Vissla catches up with Jason Rodd of JR Surfboards to talk about his path into shaping, his team of surfers and why he’s happy operating a “mid-ranged” sized business.
Tell us, how did your career in shaping begin?
I’ve been shaping for 22 years now, and I began with a guy who wasn’t a huge label or anything – and I actually don’t know if he shapes boards anymore – but he used to shape Spooky Point surfboards, Mick Roche was his name. He was from down Yamba way, but shaped on the Gold Coast and I got the job through a mate of mine who was sponsored by him. I must’ve only been about 19 or so at the time and I just learnt the trade from him. He showed me how to fix dings, lay out fins, foil fins, glass and sand and after about three years working for him, I think he began to realise I was getting itchy feet so he began to teach me how to shape. Then after he taught me to shape I pretty much left. At that age I didn’t think it was a bad thing, but looking back I realise it wasn’t the most loyal move to just bail on him. When I left I pretty much did it out of my garage for a few years on the Gold Coast around the Mermaid Beach / Broadbeach area. I also did a little stint with Stuart Surfboards for a little bit and shaped for him and then around 1998 I set up my own JR surfboards label. At the time I had a contract with a Japanese company, so I had a little base and felt confident to go out on my own.
Was it difficult to take that plunge at such a young age?
Yeah, but I think I was a bit cocky and confident at that age when you’re 24 and you think you’re bulletproof. Looking back now, I think I may have been too confident and I should have hung around and learnt a few more things, but I guess it’s all worked out since. It’s definitely had its ups-and-downs over the years as it can be a tough industry, but I think I was confident due to the fact I had that Japanese base, so I figured if I can do things internationally then I can definitely begin to get something going on locally.
Being on the Gold Coast, you’re in a very surf industry saturated market, especially in the board space. Did that make the challenge more difficult?
Yeah, I guess when I started 20 years ago it definitely wasn’t as saturated as it is now. Plus, we were the guys on the northern end of the Gold Coast. I grew up surfing Straddie, The Spit and Main Beach and the factory was at Mermaid Beach, and there was only really Stuart and myself up this end of the coast at that time. You had your guys in Tweed and there was nothing in the middle around Currumbin. You look at Currumbin now and it’s such a big hub for manufacturers but back then it wasn’t. Now, it’s pretty crazy and I think if I was starting out now then I’d be finding it really hard to do, as there’s just so much competition.
What was it that drew you to surfboards in the first place, not only as something to surf, but something you created with your hands?
I guess I’ve always been a little creative. Even at school I got most of my academic awards in manual arts and art as well. All that hands-on stuff has always been my biggest interest and then surfing was my whole life around 18, 19, 20 and I just couldn’t go a day without surfing. I had that bug when I’d be surfing two-or-three times a day, so when I got the opportunity to make boards and surf as well I couldn’t say no.
When do you think you began to gain traction as a shaper?
I think it was when I really began to build my team. A friend of mine was working at Billabong at the time when JS surfboards had blown up and he said to me ‘Roddy, you need to strengthen your team and your brand will grow.’ So around that time I flicked some boards to Josh Kerr and Shaun Cansdell and they both came back with such solid feedback that I began to have so much more confidence in what I was doing. Then Cans jumped onboard as a team rider and I think that’s when people began to view us as a legitimate brand. As Cans fell away, we signed Thomas Woods, Wade Carmichael and then Dion Atkinson who had just made the tour at that point. Keely Andrew also came on around the same point too from memory.
One thing that stands out about your team is that it’s filled with more surfer’s surfers as opposed to huge star-power who get tons of accolades. Would that be fair to say?
Yeah, for sure. Maybe it’s just the person I am and that I’m similar to them. I’m not one who likes the spotlight too much and I think my team is similar. I think they’re just letting their surfing do the talking and that’s something I want to do with my shapes.
Since going off on your own after Spooky Point, what’s been one of your proudest accomplishments to date?
Far out, I don’t know. I think I got the most excited when Wade qualified. I mean, we’ve had guys on the Championship Tour before, but I’ve never had a guy that I’ve worked with for as long. When he made the heat he needed to make to qualify was the biggest buzz I think I’d felt. Also, having Keely on tour in the women is something I’m quite proud of, just being able to have a man and a woman both riding my boards on the CT is an awesome feeling.
Where do you see the future of JR surfboards and what do you want to achieve over the next few years?
I think we sit in the mid-range when it comes to surfboard companies. Obviously, you have your guys like DHD, JS and Channel Islands who are at the top, and it’s so hard to compete with guys like that. We’re happy sitting under that and create a bit more of a personal touch with our clientele. Obviously, we want to stay in the spotlight and market ourselves but I think we’re happy where we sit.
Words and Images: Ethan Smith