GOING STRONG: Madness Surfboards owner and shaper Chris Henry (right) and his son Byron have adapted to challenging market conditions.
GOING STRONG: Madness Surfboards owner and shaper Chris Henry (right) and his son Byron have adapted to challenging market conditions. Trevor Veale

Surfboard shaper is a success story

SURFBOARD shaper Chris Henri can recall a time when the demand for his profession was at its all time high.

Thirty years on, he is one of a handful of shapers remaining on the Coffs Coast competing in a flooded market of imported computer-aided design boards from overseas.

But having cornered the niche market of producing custom hand-shaped boards, Chris is a rare success story within an industry that's fallen to the effects of a global economy and the rise of the Australian dollar.

"Because of computer cutting there is a mass of people on the market and that's hurt a lot of the established makers," he said.

"I used to make boards in Sydney where we had a 75% wholesale market - that's now gone," he said.

Eight years ago, Chris relocated to Woolgoolga and set up Madness Surfboards that specialises in quality boards and workmanship.

"Specialising in custom boards has turned out to be the best decision," he said.

"Because so many boards are machine cut, I think you'll always have that demand for the custom hand made board that can be tailored for the surfer."

In a market dominated by imports, DMC surfboards owner and shaper Danny Cougle has faced similar challenges over the years.

He runs his business from home and is sceptical about the future for young people looking to make a career in the craft.

"You use the best materials because you want a board to last - so a board you're selling for $250 costs you $300 to make.

"Unless you can produce with low overheads, it's a challenge for young people to get that start."

He said the industry should introduce regulations to label boards with their country of origin to ensure people know what they are buying.

"Unfortunately so many little businesses are suffering so labelling is an issue that needs to be addressed," he said.

Both experienced shapers said what keeps workshops going is the connection to surfing, to surfing culture and above all - loyal customers.

"I have seen a swing back to local or Aussie made boards," Danny said.

"There is still a demand for custom boards and Australian boards."


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