam dust, but it’s clean white foam dust.  These foam cores are stored in a clean room away from any solvents until they are laminated.

Well that is my rant on quality for today.  Ask any of the iDol crew: Tollie, Stefan, Eric, and they’ve heard it all before… or anybody who has been in the shop with me, really.  My number one priority is always quality.  If there is the slightest problem with any board which will effect end quality, it gets fixed or it doesn’t get sold.  One more time for good measure.  QUALITY!

If you’re looking for a great read on quality, check out the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Not only is it a fascinating story, it gets to the ‘core’ of what quality is.


The Young Man and the Sea

<–This post has music: Seaside by Kultiration.  Press play if the song didn’t autoplay.

image of beach where I said my surf prayer

The Beach / My Church

This weekend, the factory owner took me to his hometown in coastal China.  As part of my tour he and his friends took me to a small island outside of town.  We walked narrow winding streets where vendors sold fresh fish, seafood, pearls, and other ocean fairing goods.  As dusk began to approach, we found ourselves walking the boardwalk of a small tourist beach.  I told them I wanted to check the water temperature and walked down to the shoreline.  This would be the first time I felt seawater since I moved home form Malta.  I went past the high-water mark and dug a small hole in the sand.  Soon thereafter, a small double-up wave pushed ashore and filled the hole with salt water.  The water was cool and dirty.  Nonetheless, I wiped some of it across my brow and spent a moment with our mother ocean.

I stood up and approached my new group of friends, who I didn’t realize had followed me onto the beach.  Cissy (pronounced sea-sea) smiled at me and said, “you could write a book called The Young Man and The Sea.”  She, like most people I have met in China, carefully observes my actions as the culture gap makes for good entertainment.  By the way she had said it, I could tell she knew I was doing more than just checking water temperature.  I chuckled at her statement, and we continued as a group back to the boardwalk.

What Cissy observed was a ritual I have developed during my surfing career.  This ritual is something in-between a communion and baptism that I usually perform before or during every surf session.  I find it relaxes me and brings me to the present moment, which is especially important when the waves are big or I’m surfing a more dangerous break.  The ritual begins with me splashing water on my face or submerging it in the water.  As I do this, I go through a thought process thinking something along the lines of:

“The earth is composed of approximately 70% water, and so is the human body.  My blood, sweat, and tears are no different than the liquid that surrounds me.  The ocean pumps through my heart and veins. Water, you and I are one in the same.  My body is more you than anything else on earth, so take me kindly and let me experience your awesome power.  When I am done, return me safely to the shore, for you are the essential life giver and keeper.”

Instantly, I feel connected to the fluid which surrounds me, and any fear turns to understanding.  It’s really amazing how relaxing this practice can be when paddling out into larger surf where controlling heart rate, breathing, and oxygen consumption can mean the difference between life and death.  “I am the ocean, and the ocean is….” I have written that phrase on the stringer of every ocean surfboard I have ever shaped for myself.  I also put a little “70%” near the nose, so if I’m paddling head-down from exhaustion, I see it and remember to stay calm, connected, and in the present moment.

From the small island we went back to mainland and had dinner, then did Asian-style karaoke (private room with just our friends), and went on to one of the coolest nightclubs I have ever been to.  It was certainly an eventful and fun weekend.

The bus ride back to the factory town made for good sight-seeing.  It was a double-decker bus, and we had front seats on the upper deck.  Minus a slight hangover, I was enjoying the long ride home, but things took a somber turn as we reached our town.  Up the road, I could see an accident had just occurred.  Debris was scattered for about 35 feet in the right lane of the four-lane highway, and people were getting out of crashed cars as we approached.  Then ahead, a sinking feeling, a motorcycle lay on its side in pieces.  Next to it, an old woman and young boy sat bloodied, but upright and conscious.  The woman was crying hysterically, while the boy, no older than five, stared blankly into the street.  In front of the motorcycle, a man laid on his belly, his face lay sideways as we passed.  I will never forget his face.  One would expect the tragically deceased to bare an expression of terror or pain, but his face looked peaceful like he was gently dozing while dreaming pleasant dreams.  I looked again to the old woman.  I have never seen such agony – today was surely the worst day of her life.

Judging by the situation and their relative ages, the old woman, her son, and her grandson were all aboard the motorcycle when a vehicle struck it (riding on motorcycles and scooters with up to 5 passengers is common practice in developing countries).  We reached the scene no more than a minute after the tragedy occurred, so the man must have died on impact.  Today, that old woman lost her son, and that boy lost his father.

photo of sunset from bus

Melancholy Sunset

Those of us on the bus who witnessed the scene looked at each other and shook our heads – there are no words to be said in a moment like this.  For the short remainder of the ride, we all gazed silently ahead at the beautiful sunset before us.  It’s amazing how all your thoughts and perceptions can change in an instant when confronted by the reality of life and death.  I reflected on how fortunate I am to be alive leading this dream life.  But at that moment, I was most grateful for the blessing of a healthy family, whom has always been there with smiles and hugs when I return home from my adventures.

Traveling not only brings me places physically, but I often reach distant mental and emotional destinations.   It’s amazing how traveling far away will teach you the true value of the things you left behind.  To those of you who are at home right now with family and life-long friends – let me remind you, as today has reminded me, that there is no greater thing in this world than the good fortune of loving and being loved.  So if you are fortunate enough to be in the presence of loved ones today, I encourage you to take a moment and share your love and gratitude with them however you feel is appropriate.

 

Much love,

Alex


How did I get here?

When I was in high school, I received a piece of advice from my mother.   It is the best advice a mother could ever give a teenager who was almost failing out of high school (this was not due to bad teaching, unintelligence, or learning disabilities – it was merely a result of boredom with course structure and material).  My worried mother casually said to me one day, “Alex, if you want to be successful, find something you love and get really good at it.”  I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but something about it stuck.

My fondest memories of childhood are those in which we were on vacation.  I was fortunate to have a family that traveled often.  My mother, sister, and I were all born in Sweden, so we would go back most summers to visit our friends and family.  At each airport, my parents let me buy a magazine to read on the flight.  Like most young American boys, I was drawn to car and motorcycle magazines, but I almost always opted for surfing magazines.  I found the images of waves in far distant places amazing, and the articles resounded an existentialist belonging to the oneness of the universe that is fleeting in today’s society.  Slowly, airplane seats became my pews, and surfing magazines became my bible in the religion that is the traveling surfers’ lifestyle.   (I should note here that around age 10 my mother was certain I would become a minister of the church when I grew up because of my incredibly strong faith as a child – for my 10th birthday, all I wanted was a crucifix to hang above my bed).

Although the ironing board was good for make-believe, I would not stand up on a real surfboard until I was 12 years old (OK OK I admit was body boarding for several vacations before).  Like most people who have felt the glide, I was in love with the feeling.  Unfortunately, learning to surf at age 12 and being from Minnesota put the odds against me becoming a professional surfer.  Find something you love and get really good at it, but be reasonable.  Nearly every pro surfer grew up on a beach and started surfing between age 3-5.  So pro surfer wasn’t my thing.  I tried to dream up ways to become a professional traveler,  but that job does not exist in the capacity that I like to travel (If I had to follow an agenda, be burdened by a film crew, or write extensively on the things I experience, the fun would be removed).

Then came wake surfing:  a sport so new that few people had the jump on me, and I had access to several inboard boats.   I tried competing a few times.  I even got 2nd place at the World Wake Surfing Championships in amateur division.  But let’s get real, the industry is so small and niche, that you’re not going to make a reasonable living on contest winnings (yet).  My friends and I (Team Idle we called ourselves) started making wake surfboards for fun.  I found myself thrilled by design theory, the build process, and the idea of creating functional pieces of art.  Pretty soon, iDOL SURFBOARS was launched, and life became very busy.  I was able to escape my busy life on a couple of amazing surf trips, but I always had to come home too soon for the spring/summer Minnesota surfboard rush.  Board shaping quickly replaced surfing and socializing with friends.  The past few summers, I have only been able to wake surf a handful of times because I am always busy shaping, glassing, or repairing surfboards.  I haven’t even made myself a wake surfboard since 2010 because I’m always too busy building boards for customers.  I found something I love, and I got really good at it.  However, the temptress of success through surfboard production pulled me from my true loves: surf and travel.  This would not do.

A new plan quickly developed.  This plan would force me to travel to new places, meet new people, and leave me ample time to surf.  This plan is a new brand of surfboards called iSurf.  Instead of working long hours to produce a couple hundred boards each year, I will outsource production to factories abroad which can build my shapes at higher quantities and lower costs.  iSurf will make the most advanced shapes in wake surfing and fresh-water specific paddleboards available to inland surfers at very reasonable prices.  And more importantly to me, it will send me around the world to places I’ve never been, meet people I’d otherwise never get a chance to meet, and experience cultures unknown to me.  Have I found my calling?  I hope so.

I know a lot of you are thinking, “Alex, you sold iDOL out.  You’re going to lose control of the process, and your boards are going to be made by kids in unfair labor conditions in China.”   Let me settle those worries right now:  iDOL SURFBOARDS are, will, and always will be made in the USA.  I have sold a large portion of the company to iDOL’s Head Shaper, Stefan Ronchetti.  He loves building surfboards, and it is his dream to spend all day every day building surfboards.  Under this new venture, he, our team riders, and I will have more time to develop more and more advanced shapes for wake surfing, paddle boarding, great lakes surfing, and other freshwater surfing applications.  And I promise I will not lose control of the process, and all workers building my surfboards will be fairly treated.

Right now, I am sitting in a surfboard factory in China where I will stay until all of my boards are completed.  I will inspect each surfboard along every step of the process, and help in every way I can.  The factory does not employ any children or bonded laborers (which I know some of my competitors can’t accurately state), and pays higher wages than most surfboard factories.  Employees in this factory normally work 8 hour days and have Sundays off.  All of the shapers in this factory have been shaping surfboards longer than me, and the quality of construction and attention to detail is astounding.  I did a lot of research, and I’ve risked nearly every asset I own to get myself to this place.  I know in my head and my heart that I have made the right decision and I am in the right place at the right time.

Now that was a lengthy first post, and probably not very entertaining.  I just wanted to attempt defining what the heck I’m doing over here.  Going forward, this blog should be a somewhat interesting narrative covering the surfboard building process, general travel observations of the existentialist surfer, and hopefully the ultimate goal will be accomplished – we’ll go surfing.  Stop back soon, and I’ll keep posts shorter and develop this blog with the sights and sounds of the world as I explore them.  I’ll warn you now – It might get weird, but as my favorite author, Hunter S. Thompson stated, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”  Cheers friends!  See you down the road.

-Alex