Retailer: SPYDER SURFBOARDS/ SURF SHOPS
Location: HERMOSA BEACH /MANHATTAN BEACH CALIFORNIA
Years in Business: 36
Interviewee: DENNIS JARVIS
Job Title: OWNER FOUNDER
BTR: You started shaping in 1978 to suit your own needs as an up and coming professional surfer. Why did you decided to give up the pro career and become a full time shaper?
DJ: I didn’t stop surfing professional immediately. I actually shaped my first SPYDER surfboard at the Safari Surfboard factory in South Africa in the late 70’s as my boards were way too thick and seemed sluggish. I traded my barely used board to the Safari guys for all materials needed and carved a board out. It actually worked well– I made it out of a few heats that year and learned a lot! My brand SPYDER was actually created in ’77, I would paint the logo on the boards. The logo came to be, as I was a huge fan of Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew and he had this really cool WB logo– it was a burn of the Warner Brothers logo. I wanted my own brand like he had. It was early April and Mad Magazine’s issue had just come out. I loved Mad Magazine. They would do cool little comics in the margins. This issue had a killer spider with a cool shadow behind it and there was a poem that read, “Itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout”- then it said something like “I smashed it – squashed it ‘til its guts fell out” or something like that. The art was killer so I started hand painting it on my boards, then my friends wanted me to paint it on their boards. That got tough, so I learned how to screen on rice paper. That was a fun time. My career as a pro actually came to an end when I went up against Mark Richards in the 82 O.P. PRO. Derek Hynd was my “coach” and it was the first year they started the computer system for events. I was up against my hero; I surfed well, I know I was ahead but last minute, M.R. gets a medium size wave and wiggles to the beach. I was already on the sand and watched him. Derek said I beat him, as did my other friends. However it was the first heat and the computer had a glitch, so for a brief moment, I was a hero. Then the screen flickered on and M.R. had beaten me. I think by .5- I was crushed. The best thing out of that was when I heard Tom Curren interviewed a few year back. We were watching the VANS open at the shop and the question was, “what is your fondest memory of the Huntington contest?” and he replied, “that heat were Dennis Jarvis and M.R. surfed against each other.” Then he said a few nice things about me…wish I woulda recorded that to play for my kids when they doubt how cool I really am! Lol –However after that heat when I went up against the best, gave my best and still lost, I figured it was time to stop surfing contests, so I became a photo slut for a while but then that started to take the fun out of surfing ‘cause I would only go where a photographer was. So then I just focused on building the best boards for the best SURFERS AND IT TOOK OFF!
BTR: The South Bay of Los Angeles is like nowhere else in Southern, CA. It’s not easily accessible from the freeways, which gives it a bubble like feeling. That bubble has a legendary history of surfboard manufactures. Who are some of the guys you looked up to and honed your shaping skills with?
DJ: Well shaping was so competitive back then. No one gave away any secrets. I liked Red “REDMAN” Manville– he always had some “flair” to his boards. I was shaping one day and he came in and said “D- you gotta design it with art as well as functionality.” That really stuck in my brain ‘til this day. Nowadays there is the Internet and guys like John Carper who has a video on how to shape and my buddy Matt Kinoshita from Kazuma surfboards who want to keep the artisan industry alive. I actually teach classes myself on occasion on how to shape. There was this guy named Eddie Underwood– he always had really forward thinking designs; Jeff Weidner had clean lines, I think he is scrubbing for LOST now? But he had some great lines. But the weirdest shaper was Bob Moore. He was from San Pedro but he would come stay in his car in the parking lot of the shop I worked at. He basically lived in a trench coat and always had a half eaten sandwich or piece of fruit tucked in his pockets- foam dust and all—he’d grub it up! He did these boards we called “lunch trays” cause he would draw sections of the bottom of the board like long ovals mid board next to two circles next to two other ovals, etc…- then he would use his uncut fingernails and dig into the blank making deep grooves approx. 2-2 ½” deep. Then he would sand them clean and spray the board silver metallic and glass it. Crazy stuff man but he surfed well on them. I think I owe some of my current fireball configuration/cavitation design to his whacky designs.
BTR: You opened the first Spyder Surf Shop in 1983?
BTR: How were those early days of running a business?
DJ: Scary, I never really wanted to be a businessman / shop owner. The shop I worked at for 11 years was my home. The owner, in 1982, brought a bunch of us (10 total-Ed Sakal of Sakal surfboards being one of us) into the factory and said he was doing well with his real estate and wanted us to own a piece of the company we created. It was $30k for 5% ownership. I was so excited to actually own something I put so much of my life into; I charged into saving every penny. I would eat toast with butter and syrup for breakfast calling it “french toast” just to get the calories – I had added 2 other roommates to get my rent down. I would only used the money from shaping boards to live on. Any surf-contest I would get money from or photo in the mag (sponsors would pay me for pix) or airbrushing (I started as an airbrusher) I would take to the bank. Then one day I got a huge check for my SURFER magazine cover. I was so excited but knew I shouldn’t look at my balance, as I would want to spend it. I handed the check to the teller and she knew what I was saving for. She said, “You should look” so I did. I had saved $33k- and I was fired up on buying my 5% share!—however, the owner changed his mind several times during the year- at this time we were on a “yes-you can own a percent of the company you built”so I was in a good space – I had saved the cash, it was a “GO” on the ownership part BUT, it took a turn for the worse. I sat waiting for the owner outside my shaping bay. Then he walked up to me and I pulled my bank book and showed him I was “IN”—he said “Oh little buddy, I spoke with my accountant and he said we can’t do the deal”- I was devastated. But in 1983- $33K was LOT of cash!! (Still is) My new plan was; I was gonna do the whole Pro surf tour, buy a Porsche and live it up! —but that same day I was driving home not 5 minutes after I was told it wouldn’t happen. I looked to the left and saw a FOR LEASE sign for a tiny space about ½ mile away. I ended up getting the keys that day, drinking a few shots of Tequila that night, and went back up at midnight. Before I went back, I grabbed a sledge Hammer and that very night I began breaking down walls and designing my 1stretail shop WITHOUT A SIGNED LEASE!
Times were hard, I had customers say they were told from my previous employer that I moved to Florida or San Clemente – when they would come in. I remember I had many zero dollar days, we were coming out of a recession and times were tough. However, I rode for OP and they gave Tom Curren, David Barr, Marty Hoffman and myself 50 pairs of black surf shorts to give to the “cool people” in our towns. I actually didn’t have any product except my Spyder Surfboard Tees and surfboards; so- I put all those board shorts on hangers and sold them for $8-10.00 so I could eat (I left O.P. right before this). My shaping/airbrush bay had a huge window so people could watch me work like I was a monkey in a cage. But then something happened, I got a few better vendor lines, then Vision street wear opened us as an account and we took of with our Skateboard section and that brought more folks in and we grew pretty quick through ’86. We started taking over more and more square footage and I had to reinvest to keep us growing. All the while Derek Hynd would stay at my home and bring travelling surfers through and I got to build boards for some of the best surfers in the world and that kept it fun!
BTR: What are some lessons you learned in those early days that still apply to surf retail today?
DJ: Relationships. It is all about relationships. We have retailers that have never surfed or skated a day in their life eroding the industry like a cancer with their discount practices– heck we all pretty much carry the same product right? But we (Spyder Surf) win, as our staff is top notch! We have three great looking shops WITH SOUL! So many retailers have stores that look great but customer service is lacking so they have to discount to stay alive. This hurts the industry as all our margins get thinner and thinner (on vendor and retail side) as we compete against online stores like Amazon and the some of the same vendors we sell inside our retail stores—it’s a race to the bottom for some of those retailers. We sell 1stquality products and back everything with an informative sales staff at an affordable price point.
BTR: You’ve been one of the leading voices on why surfers should support local shapers and not overseas manufactures. For anyone who is not familiar with the American Board Builders, tell us why it matters and the 3 initiates that you’re striving to accomplish?
DJ: I just found out I have a direct connection with President Trump so that is a great little tidbit for the ABB cause. What most folks don’t understand is they are buying a “toy” compared to what their “superstar” surfer is riding and it’s a big sham to the consumer. Thing is, boards that are imported from many third world countries have no import duties, NONE whatsoever. The cost of the boards to the brand, I have heard, is that they are landed for $180- $200. Then they are placed on consignment in stores—now the owner is stoked ‘cause they have no vested interest in product on the rack and can buy a new speedboat or house with the money they save on inventory! (lol). It was brought up that this consignment model is saving surf shops…that couldn’t be further from the truth as the top brands don’t sell to the “little guy” that is fighting to save his business. They go into huge shops and squash the artisan board builder out of the rack space. Don’t get me wrong, I am a capitalist for sure, I get it–we all have to make a living. However, I know four shaper friends that can no longer build boards; these consignment models pushed them out of the space they once shared with other brands. Many are like me– I was a poor student. These guys had a great way to take care of their families, but due to this unethical practice they are forced to find other work. Most use their hand eye coordination skills and go into the brutal construction industry. Remember that $850+ Epoxy board with that cool logo may have been built by a small child in a communist country with no AQMD, OSHA or EPA so why wouldn’t these board builders exploit these kids to save a buck? I am not saying they are doing that BUT there is no evidence that they aren’t. I have seen so many pix online of young ladies glassing boards with no mask on and that is the board YOU the consumer is getting; more like a pool toy than a highly fine tuned board that your “hero” is riding. Those “pool toys” come into our country with no carbon tax and no import duty and this affords these name brands to offer the consignment model. The ABB was formed to bring awareness to the issue. I have seen where the point of origin has been sanded off the board and then the consumer doesn’t know his/her board was an import. It was just brought up to me that all this EPS foam is emitting harmful BPA’s and other Bio-toxins into the earth’s atmosphere. It’s kinda wild people are freaking about plastic straws but everyone’s health is at risk with these cancer causing chemicals released into the air half way around the globe. In fact I heard EPS is so toxic it isn’t even allowed to be manufactured in California?? Lately, I have been focusing on how to get legislation through to change this unfair rate of imported goods and became less a “spokesperson” for the cause and more about action. It is actually draining my bandwidth.
I have found that people LOVE their heroes to a fault; these heroes can do no wrong. And they have such great marketing skills and funds with all the profits they can give half-truths and get away with it. Wasn’t it Hitler that said“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” They are really feeding the consumer a load of crap and the consumer is so star struck they are buying it!!
Last year there were 840,146 surfboards imported INTO the USA! By our calcs that is about 1673 jobs that could have been here in the USA.
Of those, most of those imported surfboards were at end stage, meaning they will never break down and will sit in a landfill until doomsday. USA should ban Styrofoam as one of our states actually has “Maine” has deemed it illegal to use/manufacter. It is a poison to the earth and should be abolished. These EPS blanks break down into micro plastics and filter into our eco system radiating BPA’s and many harmful chemicals.
ABB has 3 initiatives:
1- LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD: We are striving for a 50-70% import duty on all surfboards brought into the USA regardless of country of origin. This will give the domestic surfboard builder a fighting chance to stay in business.
2- PROMINENT DISCLOSURE OF ORIGIN: Rumors have been circulating throughout the industry for years and years that board importers actually sand off the point of origin label before the board is sold to the retailer. Legally the only entity that can do this is the final owner/consumer. People should know if their surfboard is built in a country that has no accountability and is not regulated with child labor laws or environmental protections like the dumping of toxic chemicals into a stream or on land that will infect the ground water in the area.
3- EDUCATE THE CONSUMER: due to laws/codes and regulations, a board costs roughly 3 times the amount to build in a lawful country with ethics and environmentally conscious codes. However, you must realize the expensive imported board you are purchasing is pretty much “nothing like” the one your idol is riding. The ecological stress is huge; think about the carbon footprint to have it shipped all the way across the world and what that is doing to the future generations. There are board builders still in the USA that make a living, it is GREED that has caused these brands to build boards offshore and introduce negative competitive practices.
BTR: Surf Shops are fill with interesting characters. What is the most awkward thing you have ever witnessed inside the shop?
DJ: I don’t have a “one-single thing” I’ve experienced, but at the shop I used to work at there was this guy Daryl Hall. He was so funny. He looked like a homeless person even after he’d get out of the water (he ripped BTW) with his long stringy hair that would be all tangled and kinda gross. He’d sniff his nose and tweak it, and he created a whole “surf lingo” that caught on in around the South Bay. If someone dropped in on him or anyone they’d say, “dude they horned you.” Or in between sentences they’d say “Errr, NO…” My favorite was “Err-Nay – Later Toad.” Everyone at that time I think was saying “Nay-Nay” instead of “no.” He was a Classic.