Just what challenges does one encounter making surfboards?
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 11 March, 2014 - How did Mark Price evolve from mid-level pro hacking it out on the fledgling pro tour to becoming the consummate surf executive in charge of a multi-million dollar board manufacturer? Simple. He lights black candles and drinks the blood of small children. Or, so one would believe after visiting several online threads surrounding Firewire Surfboards. But more on that later.
If you’re not familiar with Mark Price, he is a soft-spoken Durbanite who cut his teeth in the surf industry during the garish eighties at Gotcha. Gotcha is the brand that created several templates for surf marketing with aggressive in-your-face advertisements (“If You Don’t Surf Don’t Start) and even wilder beach wear.
After successful stints at Reef & Rip Curl - and one solo venture behind his own brand, Tavarua, during the dot-com era – the surf-industry-savant took his mojo to Firewire Surfboards where he’s grown the company for the past seven years now. How does someone go from marketing neon-print puffy Gotcha pants to something as beautifully simple and zen as surfboards? Let’s find out.
How would you explain your job to a small, inattentive child?
I try and make sure that we’re all riding on the right train, that it won’t break down during the journey, and that it arrives on time at our destination.
Just what is it that makes Firewire Surfboards so damn special?
They flex at just the right rate, and will continue to do so indefinitely. If flex makes snowboards, wakeboards, skateboards and parabolic skis perform better, why would surfboards be any different?
What is it that you are most proud of about Firewire Surfboards?
Firstly that we took the risk to introduce a completely new method of building surfboards from scratch, CT events have been won of our surfboards, and after a mere seven years, we’re challenging the market share of the long-standing top brands in our industry. And secondly, while our product is far from sustainably built, we’ve made significant strides in reducing the toxicity of our surfboards, and lowering the carbon footprint of our overall operation.
Price at the Firewire office © Firewire
Surely in moving production of surfboards to such a large scale, you’ve angered some people. What was one of the more colourful confrontations you’ve had?
That would be an understatement. There have been a number of crazy threads on Surfermag.com’s design forum, particularly in the early years. People never understood, or believed, that our boards were actually shaped and chose to believe that they were moulded pop-outs. In addition, after losing our asses financially trying to build our boards in the US and Australia, we were forced to go offshore. We even build our own blanks, so the labour required to make a Firewire is intensive.
If we’d continued to build them domestically, we would have had to charge $1,000 at retail to stay in business. But the market for high performance shortboards at that price point is extremely small, so we would have never achieved the minimum sales volumes required to support the business. I tried to explain all of this in great detail on the forums, but some people simply decided that we were greedy bastards whose only concern was making the most money possible, and that we did not give a shit about anything else.
I did understand where they were coming from to a certain degree. We were the first surfboard company to build a truly high performance product offshore and a surfboard that in my opinion at least, offered surfers a tangible benefit in both durability and performance over traditional surfboards. However, I was still taken back by the level of venom and choice of words used to describe me personally. That took some getting used to. You would think that the Antichrist and Medusa had mated, and I was the result!
I think it’s also worth mentioning that we set up our own factory in Thailand from scratch. It’s a first class operation run by three expat surfers and a highly talented crew of Thais. In fact, I’d argue that you’d be hard pressed to find another surfboard factory anywhere else in the world with comparable working conditions and systems in place to protect staff.
Mark Price during warmwater R&D © Steve Lippman
Tell us, what has been one of your greatest professional mistakes?
Turning down a significant business opportunity because I was too in love with what I was doing at the time.
What did you learn from that mistake?
Don’t confuse passion with love, and in most cases if you are in tune with your ability, the greater challenge is almost always the most rewarding.
Share with us one of your finer ‘Rocky’ moments?
Years ago I went own to Salsipuedes one day after a monster swell the day before when there were 30 guys out. No one else wanted to go back so I went alone, confident others would be there. There was no one and the tide was high. After chilling for a few hours I surfed on my own until my nerves gave out and I went in. Somehow I picked the wrong path back up the cliff and ended up halfway up with two surfboards under one arm and a back pack, clinging to a bush. And that cliff is pretty damn high.
I honestly thought I was going to die. After throwing one board down the cliff to help lighten my load, I was somehow able to scale the cliff by grabbing one small bush after another and pulling myself up. If just one had given way I would have been toast. I remember lying on the ground at the top afterwards and feeling like a million bucks. And I was too freaked out to go back down the regular trail to retrieve my surfboard. Funnily enough I had somehow scaled the cliff way past the normal path so a couple of weeks later when I went back my board was laying at the base of the cliff wedged into a crevice. A few shatters but that was all.
Nerd Alert: Mr. Price has a passion for succulents
At the end of the day does making surfboards really matter?
Only if you believe that ‘sex and tube rides’ (to quote MR) are two of the absolute best things in the world.
If you weren’t making and distributing surfboards, what would you be doing? Selling shoes, cutting hair, something else?
Final question: You get to drop into any five moments in history – surf-related or otherwise. Please name them and share with us why they strike a chord with you.
- Egypt, at any point while the pyramids were being built because I’d like to know how they did it.
- London in the late seventies to witness the punk revolution.
- Date unknown: being the first person ever to find a ripe watermelon and having the guts to try it.
- Late ‘60s (I think) – being asked to ride the first ‘stand-up’ version of a Steve Lis fish.
- J-bay late ‘60s (?): surfing Super Tubes for the first time and actually making the wave due to advancements in surfboard design.