Surftech Revealed: Jason Coulter
Supply Chain and
Logistics Majestics Manager
Underneath a few layers of curls and a slight kiwi accent (not to be confused with Aussie) you’ll find the brain of Surftech’s logistic and supply chain operation. Jason Coulter is likely the reason recreational surfers have access to boards shaped by legends of the sport like Gerry Lopez and Donald Takayama. When he’s not buried in spreadsheets or solving complex issues associated with the grievances of international shipping you can find him bronzing on the beaches of FL. From even the shortest conversation, it’s obvious his knowledge extends past the job description.
Recently I had chance to chat with him about the global manufacturing crisis.
So give me a little background on yourself?
Where are you from? & how did you end up with that beautiful accent?
It’s funny huh because I should have lost it by now..
I grew up in the North Island of New Zealand so the shipping/maritime blood runs deep. Everything there is imported or exported. My Dad ran away to sea working on the ships when he was a kid and met my mom. The rest of my family worked at the ports as crane operators, steevadors, and longshoremen. I was born into it.
How did you get into surfing & such?
Water surrounds you on all sides where I’m from so it happened organically. Everyone seemed to flock to the coast for a surf in the summer and I was always more than willing to jump on the bandwagon. Around 9 or 10 I started surfing on my brother's TNC foam board. I remember feeling like I entered a new world after paddling out the back for the first time. After running into the wrong guys a few times I learned to navigate it. No coaching, just good old-fashioned trial & error.
Refreshing… so what's your quiver looking like these days?
I’m living in FL these days so some extra foam doesn’t hurt. There was a while where my choice blade was the CI Code from the collaboration we did with Shawn Thompson. Man, that guy rips. I’ll still give it a go when I’m feeling the inspiration.
On the flat days you’ll find me keeping in paddling shape with the Bark Commander.
I also have one of those beautiful turquoise Squirtys I can’t even bring myself to ride. The glossy polish and refinement by Jerry is such a cool personal connection to that legend.
I believe those older icons bring a sense of authenticity that a lot of surf companies lack. I recall Jerry walking into the shop to pick-up a Little Darlin and a Pocket Rocket for a trip to Indo. He wanted to give the boards a test run before he left but he forgot fins. Of course, I pulled my FCS Twos out of my Code and offered them to him. I never saw those fins again. But I think I earned the right to call him Uncle Gerry which is worth a hundred sets.
Legit. So where'd you cross-paths with Surftech?
Well I caught a case of Island fever when I was younger and decided to get out. If you go further south in New Zealand there’s penguins but north is pretty much the whole world. I wanted to see what was up there:
I started in the UK on a working student visa. I spent a couple years working at Pubs and traveling Europe. I saw some incredible sights and scored a lifetime of waves. When my visa expired around “95 so I decided to stay with some family in the states. My buddy got me a job at the original RipCurl outlet next to trestles. Trestles was for sure the highlight. It was a different time down there. I'm stoked that I was there to see it.
One day I got a call from the RipCurl Warehouse in Carlsbad asking if I could help with their inventory and that’s where it all started. This was a post-billion dollar surf industry so I really got a good feel for the whole logistics side of things. Our manufacturing plant was in Mexico so I would go down there and coordinate with those guys to pack the wetsuits up and ship out. The stench of wetsuit glue just stuck to me.
When the domestic production field expanded to international I ended up heading most of the apparel production at RipCurl. I stayed in the soft-good production side of things for a few more surf-lifestyle brands and I witnessed their rapid growth and eventual implosion
I ended up going back to RipCurl just in time to see the owners Brian Singer & Doug Warbrick bombarded by pressure to sell stock to PacSun. I’ll never forget the way they shook their heads and said “The store is too bright man, not gonna do it. Too many lights”. Most surf-lifestyle clothing brands got so big they lost their legitimacy. I will say RipCurl was one of the few who managed to stay relatively core.
When I got the offer from Surftech it checked a ton of boxes for me personally. The authenticity of bringing it back to the foundation of surfboards and shapers was super attractive. By this time, I had all the right experience with factories, purchasing, timelines, and vessels so the transition was smooth. Joining a small team was not so intimidating for me because I had worn many different hats. You know, when you’re no longer a big machine you have to be lean. I think this is scary for some, but I tend to rise to the challenge.
Okay, I’m going to drop the million dollar question:
What is happening overseas? Where is my board????
I receive a restock notification one second then the next the board is gone.
I know and I am very sorry about that
I hate to tell you this but it’s most likely sitting offshore on the West Coast. It’s one of hundreds and it’s been that way since things started to take off in 2020.
These last few years have truly been unprecedented .. started with supply dwindling due to canceled orders resulting from the 2020 early covid lockdowns & restrictions , factory closures, vessel sailings to USA from Asia were all but scratched from late Feb 2020 - June 2020. Economic stimulus end of 2020 into 2021 saw demand skyrocket sending Asia factories into beast mode resulting in the massive container import congestion we have been battling since ...a record number of vessels sitting off the West Coast of the likes never seen before in history.
Because of all this, the term supply chain and logistics manager has earned itself such a negative connotation the last couple years I’m tempted to change my job title.
I’m thinking of going with “Supply Chain & Majestics manager” from here on out . It seems to be taking nothing short of magic to get a board from overseas.
Love it. Can you talk about a few specific areas you’ve seen things go wrong?
Well Factories can’t get their materials. Trucking firms don’t have drivers, there’s limited space on vessels in Asia, rail yards are backed up without cars, warehouses can’t move products, there are endless problems arising…
Basically there are many delays.
Someone might make the assumption that it is pretty easy to get a product from point A- B. The thing to keep in mind is that Globalization has caused these systems to be quite complex. To increase margins, companies aim to produce products at the leanest means possible for the greatest margin.
A good analogy for Global manufacturing is a relay race. Even when there are fast runners like our outstanding
manufacturers when there is no one to hand off the batan there will be an inevitable delay. We’ve seen our factories manage to gather materials like resin, epoxy foam, carbon-filamins, composites, and be ready to ship. But then there is a delay with the container and if not the container the vessel, or the board sits for months waiting for port-space. The emergence of new runners, like shipping/manufacturing partners is great for performance measures but it increases room for error.
You might be wondering- why even use something fragile? Well even though this system is very complex it has worked brilliantly for over a decade.
I'm assuming the failure in these systems now has something to do with the Global Pandemic?
Yeah, the demand for products starting in 2020 is unprecedented. Post Pandemic, people were spending any disposable income on concert tickets, dinners, and other services. After 2020 these services were either restricted or just not as attractive. Services used to account for 70% of our economy. When this sector was destroyed, this demand shifted to purchasing products.
We saw the stimulation checks perpetuate the demand for products even more, placing immense amounts of pressure on the supply chain to continue performing flawlessly. The pre-existing systems are spread to lean and unable to accommodate that type of volume. The wheels went into overdrive and those batons were dropped. Everything came to stand still.
Have you been impressed by Cobra International's production rates?
Almost 40 years they’ve been in the industry. They are a world leader in the manufacturing of high composite products. Premium surfboards, sup. A million square feet of production facility.
To be able to produce upwards of 500 boards a week is untouchable. Sure, they’ve had their problems with getting raw materials. But the way I’ve seen them find solutions and get those boards on the ships despite arising issues is very impressive. Regardless of the feelings you have on globalization, Cobra is impressive.
Okay, so is there hope that things will get better?
It’s important to note these times are unprecedented. So we can only make educated predictions on what the future holds.
I don’t need the potential for much improvement in this year or the next. Looking forward, we have the long-shoremen’s contracts expiring. There will be some turmoil with their salary negotiations. Hopefully get offered what they deserve, because when those guys stop working, the world stops. Again, this is only one of many variables
There are some strategies we will have to look into for risk mitigation purposes. Bringing it all home could be one of these. However, it will be quite difficult to find a domestic manufacturer that performs at the same level as Cobra. Nearshoring where we bring the product to Mexico could be more feasible.
What are the major takeaways here?
Goes without saying, a need to take a deeper look at these pre-existing systems
Stripping a business down to where there are tons of runners in relay is not the call. At the end of the day a lack of product is the most detrimental to any business cycle.
The big box players can afford to buy their own containers and charter their own ships. Unfortunately, us smaller guys get caught in the crossfire. Overall we need to find a way to have better systems so we can regain control so we can have a say of what we’re getting in and when.
But will I ever have my 9'6 In The Pink delivered to my front doorstep?
Yeah, the Surftech code ethics says “We will get your board to you”.
There is a lot of profiteering in these times of need. We are not one of these pirates. You will get your board. I apoligize for the delay, there's just a lot out of hands at the moment. I promise we are working 24.7 to find better solutions.
Your biggest enemy is those swell blockers off the west coast stopping the waves from coming in. The boards are in there on the ship. Once have a little port space we’ll get them to our warehouse then sent to you. It’s just a bit of a majestical nightmare out there right now.
Good thing you’re a wizard. I’ll hold onto hope & keep in close contact.
Hahah sounds good, that's what I’m here for.
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