The New Normal: Jason Stevenson (AKA JS Surfboards) On Covid-19’s Surprise Board Sale Boom
“I’ve seen guys who’d never normally surf such average waves just ripping boards out their car, almost like it’s their last chance or something.”
Last week on the New Normal, we chatted with California’s Matt Biolos, who’d recently shut down all of his board-building operations and laid off 95% of his staff due to government safety regulations.
Apparently Australia is laxer in their preparation for the covid-19 outbreak, as a skeleton version of the JS Surfboards team continues to pump out their final orders before closing down for the foreseeable future.
Interestingly enough, JS (among other brands) experienced an incredible rush of sales just prior to the global lock-down, as people presumably (and correctly) inferred that it might be their last chance to buy some fresh foam for quite a while.
Unfortunately for those people, they probably assumed they’d be getting loads of water time during their forced office reprieve, but from California to Sydney to Costa Rica and beyond, there’s been a growing trend of governments closing their local beaches to thwart the spread of the virus.
And yes, that (typically) includes surfers.
Anyhoo, here’s a little update on JS’ business and what’s generally popping on the Goldy.
Stab: Jason, how’s it going, man? How’s the pandemic treating you?
Jason Stevenson: Aw, just about as well as anyone, I suppose.
It’s strange, right? We’ve seen so many movies about this kind of thing, but it never felt like it would actually happen.
Yup, but here we are.
So what’s the latest from the Gold Coast? You guys on lockdown yet?
Well, I think you guys [in the States] are a little bit ahead of us. They’re just starting to lock down all the hotspots now—Melbourne, Sydney, all that. At this stage, the Goldy beaches are still open, but that’ll likely change soon. You know, all the distancing rules that have been put in place, everyone seems to be adhering to that now, except in the surf of course. It’s like, I surfed D-bah just then and it’s definitely busier than what it should be. “I’ve seen guys who’d never normally surf such average waves just ripping boards out their car, almost like it’s their last chance or something.” We also had cops on the jetty doing a headcount and the chopper was flying around before, so I reckon that it should be shut down soon.
It’s a pretty interesting case study—we’ve always known that surfers are selfish, but it’s fascinating to see the extent of our addiction. We’re all just fiending for that last bite of cheese.
Yeah, and it’s a bit silly really—if everyone stuck to the social distancing, I mean there’s a lot of coastline here and there’s no reason why people couldn’t paddle out somewhere uncrowded. But you know, everyone’s flocking to places like Duranbah, it’s just automatic.
That brings up an interesting point… I heard that Australia was gonna close down all of the state borders. Is that right? And how will it affect surfing between D-bah (technically in NSW) and the points (Queensland)?
Yup, that’s right. They’ve got a checkpoint when you’re going from New South Wales to Queensland, basically checking my everyone’s license and asking. ‘Do you have a valid reason to be entering the state?’ That’s Queensland shutting down. Meanwhile coming from Queensland to NSW doesn’t seem to be a problem—you should see how many Queensland number plates are down at D-bah this morning…
And which side of the line are you on? And your factory?
The factory is actually on a border street, but it’s officially in NSW. My house is also in New South Wales, just overlooking D-bah. The funny thing is, I stay within New South Wales to get to work, but on the way home, I have to go around one corner of the roundabout that’s technically in Queensland.
I’m an ignorant but curious American, so can you explain why someone would choose to live in New South Wales vs. Queensland or vice versa? Is it a tax thing or…
Nah, tax doesn’t have anything to do with it. It’s kind of just an imaginary line. There are little bits and pieces that differ, I guess. I know when I was doing my factory back in the day, there was a lot more incentive to be in Queensland and build the factory through government grants, but I’ve found a spot like a kilometer from the point at Kirra, and it was hard to pass that up regardless of what state it was in.
Ahh, of course! Surfers will also choose waves over anything. That said, can you tell me a little bit about the business situation? I heard some rumors that there was a mass buy of surfboards before this all blew up. Almost like people grabbing the last rolls of toilet paper before everything shut down. Is that correct?
Yeah, all the retailers that we’ve been talking to in the last couple of weeks have definitely recorded their highest months on record. So that’s been very positive I guess, but it’s all stopped now because retail is pretty much completely closed all around the world. And we’re not taking any new orders right now, just finishing those that were paid for before the crisis. I had to lay off 30%, 40% of my staff, including my own son. Pretty much just the essential board-builders have remained, and I think we’ve only got two or three weeks of work left. It’s definitely not pretty.
But hopefully it’s all superficial, and the people that you want to have on your team, you’ll be able to get back once this is over.
That’s right. That’s the aim.
Are you still personally in the factory everyday at this point?
I was up until probably two days ago. At that point I just went, ‘You know, I’ve done everything I can.’ I’ve had to deal with the employees, I’ve had to deal with the structure of the business, putting everything on hold, taking care of rent…but now I’m done.
Are you taking the virus pretty seriously on a personal level? Like is it something that actually concerns you, or is it more just annoying that it’s causing all this chaos socially and economically?
We’re taking it seriously for sure. It’s just myself, my wife, and my son in the house. There are no visitors. My boy Luke has got a girlfriend that lives up in Queensland, and she typically comes over quite a lot. But I was like, ‘Nup, sorry. That’s it. It’s done. It’s just us three, stuck at home.’
So yeah, I do take it very seriously. I basically just surf D-bah early in the morning then I’m locked up for the rest of the day.
If they do close down D-bah and the points, how hard will it be for you to watch perfect waves roll through unridden? That’s probably never happened on the Goldy [laughs].
I’ll be tough for sure, but it’s for the good of the nation. You know, I just had to lay off a good number of people, and it’s affecting everyone around the globe, both health-wise and economically. Everyone’s just trying to do their best, and we just kind of have to listen to what the medical associations are telling us what to do. And we should, we just have to do it.
Lastly, what are a few of your quarantine essentials in the house? Whether it’s food, entertainment, whatever…
Well, my wife and I have been doing some puzzles together, that provides a bit of entertainment. The grommet’s in his room playing Fortnight. I don’t think he could live without that. As far as food goes, my wife just made a big pot of chicken soup, so that’s been the go-to. And I like to finish it off with just a nice glass of whiskey.
Ooh, that’s an essential for sure.
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