Is now the time for USA manufacturers?

So, i was just thinking about Trump’s new plan of action to create more US manufacturers in general and have anyone importing from overseas pay large tariffs on incoming products. Will this possibly have an impact on the surfboard industry? So with 80-90% of boards coming from overseas will we see a decrease in years to come? And is now the time for the larger US companies to think about ramping up production? Just spit ballin.

…I have that same problem when I import fiberglass rolls etc from US; the “nationalization” of a product here cost an small fortune in taxes; but the premium fiberglass is made in US, like the best foam is made in Aussie land.
So is a problem that the surf industry outside the US have from day one.

There won’t be any tariff wars In the end we the US would loss big. As for boards, seems like there is now over production. Too many models. Many not selling. Shops are dumping those boards at cost. Lots of complaints about that at the last surf expo from shop owners. The big manufacturers pushing 4 or 5 new models, every 3 months. Maybe one catches on the others gather dust. Then the newest batch of wonder boards hit . You have to have them in the shop. Or risk missing out on the best seller of all time. to get some cash you sell the duds cheap. surf shop margined are small sellling cheap is taking it in the shorts. It’s hard to keep the doors open. Add to that internet outlets also sellling the dud boards. This sounds bad on the other side those that build quality and keep the shops and customer happy seem to be doing ok. The big brands seem to be looking for something anything to get the sales up. Hence all the new models comping out about every 90 days made in china or US at this point doesn’t seem to matter.

So manufacturers might end up paying more…either for Asian imports…or maybe they could be paying that little more but employing locally…choices…do business people really want to help support their country and people?
As consumers we should be a little more realistic and generous to local manufacture instead of continually wanting the cheapest while giving away jobs and money overseas paying for imports.
Bring on the import tax…lets see what happens.

hey Wildy happens what I mentioned in the other comment simply like that.
Final product super expensive. Its a lost only for the final purchaser (the customers of a surf shop).

Good assessment by artz. There will be no tariff war. Countries like China and Mexico are too dependent on U.S. Markets. They will negotiate and cut a deal. Get out on Calif.'s 1-5 sometime. Ever notice that all the truckers are driving near new or brand spanking new trucks?? From large companies to owner/operators all have been forced by the Faulty Science of the Calif. Air Resources Board to discard older trucks that they used to re-power every ten years and buy new… $100,000 —$200,000 Rigs with $40,000 platinum Catalytic Converters that burn out before the tires wear out. They were forced to sell off older disqualified fleets outside of Calif. Most went to Mexico. The ironic part is that due to NAFTA( North American Free Trade Agreement) you see the former American rigs running from SAN Ysidro to Seattle. They’re not under the same CARB restrictions, safety requirements and are not required to keep log books or take the occasional nap. CARB is precisely why so many U.S. Companies set up shop in places like Ensenada and Mexicali. Mr. Trump has not addressed that dilemma as of yet and I am not sure if he even knows about the issue. Too costly for a small company to relocate back to Calif due to the expense of the move and the heavy investment needed to operate in Calif.'s excessive regulatory climate. While it’s true that some companies bit the bullit and laid out the cash to be compliant; others cannot and will never be able to do so. US Blanks “Made in America” means higher cost to the consumer while they spend the next several years recouping their investment.

I deal with V.A.T (Value Added Tax) imposed by every country that I ship to, Sounds like a tariff to me. Most of them run 20 to 22%. Add the usual costs for handling, storage and other endless add ons to get a carton of one or more surfboards to an international airport for a customer/shop to pick up, and the end result is that the customer really has to want the board(s) to pay the landing price.

The playing field isn’t level when talking about products coming this direction toward the good ol USA. Containers from China are a lot cheaper to transport from there to here than the other way around. I doubt that Trump will really end up doing much in the long run… his ties, suits and other products are all made in China, as is Ivanka’s clothing line. Just like everyone else, Trump Enterprises is about making a buck and the bottom line.

You gotta remember, that American board manufacturers seek cheap materials and goods just like everyone else. I looked at air vents for some chambered boards I did from Ecuadorean balsa. One “military grade” vent from Fiberglass Hawaii cost me $25. I went online and got some comparable vents from China… five of them for a hair over half that amount. I got some RTM fins in my choice of colors for 40% of what I would pay for a comparable so called “American” product, that probably isn’t made in USA anyway. Why would I buy these foreign products? BECAUSE I’M TRYING TO SAVE MY CUSTOMERS MONEY regardless of where they live. For some of them, VAT, Freight, fuel surcharge, and other fees end up costing nearly as much as the surfboard I am sending them. Some of those customers tell me they have followed my path for several years and have been saving their money in order to finally get one!

I try to help those customers as much as I can, and still make a living. Not that easy to do in California… sooo many businesses left California because Workers Comp virtually rendered it unviable to continue operating from here. Living in California is wonderful, then again, it has a price. I could buy three or four houses along the beach in Alabama or some gulf area for the price of my million dollar Cali pad.

The lack of reciprocity in how one country deals with imports compared to how another one does makes global business a difficult undertaking on a daily basis as economies change, Dollars, Pesos, Euros, Yen, … “how much does it cost? Well that used to be fine, but now it is too expensive”. Or… “we want more because your dollar is weak right now, and we want to take advantage”… this is a scenario I experienced and learned from back when my sailboards were a popular item in Europe (1980’s),

So if you want, nowadays you can categorize me as a “garage shaper”… sure, I had a bunch of employees and close to a 5,000 sq. ft. factory back in the 80’s, but now it’s just me, shaping at home on my property, and using Haakenson (even with a glasser I trained from back then) as outside labor versus paying all the taxes and associated costs (permits, insurance, etc.)… just me and a great glassing crew always needing more work.

I try every day to keep that place as filled up as possible, and at the end of the year, I look at my bottom line and just shake my head then go do what I’m passionate about doing.

Business 101 classically had a manufacturer producing a product, and after all said a done, that manufacturer should be tripling his final cost for every dollar it takes to manufacture that product. So if one dollar becomes three, then the retailer commonly would “keystone” aka double the price to the consumer. This was what was generally accepted as fundamental business practices for many years.

Today, just look at what has happened. Watch “Shark Tank” and entrepreneurs cite cost of goods all over the map… but hopefully the cost for them to produce a product is a tiny fraction of that 1 to 3 ratio. “How much does your gizmo/widget/service cost to make” …“we are wholesaling it for $16 and it cost us $2.80 to make”. To which the Shark Tank investors respond “ahhhh, good margin”…

Surfboards got off on the wrong foot since the beginning of time. Where the hell did we go wrong? A CUSTOM product at a MASS PRODUCED price? Was it ‘Bear’ carving a board while living under the pier that caused all the trouble? Or was it all the guys that started out as kids in their garage only later to become famous 60’s labels like Velzy, Jacobs, Bing, Hobie, Dewey Weber, Gordie, Wardy, G&S, Hansen, Con, Rick and Morey Pope?

No wonder MODELS have replaced TRUE CUSTOMS by the world’s largest surfboard manufacturers.

Some of the aforementioned names grew and became legit. To do so, they had to practice a sound enough business with irrefutable business principles that actually worked because they now were on the map with THE MAN (gov’t.). Having the East Coast market arrive hungry for surfing every summer season, certainly helped play a part in success for more than one of those famous 60’s labels. Volume became a reality, where a glosser might walk into a 100 foot long building with 25 racks lined up. I think it was Wayne Miyata that told me back in the day he would only get a buck a side for glossing, but he would turn those 25 racks FOUR TIMES A DAY and back then $100 a day was a damn good living.

With volume, unit cost stayed low, the workers were happy and motivated enough to show up to work, and… the manufacturer could make a decent if not better than decent profit!

The industry worked on PIECE WORK… or you are paid by each piece you do. It isn’t much different today… still piece work. But the problem, as Huck so eloquently pointed out, everyone getting ‘enough pieces’ is a real challenge (or problem if you want to be a realist).

At the end of the day, you would think that with millions of surfers world wide, ‘getting enough pieces’ wouldn’t be a problem… yet apparently it is… and perhaps that may never change, except for a lucky few, like big movie stars getting $20 million a film, while droves of “MAW’s” (Models, Actors, Wannabes) wait tables at your local restaurant while hoping for their big break.

I see Dewey Weber now lists an epoxy made in China Performer for $1125.00! Seriously?! Over $1k for a CNC popout? C’mon Shae!

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the bigger glass shops are empty or super slow.
4 big ones have closed now this year.

lost is getting more and more boards from Vietnam.
Sharp Eye just added some Thai models.

Shops and most consumers no longer care where boards are made.

More us makers are getting booted in favor of GSI, SA, Chili, Firewire etc.

the niche manufacturers are safe. but the rest is a rocky road.

…hello Aquaglassing, the same thing is happening in most countries.

“I got some RTM fins in my choice of colors for 40% of what I would pay for a comparable so called “American” product, that probably isn’t made in USA anyway.”

Thanks for another realistic lesson in ‘Business Reality 101.’ Alibaba or Aliexpress can be your friend if you know what to look for. Many ‘American’ companies are forever looking for the least expensive source for their own products and that source is often located overseas.

Famous rich guy Warren Buffett has referred to business concepts like “Durable competitive advantage” and “Economic Moat.” He has said that LABOR, as commonly employed in factory settings, offers NO competitive advantage. Anyone running a business in the US that employs factory workers in a manufacturing process is sure to experience competition from competitors outsourcing product.

Whether or not the overseas production offers an unfair business advantage is really the heart of the issue. If a guy can, as you point out, purchase product overseas for a whole lot less and still manage to get nearly full price retailing it over here, more power to him. Isn’t that what business is all about?

Too bad. It’s been a dream of mine to work, in some capacity, in the boardbuilding industry. Guess that’s not such a good idea anymore.

ive seen a fair amount of the bootleg fusions in production US boards. So it seems some people are going the road to cutting corners to make up some of the loss especially because those plugs are sub par.

The fins ive seen are really hit and miss as well

I’m not trying to argue the pluses or minuses of any specific companies but I’d go so far as to say that many companies worldwide, including Australian companies, source their products from the cheapest available manufacturers, sometimes at the expense of their own domestic manufacturers.
Last I checked, FCS fins (under the banner of an Australian company) were being made in the USA.
FCS, like many outfits, has been bought and sold a couple of times and is now under a completely different corporate umbrella. At some point, it’s not unusual for new corporate bosses to start pinching pennies any way they can… especially when their corporate share price takes a hit.

The whole 60’s label attraction is a piece of crap. Even back in the day Bill Bahne once told me Dewey was a shyster hyping the other established labels of the day to all agree to hike the prices to the East Coast to enormous levels.

Being raised in Santa Barbara, I was never attracted to the Weber Performer, which is hyped as the “number one selling surfboard in the world”.


How do you qualify that kind of sh-t? Who has tabs on the sales numbers of EVERY MAJOR SURFBOARD MANUFACTURER back in the 60’s or 70’s?

I mean, give me an effing break.

I have a BUNCH of ex Weber owner clients and they have told me the stuff I’ve made them craps all over their old Weber Feathers and other models… that’s not to say Weber didn’t make some great boards. That’s just the feedback I was told along with “other things” about Dewey, like Hobie, and a few of the other 60’s guys, I won’t bring particulars up because it serves no useful purpose in doing so.

The point I’m making is, that, short of Matt (Calvani), who has worked hard and gathered up a group of 60’s labels thru his association with Bing and others, and has all the old 60’s models ON FILE, for milling, well… this keeps one factory humming with all the old Bing Models, Rick’s, maybe Cooperfish, and whatever else the Calvani’s have been able to capture. I’m not condemning them, that was smart, and that is survival. (Bing was one of the most prolific surfboard designers of the 60-70’s mind you.)

It’s all about numbers now… esp. if you are living in the USA and trying to make a living… you better have an in house CNC machine or be close to one that can cut whatever you need. You better have volume to get a good cutting price… you better be eating up one hell of a lot of blanks so you get them cheap as all get out… only then might you have a chance against competing with cheap offshore labor like China and what has become “China’s China” called Vietnam. I may be wrong, but I believe Lost produces out of Vietnam because the price was much better than China or Thailand. C.I. and Lost and some others, still produce stuff in the USA but much less so than offshore because the bottom line demands that.

What’s happening with Burton/C.I. and the other big boyz is that they are hard pressed to keep coming up with new models every few months becuz the old stuff becomes what we call “perishable” and dies on the racks… the big boys have created a GLUT THAT HURTS EVERYONE, but all they care about is the bottom line… Channel Islands will NEVER BE WORTH WHAT IT ONCE WAS WHEN AL WAS STILL THERE.

No one wants to buy Channel Islands Burton… all the big corporate owned surfboard manufacturers are just whores in our industry.

You can quote me on that… they don’t own my house, I do… so I can say whatever the hell I want.

Then you have 33 Degrees, GSI, Firewire… who, thank you Kelly, has been dumping their dogs in the US market for $165 to dealers that they tell “you best take some of these and help sell them off at a great price or maybe we will open someone else down the street from you”. Yes, thanks to all the rich pro surfer celebrities that have f-cked over hard working shapers that helped them get where they are at.

Shame on you… you know who you are.

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History lessons continue. Thank you Bruce Fowler!

“Too bad. It’s been a dream of mine to work, in some capacity, in the boardbuilding industry. Guess that’s not such a good idea anymore.”

  • That would be correct. Not only would you be banging heads against cheap offshore labor, you would be hard pressed to be a legit board manufacturer against all the cheats that never report taxable income. You might ask “well, isn’t it American to cheat on your taxes?”

If you can find legitimate expenses to avoid paying them, fine, but the blatant stuff I’ve seen coupled with a sense of entitlement kinda makes me wanna puke. A cheat is a cheat, and it reminds me of when Lance Armstrong was interviewed by Oprah after his fall from fame & glory. He said something similar to ‘I looked up cheat in the dictionary and it was defined as someone looking for an advantage to win.’
… he went on to justify himself stating that the sport of cycling was so intensely competitive, as has all sports become… and yadda, yadda, yadda.

Ok. so Lance has his own take on it… just like X amount of surfers I know that feel they have carte blanche in undermining any legitimate domestic (or foreign for that matter) board manufacturers. It was Rusty that once said the biggest detriment to making a living in the surfboard industry is the “bro deal”.

Some guys just don’t get, or aren’t willing to accept, what “cost” is.

“Cost” is Materials & Labor needed to produce a product… in this case a surfboard. So when guys get their noses bent out of shape becuz they aren’t getting a stupidly low price, they are basically saying "I want it for as close to nothing as possible, and I don’t give a sh-t if it comes at the expense of the guys making it.

Well, how about I ask that same guy if he is willing to cut HIS paycheck to be a bro to someone else?

Earlier when I wrote about what good fundamental business is, that demands a sound business plan and an INCENTIVE aka “profit” at the end of the line… whether you are in manufacturing, retailing, or even repping (representing a manufacturer) for that matter… if there is no REWARD, as in paycheck, then why are you even bothering to work at it?

Yes, at the end of the day, one can justify the corporate guys hauling containers in of cheap product, ANY product, and the consumer will lap it up in droves… esp. if it is a GOOD product for a cheap price. That’s free enterprise and competition, and protection for domestic goods thru tariffs is exercised by some countries, but not all.

It still boggles my mind how people continue to insist there isn’t enough surfboard work in the United States, Australia, Hawaii, and many other countries when there are MILLIONS of surfers… where are all those surfboards coming from?


If you grow large, you best not get “top heavy” with too many fat cats drawing huge paychecks… if you’re small, you’re probably not doing enough to ever call it making a living and I doubt you are reporting any of it. If you are somewhere in between, you are an endangered species or have figured out what amount of sales you need to capture to make a living that is acceptable to you and you continue to do it because you are passionate about it.

It will be easier to achieve that if you aren’t married, don’t have a family, don’t own a house, don’t have a dog. cat, canary or goldfish.

That’s pretty much the bottom line.

…not to repeat myself but that perception problem with the bro deals is augmented with the use of the machine. These pro surfers use them then almost all the surfers behind go that way (or try)
They do not interact with a real boardbuilder or shaper in most cases so they perceive the final product as something that you can buy (or get) in whatever place at a budget cost and no matter the labor (due to is done by the machine) and do not care where was produced.
SO when they have a chat with a shaper, they just are on top of their ponies… looking at you like just a poor guy doing just artisan boards…“not great boards like the ones that I can have for free or at minimum cost”
THAT is for what these glassing factories are shut down; their customers are those so they do not have anymore business.
The small factories doing those retro boards, or longboards like Waterman s guild are doing ok because their customers are other.
BUT that only works in California; in Aussie land and Japan is too small, in Brazil is just closing and opening factories in the last 30 years due to they only have those first types of customers mentioned; in the other countries we are struggling; some times is ok sometimes do not.
The power of the perception is what is all about; in couple of months another “international shaper” will be here “doing” (aka the machine) his stuff and of course all will be there buying those boards…I have blanks in the same container that is arriving to provide the feed for this guy and others.
You can say, well do your way etc; again this is not California, where there are people in different niches, lots of them; there in San Diego you have the mecca of longboards; do you not find any other place with that (only in Shonan near Tokyo) so if I decide that this is my niche, I just starve due to not enough customers…

There’s definitely lots of truth in what you say… and as Acqua G. stated, the niche guys are doing ok… not good… ok. And yes, California is fortunate compared to other areas, even over Hawaii, which is very unique and the mythical mecca of it all.

Hawai’i is also an island chain that is the furthest from any continent in the world. My wife, a retired flight attendant, told me there is what they call “the point of no return” when you fly to Hawaii… she said “it’s known as that because you cannot get back with the fuel you have if something happens”. I imagine it’s all related to tail & headwinds and such. Obviously the airlines don’t want travelers to have ever heard the term. The point is, any island based manufacturer is faced with expensive import of materials as well as the expense of shipping from such a remote place… it’s not competitive and never will be.

Some of what has happened with the niche market is developing specific ‘looks’ that are achieved in the glassing process, colored hotcoats and sanding that give the boards a unique look. That different look is vital to cultivating more business… you’ve seen them… Almond, McCallum, Lovelace, and other such boards that are being marketed in an alternative manner to attract that niche customer base. Those looks are not immediately privy to mass production methods, although if there is enough incentive, just about any attempt to being different will come under fire and compromised.

The one thing that keeps someone coming back to the same manufacturer is customer service. This is something that is difficult for cheap offshore companies to adequately satisfy a discerning customer that (still) desires interaction with the builder. The big corporate companies offer deep lines of models on every kind of surfboard known to man, and they have apps and websites that allow you to ‘build your own custom’, but it’s still not the same thing, and if you go into one of those sites and build a custom, you will blow your mind how fast the price piles up into what you are seeking.

I have stated that i am very fortunate in having a very high number of repeat customers & quiver builders. A lot of those customers were on Firewires, Merrick M-13’s, Rusty’s, Lost and Beckers… among other brands. They told me the reason they are repeatedly buying from me is because I am receptive to their needs, help them determine what will be best for them from what I currently make, and if they need something different, I will make it custom for them while assuring good quality at a fair price with quick delivery. I receive many inquiries and lots of questions from people all over the world, and when a customer apologizes for asking so many questions, I tell them not to say they are sorry for wanting to receive good customer service… that it may be dead somewhere else, but that isn’t the case with me. I’m a manufacturer coming from a retail background that went to college. If you treat your customers like gold, they will tell their friends and/or let them ride what you have made them… word of mouth and representing you by allowing a friend to try their board is more powerful than any paid advertisement or pro endorsement out there… word of mouth is the ultimate “influencer”.

So at the end of the day there are the Nordstroms & the Wal Marts… and then you have Amazon, that is hell bent & fixated on taking over the world.

News at 11.