#3 – Randy French, Changing the hardgoods paradigm

#3 – Randy French, Changing the hardgoods paradigm

Ask any shaper or shop owner in the world who Randy French is and they’ll tell you without blinking. Ask the average surfer and chances are you’ll get a blank stare. But while they might not know Surftech’s owner, these same surfers bought more Tuflite manufactured boards last year than any other single brand of surfboard. In fact, French estimates he outsold the top polyester-producing label three times over.

It’s amazing, but hardly surprising when you consider that Surftech makes boards for at least 25 renowned shapers and is producing 150 different models—and growing.


Success never comes without debate, though, and the Surftech story is no exception. Although the roar seems to have quieted in recent months, the pop-out versus polyester debate will continue until the last blank is hand-shaped. And this is what the purists are afraid of—that the acceptance of Surftech will eventually lead to the demise of the hand-shaped board. French disagrees: “Custom boards are the heart and soul of creative development—interfacing with good surfers to refine the shapes. I don’t see any scenario where that will ever go away. I mean, how could it?

The latest hot-button issue with Surftech is that its boards are made overseas and imported. French insists the importation of the Tuflite boards is far different than overseas production of polyester boards. “I don’t agree with {the production of} polyester offshore boards, he says. “There are well-made {polyester} boards being produced right here in California. Fundamentally, I’m against cheap surfboards. It doesn’t matter where they come from. It pulls the perceived value down, and that’s bad for our industry.

While purists may still be fuming, retailers—at least the ones who are stocking the boards—are pretty hot as well, but for a completely different reason. “The margins on Surftech products are by far the greatest that we’ve ever had in surfboard sales in 40 years, says Tommy Morrow, owner of Atlantic Beach Surf Shop in North Carolina.

Many retailers have backed French and the Surftech technology, in part because he’s led a strong campaign to make the surfboard business a profitable one by raising margins, prebuilding backstock, and protecting prices. Of course, as the largest surfboard manufacturer in the world, French has a vested interest in doing this, but he believes all shapers can benefit from his efforts.

“I love surfboards. I’ve shaped since I was a kid, says French. “To me, what we’re doing is following in the footsteps of Simmons and Blake and all who came before us. And that’s the quest to make a better surfboard—and I think it’s noble.

Whether you think it’s noble or not, Surftech has influenced the hardgoods market as much—or more—than anything since the first surf shops opened their doors. For decades, hand-shaped surfboards have served as the bedrock of the entire surf industry. Now French—and Surftech—are changing the rules. “It’s the American way, says French, “to create a better mousetrap. What effect will this ultimately have on the industry? We’re all waiting to see.