AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL NAUDE
Back in the early 80s, Paul Naude took a leap of faith from the informalities of the surfboard building industry into the corporate world by joining Gotcha (at the time licensed to SA Clothing), with its well-defined corporate future.“Paul’s dug himself a hole on easy street,” people joked at the time. But nothing could have been further from the truth. Using bricks and mortar made of blood, sweat, and tears, Naude helped lay the foundations for a burgeoning global surf industry. After he moved to California, he became a major player in the multi-national Billabong empire, and the rest is history. Aside from his business savvy, Naude was a talented, fearsome competitor and was an integral part of the 1970s crew from the Bay of Plenty who helped usher in the era of professional surfing.
He garnered massive respect on the North Shore and Pipeline especially, where he finished third in the 1976 Pipeline Masters and co-founded Zigzag the same year. Today he’s still going full tilt, now applying himself to establishing Vissla, his new surf brand, while still catching as many waves as possible. He says he’s going to slow down soon, but we doubt it. So what drives a guy who has done it all as a surfer and business head and has succeeded at almost every level? Answer: Energy levels that go beyond the norm and a dogged, uncompromising personality that is equally committed when paddling out at macking Cloudbreak or making multimillion dollar decisions in the boardroom. This is Paul’s story.
I lived in East London for a short period in 1966 and used to go down to Nahoon Beach regularly. There were a few guys with longboards and all I wanted to do was get a board. I’d mess around in the shorebreak on one of those wooden surfer planes. I moved back to Durban in 1967 and in 1968 we moved to an apartment in Yarningdale on North Beach. I bought a used 4’6” Safari bellyboard for R5.00 and it was on! In 1969 I started hanging out at the Bay of Plenty and used to hang out a lot with Bruce Jackson, Poly Franz, and Chris Knutsen. There was such a great crew of guys, everyone pushing eachother constantly. Jacko, Knutto and I occasionally used to “find” old barges, strip them and make shortboards. We were so surf stoked! Those were good times.
47A PINE STREET
I came out of the army in early November 1973. Mike Larmont had just started Larmont Surfboards (itals) and had a factory upstairs at 47A Pine Street. He wanted to go to Hawaii for six weeks and he knew that I could work with fiberglass so he asked if I would just open the factory daily, fix dings and take custom orders that he would build on his return. When he came back there was a pile or orders waiting and he needed help. We got to it, but I was due to enroll at a college to study sugar technology in mid January.
As the time approached we were nowhere near finished and Mike asked me to stay and offered me shares in the business. It sounded good to me – build boards, and surf! After a tough conversation with my mom I was officially permanently employed in the fledgling surf industry. We really worked our arses off building boards and growing the retail side of the business. But when the surf was good, we were on it and then we’d work into the night. There were many a nights that I’d stop at about 8pm, “borrow” a bottle of wine from Mike’s stash, go on a dinner date and then come back to shoot finish coats late at night. Mike was a great mentor and he taught me so much, not only about surfboards but business in general.
My local break now is Agate Street in Laguna Beach. It’s a fickle reef/sand bottom that has short, approximately one hour windows where you can get a surf in. It’s really tide reliant. But the place I surf most often is Cottons Point, which is the northern most break in the stretch where Lower Trestles is located. It’s generally a left and with an open mind and the right equipment you can virtually surf something everyday. I surf about four or five times a week. It’s never enough! I love to surf. Since starting Vissla, I’ve had to sacrifice a few sessions but I plan to have a very flexible schedule by midyear.
Since moving to the US in the early 90s I’ve enjoyed a lot of great surf trips. I’m a bit of a creature of habit and for 20 years got into visiting Tavarua in Fiji for an annual trip. The island hosts two world-class lefts with Cloudbreak and Restuarants. In my opinion, Restaurants is the best left-hander in the world and my favourite wave. I’ve had Espo (Mike Esposito) fly from Australia and join me many times on Tavi trips which has been great. I still get to drop in on him! Other than trips to Hawaii, Mexico, Indo, Europe, I have started making regular trips to an island in the Tuamotu atolls in French Polynesia. It’s a bit fickle and unpredictable but if its on, the left and right are really good. If it’s flat, I fish or spearfish. And of course I love coming back to St Francis Bay and surfing the little beachies there. Occasionally I go over to get a couple at J-Bay.
I’ve got a fairly extensive collection of a few hundred boards. A couple date back to the late 1800s and then there’s a decent timeline up until now. It’s become a bi of an addiction. I really have a weakness for older wooden boards. My quiver in California is about 15 strong. I have boards for all conditions from an 11’0” Skip Frye Eagle (itals) glider on which I can ride anything that even resembles a wave all the way down to a 3’2” Paipo bellyboard. My most often used boards in Southern California are 5’8” – 5’10” double wing, fish style quads. My approach now is surf everything, ride anything…within reason! As long as I feel the glide, I’m stoked! The conditions determine what I ride.
The 70s was arguably the best time to be a young surfer. Board design had gone from longboards to the transitional era from 1967-1969 and then to shortboards from 1970 onwards. Our crew were in the perfect place, young 15-20 year olds and the adaption to shortboards was easy for us. A new way of surfing was born and our age group was referred to as “the hot generation”…sorry ballies! Everyone was pushing the envelope and when I look at what’s going on now, there was definitely more individualism and different styles than there is in the high performance category today. There was good camaraderie on the beach but we competed hard in the water in and out of heats. Unity and brotherhood was strong and both provincial and national pride was a big motivator. Everything revolved around surfing and competing in our broader group. Even the chicks came second! Nowadays the Brazilians seem to have somewhat found the formula we unintentionally had in the 70s. We also had some great mentors and motivators in Peter Burness, Ernie Tomson and John Whitmore.
COMPETITIVE SURFING NOW
Regarding the ASP or soon to be “World Surfing League” – I’m not sure about that name change – but for me the jury is still out. I’m referring to the organising body here, not the surfing. With regard to surfing performance, the standard of surfing on the CT is simply mind-blowing and unreal for spectators whether live or via webcasts.
“THE 70S WAS ARGUABLY THE BEST TIME TO BE A YOUNG SURFER. EVERYONE WAS PUSHING THE ENVELOPE AND WHEN I LOOK AT WHAT’S GOING ON NOW, THERE WAS DEFINITELY MORE INDIVIDUALISM”.
In my opinion the QS needs a lot of work. There are far too many events and the CT guys have an unfair advantage in the prime events. I think that the ISA is doing a good job to promote the sport at all levels, particularly in secondary markets and Fernando Aguerre’s quest to get surfing into the Olympics is gathering momentum. I believe that the sport of surfing would benefit if the ASP/WSC and ISA had a closer working relationship. The big wave arena is it’s own thing, ASP/WSL or not, and again, the level of performance is staggering. Those guys earn their pay!
Sometimes I think there should somehow be some sort of salary cap like many other sports because it really is all over the place. It is what it is for now. In my opinion, sponsoring the right talent is key to a surf brand. Every company has its own needs from their team. It is part of the personality of the brand and the individually sponsored surfers need to be the right fit. Groms seeking sponsorship firstly need to be realistic about their expectations. They should not get caught up in what someone else may be earning. They should try to identify their strengths and know what they can bring to the table for the brand that they perceive is the right fit. Sponsored surfers need to enjoy being sponsored by their company and go out of their way to deliver for them. Even if they have had a bad run competitively, or they are not getting the exposure in the media, they need to keep a positive attitude. They shouldn’t hide. They should check in with their team managers and offer to assist at events or promos and work with a friend photographer to get the shots.
They should make sure that they always represent the brand when in public. One never knows whom one may bump into. If they get invited to be in a product photo shoot for their sponsor, they should be stoked! Even if the sponsored surfer is missing a good swell or their chicks dance. There’s nothing that pisses off a sponsor more that a team rider whining or having a bad attitude about being at a photo shoot or a promo. If one is getting paid, it’s called a job. One is obliged to work and yes, in this instance surfing is work and one needs to work at it. The goal is to constantly improve to get ahead. These guys are now professionals and should conduct themselves as such.
GLOBAL SURF INDUSTRY
The only constant is change and right now, there are a lot of “constants”! There is currently a lot of excitement in surfing. I believe two things have spearheaded this drive, the advancement in high performance surfing and innovative surfboard design, both of which have opened up a whole new world of fun for everyone who surfs. These factors along with an emerging new youth generation are heralding in a new era for the surf industry. There’s almost too much change going on as companies try to keep pace with new young surfers insatiable appetite for newness. New brands, new products, changing retail landscapes as e-commerce powers on, changing marketing platforms as digital and social media and global connectivity become the norm. Everything is moving fast at the moment but it will settle down. I see a return to more of the core values of surf in the industry, which will be positive and refreshing for everyone who lives and understands it. It may not be that exciting for the corporate suits though!
“I SEE A RETURN TO MORE OF THE CORE VALUES OF SURF IN THE INDUSTRY, WHICH WILL BE POSITIVE AND REFRESHING FOR EVERYONE WHO LIVES AND UNDERSTANDS IT.”
Of course I love South Africa! It’s where my roots are. I still have a place at St Francis Bay. I also own a small commercial game lodge in the Eastern Cape along with the Cook family. I love the whole African wildlife experience and taking wildlife photos. I really have a constant need for a good dose of the South African bush. It helps to put things in perspective. We are also very much involved in Rhino conservation. Brent Cook started an organization, Chipembere Rhino Foundation, (itals) which is doing some great work on the anti-poaching front. I started a sister organisation in the USA called Rhino Alive Foundation (itals) that raises funds to help support Chimpenberes’ efforts on the ground in South Africa.
I still get behind the lens every now and then. I take a few surf photos if its good and I’m in the mood but my real passion today is wildlife photography. So when I come out to SA I try to spend as much time as I can in the bush. Taking wildlife photos is not dissimilar to surf photography – there is always something different or unexpected. The stoke of nailing ‘the shot’ is just the same. My son, Jason, is a professional photographer and we do a few trips together, which I always enjoy. We have a full rig of Canon equipment, which gets the job done. I still shoot quite a bit using color slide film.
RAGTRADE VS BOARD BUILDING
When I started in this industry it was all about surfboards. The clothing was minimal and surf stores were where you bought surfboards. But surfers have always had their own sense of style that has separated them from the masses. In the late 70s a few brands really started expanding the clothing offering so the aspirant market caught on and the rest is history. I still think surf style and surfboards are interlinked and that philosophy is part of the Vissla brand ethos. I’m also building boards again in my workshop at home. All recycled from broken longboards, 70s boards etcetera and I really enjoy it. I do everything, start to finish and I really find it therapeutic. In my heart of hearts if I had my time over, financial gain aside, and knowing what I know now, I’d probably choose board building because I’m so into boards and their history. I also firmly believe that surfboards are the cornerstone of the board sports industry, not just the surf industry.
“IF I HAD MY TIME OVER, AND KNOWING WHAT I KNOW NOW, I’D PROBABLY CHOOSE BOARD BUILDING BECAUSE I’M SO INTO BOARDS AND THEIR HISTORY.”
THE START OF ZIGZAG
I was in Hawaii in late 1975 for my first pilgrimage to the North Shore testing ground. I was staying at Randy Rarick’s house at Sunset Beach and the new famous filmmaker Jack McCoy used to pop in regularly. He and Dick Hoole had started a newsprint magazine in Australia called ‘Backdoor’. I was intrigued and asked, “How do you make a magazine?” Jack said, “It’s easy!” He took three pieces of paper and drew eight squares on each page. On one he wrote “ads”, the second “text” and the third “photos” then he said “That’s it – easy… eight pages of ads, eight pages of text and eight pages of photos. So once you sell the ads you’re on your way”. It sounded pretty easy to me so I folded up the three pages and put them in my bag. When I got back to Durban three months later I pulled out the three pieces of paper and told Mike Larmont about my meeting with Jack. We both agreed that it sounded easy and decided to start a magazine. We contacted Doug Macdonald and Graham Fiford, both newspaper hounds and our accountant Ray Ahrens. We knew nothing about publishing and somehow we convinced them to get involved. By November 1976 our first issue was on the newsstand. What followed was 12 years of late nights of editing and laying out pages, non-payments from advertisers and complaints from surfers who wanted to know why we hadn’t used photos of them. Doug Macdonald was simply fantastic, a saint! Why he continued to be the editor and run the mag virtually single handedly for 12 year, I’ll never know. In 1988 we sold Zigzag to Craig Sims and he took it to a whole new level. That day in 1988 was, at the time, the best day of my life! I must say I’m really proud of the fact that the mag is still running today.
Paul has paddled over the pitching lip and taken the drop so many times, in life and in the surf. When it comes to surfing globally, he is as influential as any South African ever. WE wait with baited breath for the next chapter in his story.
BY PATRICK FLANAGAN (all photos by Jason and Paul Naude)
First published in Zig Zag Legends Journal February 2015