Shaper to the stars cares deeply about the US board industry
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 8 April, 2014 - There’s a certain blue collar no-nonsense approach that has worked well for Matt Biolos over the years. Touted as an Everyman Shaper (a recent promotion in Australia even offered up the prize of “having a beer with Biolos”), he’s a unique mix of savvy marketer, skilled writer and it doesn’t hurt that he’s an A-List shaper to the world’s best.
He’s filled orders for a good chunk of the top 34, much of the WQS and has a loyal following among average-level surfers worldwide all while building the Lost clothing brand with partners Joel Cooper and Mike Reola.
Matt Biolos will also tell you that the US Surfboard industry is a very unique thing in the world that it should be cherished. He’s concerned about American jobs and will throw out terms like “harmonized tariff schedule” and “COO” (Country Of Origin) with no problem.
Read on and find out what bugs him about the elite pros he shapes for, why he is so protective of the US Surfboard Industry and what his favorite moments in history are.
Share with us a shaping ‘moment’ that you are most proud of?
Oh my…I don't know. There’s been quite a few key things….The whole RoundNoseFish (with Chris Ward and Cory Lopez) story has grown to be realized as a somewhat key point in surfboard culture. Nothing groundbreaking of course, but culturally, it seems to have become some thing that most people recognize as special. Being in Oz with Shane Beschen and watching him win a WCT event on my board in '98, that was a big moment for me. Cory’s assault on, and then his WT victory at Chopes was really special. Kolohe’s rampage though the WQS at 17 years old and how closely he and Dino and I worked together to make that happen. Carissa Moore’s two World Titles… The dominating performance of our boards at the US Open over the last couple years was a real booster of confidence. Taj Burrow’s Hurley Pro win last September at Lowers was a lifetime of work and dedication to my adopted home surf spot, realized.
And, yes, he tests his shapes as often as he can © Lost
What makes your company so damn special?
I think it might be best to ask the surfing public that. But that said, I feel like we have approached things a bit differently than most board builders and most brand marketers. We tend to champion and celebrate the everyman and the little things in life that make being a surfer so unique and also the sameness of all surfers. The thing we enjoy as a unique cult…culture to ourselves. Rather than simply putting idols on a pedestal, we always strive to bring the heroes down to the everyman’s level. Combine that with a passion for excellence in design performance and presentation, to back up the so-called "buffoonery" and it makes for something that a certain amount of surfers can really relate to and, hopefully, trust.
What has been your biggest mistake business-wise?
Oh boy…probably selling too much of a percentage in my apparel and non-surfboard branding for too little too soon. Not that I haven't had success, and become life long friends with my partners, but in hindsight I could have driven a harder bargain. We turned down some serious good offers to sell at the market peak as well at one time…numbers that I don't think will ever be offered again.
What did you learn from that mistake?
Hard to say, but sometimes saying "yes" can bite you in the ass…and sometimes it’s saying "no". The bottom line is you never know…But as far as running my day-to-day biz, I feel like, given the industry I am in, I think we have done a pretty good job. No major mistakes running my BoardCo over the years really.
Mark Richards, Matt Biolos & Reno Abellira
What’s your biggest pet peeve about shaping for the world’s best surfers?
Well it’s hard to complain about something like that. I mean I feel pretty fortunate that athletes of that caliber trust me to make their equipment. That said, I would say when they don't give feedback at all. Like if you work hard to make someone a quiver of boards, and then don't hear back from them, positive or negative, I need to hear the feedback. It really bums me out when someone just goes silent. I don't mind the hoop jumping, the rushes, the negative feedback.. I can handle all that. Its part of the game, but when you put so much in, and then to not get anything back, that’s a let down.
What’s your biggest pet peeve about shaping for the rest of us?
Probably guys who think they surf better than they do (I suppose we are all guilty of that) and blame the board for their lack of skill. I think the more knowledgeable the surfer, the better customer they are. Making boards is still a handcrafted, one off process. Occasionally the less experienced, or first-timers can have too high of expectations. Like when they pull out a pantone chip and say the color they ordered of their resin tint doesn't match the pantone color they requested. I tell my crew to simply say "OK, we will buy the board back…You don't need to take it" Then they usually take the board…and end up loving it.
Share with us a shaping horror story-
Oh, I dunno, I don't really have anything too dramatic. I dragged a running planer across my outer thigh once on a shaping trip in Japan. It tore my flesh up a bit and hurt like hell. That same trip, about 94 or so, before pre-shape machines were popular, I was in Japan for 5 weeks. They always wanted me there in early spring. It was brutally cold and the company was spiraling out of control. The owner was fucked up on drugs and alcohol. He never came to work. His glassing crew had no work until I started getting shapes ready for them.. and even then, no one came to work. So I was basically in Japan, for a month, alone all day in the factory… every day in bitter…bitter cold. Going days without speaking English to anyone. Shaping by hand out of a big pile of old, twisted miss-manned blanks. This was before you could pass time by trolling the internet or doing emails etc…. yea..It was a bit of a horror story.
Showing some form at Lowers © Lost
You’re an affable character and a celebrity presence to retailers and consumers. But you’re also very outspoken. This is a great mix for conflict. Share with us one instance of dialogue that still makes you cringe and one instance that has evolved into a positive, healthy dialogue.
I don't know if my big mouth has gotten me in any real trouble professionally. I have blown it at home and with friends a few times over the years, but I can't really think of any major instance where my mouth has gotten me in too much business trouble. I suppose I have pissed off a few retailers and a few pro surfers here and there…But overall, I have saved my verbal fuck ups for my friends and family, which I suppose is worse. On the other hand, I still believe my work in attempting to make surfboard import laws more fair for the domestic manufacturer to be some of the best and most positively minded work I have ever done. We did succeed on a few counts in that process, although we didn't carry it all the way across the finish line, by instilling duties on imported surfboards.
You’re concerned about overseas productions - why? What does it matter to the average surfer?
Lets be clear. I have always been concerned about fair trade with imported surfboards. A fair playing table per se. When we started our little crusade there were a few key points that I was clear about: 1. Imported boards should be tracked by the US Government, as are almost all other products. At the time, Surfboards were not deemed important enough to even be listed in a thing called the "Harmonized tariff Scehdule" which listed and tracked almost every imported product by both volume of units, and dollars. This is unfair to the domestic industry. 2. The boards that were coming in were not being marked with COO (Country of Origin) and were too easily passed off as American Made products. This is unfair to the consumer. 3. The boards were labeled with brand names such as "California Board Co.” or "San Diego Surf Boards"..etc etc. American law states that one cannot use a US location as a brand name on an imported product, unless the product is marked with its actual COO at like size. For instance: Should "Channel Islands" or "Surfboards Hawaii" manufacture their boards in Asia, the law states that those boards would need significantly sized COO permanently embedded on the boards. It misleads the consumer. 4. There were, and still are, no import duties on imported surfboards. Import duties are placed/levied onto products to protect domestic industries and save American jobs. If a typical PU/PE surfboard is being imported from China for 150.00, and there is a thriving "deep and narrow" (per US Govt description) domestic industry, manufacturing boards in the same manner, but it costs 265.00 to do so in the US, Then the foundation is laid for a duty to be placed on the imported boards. Thousands and thousands of products have duties on them. US Steel Industry has managed to get duties of up to almost 100% (doubling the price of) imported steel from Asia. Now to be fair, styles of surfboards like, say, Firewire, or even sandwich molded boards like Surftech, are not consistently made in the US and there is no existing domestic industry manufacturing this type of boards, so we learned that there is no real grounds for placing proper import duties on those contractions (per precidence in US Judicial court). Still it matters, among other reasons, to the average American because they can't be duped into thinking the boards were made in the US, and we can't afford, as a culture, to lose more jobs than are absolutely necessary from the US economy. And quite simply, the US Surfboard industry is a very unique thing in the world that should be cherished.
Yes they are made in the USA. Surf Expo, January 2014 © SV
If you weren’t shaping boards, what would you be doing? Selling shoes? Slinging beers?
Almost definitely working on boats. In high school I ran my own business cleaning and repairing boats in Dana Point Harbor. I worked at the DP Shipyard during summers and my Dad has lived on a boat for 25 years.
OK, you get to drop into five moments in history – surf or otherwise. Please name them and why.
1. Building airplanes and swooning Starlets with Howard Hughes in the late 30s would be sublime.
2. Then bumping around with Patton in North Africa would have been pretty key.
3. Then party in Paris with Ike, Churchill and the boys after D-Day
4. Come back to the States and surf So Cal alone in the ‘40s and ‘50s
5. Hang out with Dylan , The Stones and The Beatles though the ‘60s.