How were you introduced to board building?
I started surfing when I was 4 years old and my first ever board was a leopard print rail Hot Buttered thruster. That was my first memory of really taking an interest in surfboards – I loved that thing. When I was 15 I broke my board at the time and didn’t have any cash to replace it. My parent’s vetoed the idea of me doing my school work experience in year 10 at a local surfboard factory, so I gave up my easter school holidays and did voluntary work experience there then instead. I mostly just did the shitty jobs like sweeping, cleaning up etc and on the last day, the factory owner caught wind that I was there on my own accord and showed me the basics of shaping a board. He shaped one side, I shaped the other – my side was terrible. I kept at it though and started making boards for my friends and some teachers at school. I started the Haydenshapes business and built my first website when I was around 16 and still in high school. I leased my first factory at 21 or 22 which was when things got more serious. I actually moved in and lived in my factory because I was so determined to make it work. It’s crazy to think that its been nearly 2 decades of running this business - there’s no over night success story here I can guarantee you.
Did you have a mentor when you first started out?
I’ve actually never worked for any other surfboard brand or shadowed any other shapers. I’ve only ever worked for myself aside from a part time job after school. Other than my first shaping session on my work experience which lasted a couple of hours, everything else has been self taught so I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way – mainly through my own trial and error and making mistakes. Some were a lot bigger than others. The info is out there and if you are interested enough, you can study the basics and make it happen on your own. I’m a huge believer in creating your own path rather than following or replicating someone else’s formula - even if it is more risky that way. That’s how industries evolve and innovation takes place. There have been a few people along the way from the early days that have inspired me creatively and given me a lot of crucial feedback that has helped me really fine tune certain areas of shaping and board building. Nick Carroll, Tom Carroll and Craig Anderson have all supported me for a long time – along with some really loyal customers, surf writers and people within the industry. It all started at the bottom. Matt Biolos was one of the first to really support the FutureFlex construction with ..Lost when I launched it to market in 2008 and I’ve always admired his openness to trying new technologies. The business side and commercializing products and ideas is a whole other beast, but also something I am equally passionate about and enjoy doing.
What was the first board you shaped?
I still have it, it was a 5’11 x 18 x 2 1/8 shortboard with a heinous dragon graphic on the bottom. I rode it until it was completely dead and is still one of my favourite boards I’ve ever had!
What would you say has been the biggest success with Haydenshapes?
That’s a tough one, because there are so many pieces to running a brand and business than what meets the eye from the outside. At the core of Haydenshapes is the innovation in the product design and manufacturing processes. Having our own unqiue approach to this has been a defining part of our brand, especially with technologies like FutureFlex, which have become synonymous with the Haydenshapes brand. We’ve had to really back our vision and I think that the overall strategy as a brand and business model has been a big part of the commercial success. Obviously, I can’t not mention or discredit the Hypto Krypto and the popularity of that model globally. It’s a little crazy and continues to surprise me year on year. People just like the product a lot. That’s it. It’s important to understand however, that even the greatest product needs a commercial plan in order for it to become successful.
How did the Hypto Krypto come to be?
I designed the Hypto nearly 7 years ago. I shaped a twinny for a friend of mine, and after I tried it out, I felt the wider swallow tail on the shape was restrictive when moving around the wave face. It went fast but I couldn’t turn it! The next one I shaped for myself and blended my step up rounded pin tail template into the outline, with the goal of adding more curve to the plan shape. The board now had all the speed but also had a sense of maneuverability on the wave face that was sensitive, but very smooth. I rode it, loved it and knew instantly it had something. I shaped one for Craig Anderson and it sat in his shed for around a year before he actually rode it which by memory was Dixon Park in Newcastle on a double overhead swell. He called me up and said “So I took that board out. It catches waves so damn easily. I’m taking it to G-Land.” It’s still his favourite board and seeing him ride his 5’4 in that monster Kandui swell last year blew my mind… Even the naysayers spat their sodas when that image dropped.
How important is collaboration to you?
It depends on the idea. Collaborating for the sake of collaborating doesn’t quite have the same edge without a really good concept and execution plan to back it. Personally, I like to step outside our lane when it comes to these projects and get some influence from other industries that also really interest me. You can learn a lot and it encourages you to think beyond what those around you are doing and get a fresh take. One of the coolest parts of working with the Alexander Wang team on the marble project was getting the opportunity to witness creative direction at such a high level. That brand is so iconic and for very good reason. The attention to detail throughout that project from start to finish inspired me a lot. It made me relook at how I approach my brand creatively and the details across all different areas.
You have a unique and eclectic surf team. What do you look for in a surfer?
Flow and Style. The Haydenshapes team is pretty tight and I like to work with surfers that motivate me creatively and give me freedom to experiment and try new things. Ando has been on the team for nearly 13 years and Creed McTaggart around 6 now - I started working with them before they had broken through in their careers. I like the idea of growing with your team and not always jumping on who and what’s popular right now, but look at those with natural drive and potential. I think it’s important to be open minded as the brand is diverse and appeals to all types of surfers who have all types of interests. I never want to pigeonhole the brand. Haydenshapes is its own brand and myself and team riders each contribute something totally different in terms of our individual voice.
What board model do you find yourself riding the most?
I’m constantly testing out new shapes and try to make the most of that opportunity when I surf, but I always have a Hypto. Myself, Ando and Dylan Graves all ride very similar dimensions so many of my boards get given away before they reach me sometimes. In terms of shortboards, I have been riding Craig Anderson's new signature model ‘White Noiz’ which I am really psyched on. This is our latest release.
What's the significance of futureflex?
The key point of difference with FutureFlex is that it doesn’t have a traditional wooden stringer through the center and holds the flex in the carbon fiber rail outline instead – a parabolic frame concept. The way the board flexes is completely unique, like a tennis racket with spring back through the center rather than the torsional twist of a stringer. The lightweight nature of the materials deliver more speed and drive and the technology can never truly be replicated. It is patented yes, but I also custom designed the carbon, resins and glass fiber materials with the manufactures and they are available only to us. My personal opinion surfing the tech is that it helps you get more out of certain conditions and delivers a good amount of speed that gives confidence to try maneuvers. A lot of customers say that it’s helped progress their surfing.
How did you come up with futureflex?
After I got my first factory, I quickly realised that I didn’t want to build the traditional style of surfboard forever and that I wanted to create my own technology. I started heavily researching different materials and I liked carbon fiber because of it’s flexural nature and that you could precisely control the amount of flex. Wood, being a natural fiber, is not as controllable and there are a lot of variables to consider with this material throughout its lifespan on a surfboard. One afternoon I had been surfing with Nick Carroll and we were in the car talking on the way back about technologies and different concepts. I went home that night and had a really vivid dream about this carbon fiber rail concept I had been playing with in my head and the next day I got to work. Tom Carroll rode the first prototype – even before I did. I knew it needed fine tuning but as soon as I surfed it I knew it was something and I started researching patents immediately. I had that story of Simon Anderson and the thruster design on my mind and didn’t want to make that same mistake myself and not protect my concept. Sometimes you just gotta back your ideas and take risks.
How do you determine the shapes you chose for your models?
I don’t really work to a schedule for new model releases and this is one side of the business that I like to take my time with. A priority for me is finding a balance between shapes that suit my athletes, but also translate to someone like myself – an advanced everyday surfer. I am constantly testing new ideas and road testing potential ‘next’ models. If the shape I’m riding has a spark, I’ll shape one for my team riders and key staff for their feedback as well and tweak it from there until I am happy to release it.
Did you foresee Haydenshapes getting as big as it has?
All my assignments from year 10 onwards in high school, around the time I started Haydenshapes, were all manifested visions of having this globally successful surfboard brand. I actually wrote the first business plan for the brand as my senior Business Studies project. Nothing has come quickly or easily and I still feel like I have a long way to go yet. You’ve got to set your sights high or you won't push yourself hard enough in the process.
What will Haydenshapes be up to in 5 years?
Innovating is the biggest thread in the brand's DNA and this is what drives us. From the product to our online channels, manufacturing, distribution and customer experience – we are all about having a ‘modern take’ on things and continuing to evolve different categories. Opening our first retail experience store in Australia was a huge milestone and something the industry had not seen before. From the 360 degree touch screen HSSTUDiO custom board design to the Virtual Reality goggle experience in store where customers are virtually transported into the Haydenshapes shaping bay and glassing room with myself for a behind the scenes look at how we create. The whole idea and concept aims to elevate the way people see the product – the surfboard. It’s cool being first to market with these types of ideas as it encourages others around us in the industry to progress and push boundaries as well. I’ll never become one of those bitter old shapers that get stuck in a time zone and hate on everything new. Change is good, it keeps you on your toes.
Interview & Photos by Kenny Hurtado