Behind Skunk Works' Soft Power Eco Approach
A Q&A Chris & Ricky Martin, who aim to make 'the most robust, environmentally friendly softboards on the market'
SkunkWorks Surf Co was started four years ago by brothers Ricky and Chris Martin - they were frustrated by the poor quality of soft surfboards on the market. Ricky owns Alive Surf School and his biggest cost each year was the replacement of boards. They immediately began research and development and after three years of making prototypes got investment and now employ 13 people in a 16000sq ft factory and have exported boards all over Europe.
Why did you decide to manufacture boards yourself rather than go to China like everyone else?
There were several reasons we wanted to keep things in Northern Ireland. Firstly we wanted complete control over everything, we wanted the ability to react immediately to customer feedback. Obviously life would have been easier and less expensive to go to Asia but it goes against everything we stand for. We want to offer a level of customer service that is not out there at the moment and again we felt we could only do this if we manufactured at home. Thirdly, we want to start building our local economy, employ people on decent salaries and offer a great working experience.
What is different about your boards?
The main difference is our heat-bonding technology and the materials used. We realised the main reason boards fall apart is because they are stuck together with glue and made from cheap material. We do not use any glue in our production and only use the best materials available.
"We want to be as eco-friendly as possible"
You seem to focus on the environment in your marketing, tell us about that?
We want to be as eco-friendly as possible. We are far from perfect but we are trying our best to make a board that can be easily recycled by everyone and also to use as many recycled materials in production as we can. We want to be 'waste free' with 'closed loop' manufacturing by 2020 and are already prototyping several products we can make from our waste material. We recently teamed up with Jaguar Land Rover and have made high-performance boards from their waste in a project that offers huge promise to the industry, we are really excited about where this will lead.
Who should surf a SkunkWorks board?
We have 3 boards, 7ft, 8ft, 9ft. Our 8ft and 9ft boards are perfect for beginners and for more advanced surfers who want to bring the fun back into surfing - you can catch even the smallest ripple on these bad boys! The 7ft, a new addition to the range is designed for smaller and more intermediate to advanced students for surf lessons, and is also a great fun for any surfer who wants to free surf on a softie. Check out Fergal Smith and Ollie O'Flagherty surfing the first two 8fts our our production line in March this year.
So what was the feedback from your first production run?
It was a massive learning curve! We sent over 500 boards to surf schools across Europe and didn't have a single board snap and we had loads of really positive feedback. Saying that there were a lot of improvements we need to make too. We have been working very closely with all of our customers and have used all of their feedback when designing our 2018 model. We have changed the deck to a new, stiffer material, moved to softer and less rigid fins, added over 2" in width to our 8ft and also improved several of our in-house manufacturing processes.
So what have you learnt from your first year?
We have amazing customers and an amazing team! The surf industry is full of brilliant supportive people who really want us to succeed and back what we are trying to achieve and we are forever grateful to them. We talk to our customers every day and feed all of their feedback into our boards. Our team here at SkunkWorks are such an incredible group of hard working, dedicated people with everyone focused on the same goal...and there is not an ego amongst us which is great.
When can schools or individuals order?
Now! We are taking pre-orders for 2018 and have brilliant deals available for both schools and individuals.