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.