Australian designer Hayden Cox could be content with launching a business at 15, revolutionising the surfboard manufacturing process and achieving both critical and commercial success. It looks, however, like the Haydenshapes Surfboards founder is just getting started. He tells us about the quest for sustainability in surfboard manufacturing, his debut into writing and the importance of partnership.
SD: SARAH DAVIES DE PAOLA
HC: HAYDEN COX
SD: Pushing boundaries and setting new standards seems to be your calling card in business. What drives your pioneering spirit?
HC: The honest answer is that I never really set out with a concrete plan when I started out all those years back – 23 and counting. I wrote my only business plan in grade 10 at school. I’ve always just followed my gut, my interests, my passion and have persevered. What we have achieved to date has really been a by-product of those things.
SD: Though a precision-orientated person, you seem driven by pure passion rather than marketing or sales goals. What’s allowed you to create an industry-leading business out of your passion?
HC: I’ve always believed that product is key – especially if your goals are for the long term. If you can create something special that people truly connect with and talk about, you set yourself up for a healthy base to grow and innovate from. Word of mouth will always be the strongest form of marketing. If you are focussing on the product and design, you start to see opportunities to innovate. Once you get the product right, then comes distribution and making it accessible for more people to buy and experience it.
SD: You hail from a lineage of resourceful creators with a strong build-it-yourself ethos. As someone who pushes the envelope when it comes to innovation and design, how important are heritage and tradition?
HC: My family just had that “do it yourself, work hard” mentality. We didn’t grow up surrounded by expensive or materialistic things so I really learned to value experiences as the greatest luxury. That’s why I really connected with surfing from such a young age. Now that I have kids of my own, I want to instil those same values. Hopefully they are into surfing, but if not, that’s ok too.
SD: Your book New Wave Vision marks the 20th anniversary of Haydenshapes and includes interviews with leaders from a wide-range of industries. Why did you choose to mark this milestone with a project to spark innovation and creativity in others?
HC: When the brand really started to take off finally, there was a good 13 years of lessons and challenges prior to that that really shaped both the brand and me personally. I nearly went bankrupt when I launched and patented the FutureFlex tech but stuck to my guns with the product and looked at all the other areas I needed to be better at. I guess because I am somewhat younger than many of my peers in the top sector of surfboards globally, people just assumed it happened over night or I had some bottomless pit of money to pull from and keep investing. That couldn’t be further from the truth! I think sharing knowledge is a good thing and being transparent about challenges can actually be far more helpful to people than just talking about all the great things going on.
SD: The surfing crew for Haydenshapes Surfboards includes Craig Anderson, who's been riding for your company since it started. Teamwork is clearly of importance to you – what do you look for when establishing partnerships?
HC: One thing I have learned in this part of my business is that genuine partnerships between people and brands is always the way to go. Consumers are far too savvy anyway and can spot a genuine connection from a purely ‘pay check based’ scenario any day. I look to work with those that help me develop and be better at what I do, open my eyes to new ways of thinking and doing things. Craig has been the HS muse from the start and I am super grateful for being able to work together for so many years.
SD: As an IWC brand ambassador you’ve toured the factory floor in Schaffhausen and been inspired by IWC’s approach to waste minimisation and upcycling. Tell us about the changes to your surfboard manufacturing process that this visit catalysed?
HC: That was a cool trip. I got to see first hand interesting ways that IWC would collect their waste, particularly metals, and up-cycle it back into their product. With this influence, I not only wanted to up-cycle waste but I wanted to put it back into the board somehow vs sending it off elsewhere. I know that on average there’s over 30% wastage industry wide in just foam and fibreglass alone when creating a single board which typically just goes straight to landfill.
I’ve been working on developing an upcycled waste cloth with Colan Australia that’s created from chopped carbon fiber and fiber glass offcuts that are woven into a new fabric. The idea is to finesse it from a performance and manufacturing standpoint and make it available to the wider industry. My opinion is that eco materials and practises should be shared far and wide and that’s my goal with this.
Learn more about ‘Remote’, the floating workshop brought to you by Haydenshapes and IWC
SD: Living in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, you’re witnessing first-hand the impact of climate change with catastrophic bush fires. As a community strongly connected to nature and its tides, how can surfers and the surfing industry better support sustainability and the impact of humans on the environment?
HC: Firstly, we have created a global fundraiser right here. There’s a pretty epic prize pool attached and 100% of the funds raised will go towards to impacts of the devastation to the Australian wildlife during the fires wiping out what’s estimated to be 500 million animals. Look, it’s been a really tough time. Right now the entire country is waking up each day feeling overwhelmed and sick by what is happening to our beautiful home.
We need to put pressure on the government to not only recognise the scientific facts of climate change, but actually take action in how we are better going to set up both Australia and worlds future in a way that makes impact. Change needs to happen. How many more signs and presented facts do we need?
As for the surf industry and consumers, it’s a matter of educating yourself and starting somewhere. Overconsumption is an issue in my opinion. Build products that last longer so consumers buy less (YES. BUY LESS.), improve materials, reduce wastage and look for greener solutions across the board – solar, up-cycling. Focus your product development on a greener future. I have 2 young children who’ve basically spent the last 3 months inside due to toxic air caused by the bushfire smoke burning miles away. If these fires aren’t telling us all to wake up and make change, what will?
SD: In addition to your new book and new sustainability projects, you’ve also recently had a new addition to the family. How has becoming a father shaped your approach to life and your perspective of business?
HC: I think it’s made me far more aware of what future is ahead and focussing my efforts in the right areas. My 2-year-old daughter AlaÏa was recently diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder called Nail Patella Syndrome – a 1 in 50,000 chance caused by a mutated gene. She’s doing really well right now, but that crazy fear taking over when you are faced with unknowns like that has definitely taught me and my wife new levels appreciation and gratitude. Certain things that would make me sweat before no longer bother me in the slightest. Astyn my son is 5 months old now and cruising along. My whole perspective on life has switched gears for the better with them around for sure.
SD: Are there any final thoughts you wish to leave us with? Perhaps a message for your 15-year old self who probably never imagined where the next 20 years would land him?
HC: There is a future in surfboards! Drown out those naysayers. Keep staying focussed on the bigger picture because you will get there eventually but the work is nowhere near from complete. Have fun. Oh, and don’t make Haydenshapes one word if your logo will be an “HS” symbol. No one will ever spell it correctly. (For the record – HS stands for “Haydenshapes Surfboards” not “Hayden Shapes”).
Sarah Davies De Paola is a journalist and writer living in Zurich, Switzerland.
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