Surftech Revealed: Jason Koons
Surftech Product Line Manager
Jason Koons aka “Koons” is the internal visionary and executor of board design at Surftech. His wealth of knowledge stems from years of experience in the surfboard factories of Hawaii and California and as head designer at SUPERbrand. One of his many accolades includes a double nomination for SIMA Image Awards Surfboard of the Year for original designs. Koons talent can be found on international magazine covers, award winning surf films, and at WSL contests under the feet of some of the best athletes in the world.
What better person to get technical with?
Hey Koons, I’ve been told we have a lot of ground to cover here, so I'll dive right into it:
I know you have deep roots in surfboard manufacturing. Can you talk about what drew you in?
As a kid loving surfing and travel I always had a curiosity surrounding board design. I remember watching Shelter and something about those guys shaping in barns looked fun to me. I ended up in Maui one winter where I had the opportunity to buy a blank and found a place to shape. At that time my good friend was doing ding repair and he helped me give it a full-on janky glass job. I kept up with the craft and soon my buddies were all hitting me up for boards.
Word has it you are one of the founders of SUPERbrand. Do you mind expanding on how you ended up in that role?
That role was born out of the first factory I got a job at back in 2003. Not too long after I got that job someone came in and invested in factory and then there was this idea to start this new company. I happened to be there and willing to take on the mantle as production manager and then as one of the head shapers. From there, I spearheaded it as it became the SUPERbrand Shaper’s Collective.
So rad. What are you riding these days?
These days I love riding longboards. But my favorite shortboard of all time is the SD keel fin twin, a little bit modernized so it’s more agile. You can really feel the character of that board.
When there is more board an emphasis is placed on the actual character of the board rather than the surfers ability or lack thereof.
I try to stay away from shortboards with a lot of rocker because there always seems to be a focus on my lack of ability.
Hahaha I love that strategy…. So what can I catch you riding specifically in the Surftech quiver?
Everything in the quiver is pretty fun. This summer I had a few super sessions on on the Walden Magic model. That board is a very unique model not like anything I’ve ever shaped. Recently I had a really good day at Carlsbad Campgrounds on the In the Pink. I also can’t forget to mention that little quad setup that Jerry makes.
Solid. How long have you been with Surftech now?
I’ve been at Surftech for just under a year. Before this opportunity came up I was in a project management position and finishing up my masters degree. The transition to this product line manager role at Surftech was smooth. It’s just like riding a bike. If you've been shaping boards your whole life it’s pretty easy to step into a space like this. The team was so helpful and the company is organized. Most surf companies you work for it’s much more about the culture than anything else. Here you get a real surfy laid-back culture with the organizational aspects so everything flows smoothly.
Can you talk about the creative process you go through when designing a board or any product?
I've always viewed surfboard designs like UX design. The surfboard itself is more of an interface between wave riding and your imagination.
In the process, you have to get through all the feedback, most is pretty bad and not accurate. But once you're really invested into surfboards you’ll literally start dreaming about the way one model would feel on a particular wave versus another. Your imagination goes wild and makes connections from all the work you’ve done in the past. That’s the mystical side of things.
The practical side of design is problem solving. You identify the problem then you create the design that solves the problem. Sometimes there’s situations where there are customer segments missing. To capture these segments, you go through the same process but lean towards the side of market driven versus being purely inspirational. Some designers swear concentrating on the romantic/mystical side is more productive. Personally, I find when I can face a need head on then get the creative juices flowing I produce my best work.
Wow, thanks for that juxtaposition. I’m assuming as a long-time surfer identifying a need in a consumer segment comes intuitively?
Pretty early on I learned any shaper must be a knowledgeable surfer. A ton of great surfers don’t understand why they are ripping on a particular board. They just know how to use the tool. A good shaper must be able to identify a movement and differentiate that from being the board or breakfast. That takes a certain level of analytical skills.
Design is a lot like surfing in a sense that surfing is improv.
You do what you can with what’s given to you. With Surfboards we have hard science or data where there is a perfect winning formula or solution for any given wave.
What has it been like working with so many shapers through Surftech? Any eye opening moments?
Yeah, I mean all the time. Everything I’ve done in the industry has always been working alongside a shaper or with a group of them. I’ve never had to be in a situation where I’m just working with my own ideas. I’ll make strong points and be passionate about something, just to be blown out of the water by a contradiction to that idea. Then I reassess my whole premise. It happens all the time and makes me a more well-rounded designer.
One of the big draws of Surftech for me personally is that there is such a diverse amount of talent represented in the products from both shapers that are still with us and those that have passed on.
Just to be around those ideas is the dream. One of the many highlights is getting to be in the shaping bay with Duke Aipa. Hearing him talk about how he’s had a dream about a certain kind of concave and the way water will flow one way but not the other is so enriching.
I love getting to see first hand how the world's best shapers can come to similar conclusions through very different pathways. Shapers are a unique lot. They’ve put most of their lives into something that really doesn’t pay off monetarily. But they’ve done it because they love it and work hard at making their customers happy. It can be a lonely road if you’re the only one doing it. When we partner with them and share their interests it’s amazing what can be achieved.
Describe your overall vision for Surftech. Are there any specific areas you plan on refining or expanding in the next 5-10 years?
Don’t give any secrets away...
I think collectively everyone wants to see organic growth with stronger relationships. This entire business is predicated on relationships so building, securing, and reinforcing those relationships is a top priority. Part of this is delivering products that match their values. On our end, making sure these values are aligned and check in with the market so our business can continue to thrive is important.
As far as the future goes, we will be focusing on preserving those relationships and mining the brilliance our shapers add and seeing what we can add and where we can compliment them.
We are fortunate to have the ability to supplement their designs with more durable materials and reach markets that they might not necessarily have the time or resources to.
While we have you, I’m going to take a minute to get technical.
In short, what is Tuflite?
Tuflite like most surfboards is basically an exoskeleton on a soft-core. We’ve lightened the core and we’ve put all the strength out on the surface. It’s a hard shell with a soft inside that gives us a good balance of strength and weight and keeps the board's performance while maintaining durability. In short, it is a really hard outside with a softcore.
Are you aware of it’s evolution?
Yes, there have been a few iterations of Tuflite. Without getting too technical it’s always been the same concept to create a very sturdy shell. So they’ve used all kinds of materials over the years to accomplish that. They started out with a high density sheet of foam that was heat wrapped around the soft-core with a little bit of glass. That’s the winning formula for what we’re doing now but with a couple different variations.
What are some key difference between C tech & V tech?
In C-Tech technology what makes the really hard shell is an expanded epoxy foam. With the expanded epoxy foam they mix it and spread it out in a fiberglass mesh that expands to the size of the mold and makes a nice hard shell shell.
In V-tech the V is for veneer. Essentially the whole board is wrapped in sustainability sourced paulownia wood veneers. Several different layers of different types of fiberglass on the top and bottom to ensure there is a strong durability. With this technology the expanded foam is not being used, just the veneer and layers of fiberglass.
Both methods produce very similar products in a scale of durability/flex. The main difference is the paulownia wood in our V-tech creates a more sustainable product. Using a renewable source for the structured shell rather than plastic reduces our carbon footprint.
Do you have any environmental concerns that come with the cost of shipping our boards?
The wicked problem with products in general is that they are made with mostly raw materials that need to be transported. Luckily, our sole manufacturer (Cobra International) is just up the road from the majority of our raw materials so the shipping cost there is relatively low.
As a company, one of the best things we do is improve the sustainability of the products in use. We need to continue to seek out and use low-cost performance materials.
So far, the use of paulownia wood veneer has been a major step in the right direction. We also found that using bio-component in epoxy resin as well as the deck traction foam that can be beneficial. One of our goals for 2023 is to incorporate different fiber composites made from natural materials and salt into our shapes.
Another measure we can take as a company is finding ways to offset our impact. Initiatives through reforestation or anything else re-contributing to the natural environment to offset the carbon we are generating to create the product is essential. This year I really want to focus on seeking out those organizations and committing to helping them make a difference
It is good to point out that surfboards in general are very low impact compared to other products. Just about any unnecessary thing we buy from amazon is probably releasing more carbon than a surfboard. People who surf are generally more mindful about their footprints. Our goal is to contribute and be a part of this pre-existing culture.
Another key to more sustainable products is durability. The less often the board is replaced due to damage and the more it can be passed along the less products have to be made.
Of course, therein lies the paradox of being a product manager. You should perceive durability because it is the best thing for the environment, knowing well that total durability would eliminate the demand of the product.
The sad truth is this is one all product managers deal with. If you don’t like it I mean pitch a tent and surf some bark. I support that.
Koons, it’s been an absolute pleasure. I’m going to find a nice spot to pitch my tent now.
Better be an ocean view.
Yeah, I’ll hit you with the report no worries
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