Nick Carroll Says On: Pay Up Damn It!

18 Dec 2016 81

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Jim Banks and his quiver

Jim Banks and his quiver

COASTALWATCH | FEATURE

(Cover image by Mandy Zieren)

Pay Up Damn It

You’ll probably have heard of the surfboard maker doco, “Men of Wood and Foam”, which showed on Fox’s History Channel this week.

Made by Phil Jarratt and his colleague Shaun Cairns, it tells the tale of six original Australian boardmakers, Barry Bennett, Gordon Woods, Denny Keogh, Bill Wallace, Greg McDonagh and Scott Dillon, who ran the show out of Brookvale in Sydney in the ‘60s, when surfing first went nuts.

It’s a gentle enough watch, just as are its gentlemanly participants these days. But it hides a pretty hard fact.

The day after it showed, I bumped into an older gent, someone I had no clue was a surfer. But! “I know all those blokes!” he told me. Turns out that way back in in 1961, after much grommetty saving and scrimping, he’d bought one of the original Bennett PU foam and glass surfboards.

“It cost me 30 pounds and 10 shillings!” he told me with a big smile. After all these years, he’s still proud of the purchase.

I wandered around for the next coupla hours thinking about this, not really sure why. Then I dug up an online inflation calculator, stuck in the 30 pounds and 10 shillings, and …whoa. Guess what that money would be worth today? $829.00. 

Yet you can walk into a surf shop in Brookvale today and buy a board for, what, $700? Less?

Look I know the economics of board building have rarely made sense, except to the buyer. And the whinging boardmaker is kind of a surf culture trope.

But this comparative gives us a stark look at just how sketchy the surfboard market has been over the decades, and how lucky we, the customers, have been to get away with it for so long.

SEE ALSO: Jim Banks On, The One Dollar Surfboard Theory

The conversion above is worked off a thing called the Consumer Price Index, which tracks the effects of inflation, and thus the apparent value of money. But in real terms, it’s kind of silly. It does not, for instance, include three pretty big things: insurance, petrol prices, and the Internet. Hands up who thinks these three things have not affected the cost of living over the past 55 years? Much less the cost of business.

Many consumer items have plunged in price over the years, as tariffs have been dropped, technology has sharpened up machinery and logistics, and factories have shifted offshore. Cars, for example, are infinitely better value. There’s no way you’d have paid the equivalent of $20,000 for a flash little 2016 hatchback in 1961, for instance; hell you couldn’t have bought one at all.

But surfboards aren’t cars. They’re designed by individuals using years of experience, and even with computer cutting etc, they’re still largely hand-built. If you want a comparison, my older buddy paid pretty much the same price for his board as his Dad might have paid for a bespoke tailored suit in Sydney at the time. Today, ha, you’ll be lucky to get such a suit for less than $3000, and that’s not even near the top end.

SEE ALSO: Nick Carroll On, On Or Off The Eco Train

All of which tells you: custom surfboard makers should be getting a crapload more per board than they do today. Yet as it stands, they are more up against it now than they were in 1961. They may well be more up against it, in fact, than any hand-built manufacturing industry in the Western world. (I’m not counting writers, by the way.)

The Men of Wood and Foam did very well out of surfboard making for a short period. Truth is they probably did better than anyone in the industry, ever.

As it is — if you’re buying someone a board for Christmas this year, buy two! You might as well! You’ll be getting two for the price of one.

One of these days, board builders will stop whinging and start charging. In fact, maybe they’re on the verge of doing just that. Another old mate of mine, Jim Banks, has just sent out a note to his customer base. The note explains politely but firmly that he can no longer justify making a custom board for less than $1800, and that with colour options etc, the price tag will probably be more like $2000.

Banksy’s had enough. I reckon maybe we should pay him the $2000 and shut up.

Gunther Rohn still makes boards in Byron Bay

Gunther Rohn still makes boards in Byron Bay

Kirk Bierke in his shaping bay

Kirk Bierke in his shaping bay

Ed Sinnott in his element

Ed Sinnott in his element

Mike Psillakis a modern day craftsman

Mike Psillakis a modern day craftsman

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