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Laird Hamilton’s revolutionary idea: stand-up paddling surfboards

“The thing is, most of the time, San Diego waves are gutless. With paddle boards? That’s no problem.”

“No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun.”
“No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun.”

“I don’t know how he does it,” says my friend Gene. “He just seems to have the Midas touch.” He’s talking about his son Marc Miller. On October 28th, Marc’s San Diego surfboard company, Isle Surf & Sup, has just joined — believe it! — the New York Stock Exchange, becoming a publicly traded company. They were welcomed aboard in traditional fashion, with the ringing of the bell and all the glorious publicity, along with two partner companies. At the end of the day, Marc and his partners raised $219 million, which gave them a valuation of $2.14 billion.

And this from a company that literally began in Marc’s San Diego garage in 2004. “I just started selling old surfboards on eBay,” he told Luke Wiatt Gilbert on the podcast Vicariously, “because I needed cash while I was in college at UCSD. I was on the surf team, so I’d just clean up old boards and put them on eBay.”

The first board he dusted off was left behind by one of his surfing apartment buddies. He put it up for $1. “By the end of the week, it had got to $380. No-one had listed boards. It was a light bulb for me. Most of the kids buying them didn’t want super-boards. They just wanted to get in the water and try one out. And this was direct — me selling to them. So I called my buddy Doug Pate and said, ‘Let’s sell surfboards online. Direct to consumer!’”

Doug borrowed $20,000 from his brother. Marc designed the boards here, then ordered a containerful, made in China at a fraction of the cost people were paying local board makers. They set up a website. No stores, no hiring surfer stars to be seen riding their boards, just constant online presence. “We were aiming at beginners and mid-level surfers, and honestly, most of our customers lived inland. Arkansas, Idaho. Our niche wasn’t the cool dudes; it was the mass-market niche.”

He says success wasn’t instant. “There were whole months of eating ramen.” But in two years, he quit the job he hated marketing mortgages, and moved full time into a National City warehouse. Of course, copycats followed, and business leveled off, but then along came Laird Hamilton, “the king of surfing,” with a revolutionary idea: stand-up paddling surfboards.

“The thing is, most of the time, San Diego waves are gutless,” Marc told Gilbert. “With paddle boards? That’s no problem. They slide through the water so easily you can catch 20-60 waves on a single day. That’s what grabbed everybody. No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun. I was addicted! Using that, you can — and a ton of people do — go fishing on them, practice yoga on them — really! You can have races, and get to see the view, because you’re standing up! We got our first shipments in 2012. Big boards for flat water.”

He says sales took off. Again, largely to inlanders. People who wanted to glide around their local lake. “Some yoga people even put them in their pools, just for the floating feeling, and to get a slightly less stable base.” Now inflatable paddle boards are the rage. They are light, and also foldable, so you can fit them in your car.

His dad Gene shakes his head. “I am very proud. But Marc is a true surfer. Go to his own IPO at the NYSE? He couldn’t be bothered. He’d rather be back in Bali.”

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“No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun.”
“No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun.”

“I don’t know how he does it,” says my friend Gene. “He just seems to have the Midas touch.” He’s talking about his son Marc Miller. On October 28th, Marc’s San Diego surfboard company, Isle Surf & Sup, has just joined — believe it! — the New York Stock Exchange, becoming a publicly traded company. They were welcomed aboard in traditional fashion, with the ringing of the bell and all the glorious publicity, along with two partner companies. At the end of the day, Marc and his partners raised $219 million, which gave them a valuation of $2.14 billion.

And this from a company that literally began in Marc’s San Diego garage in 2004. “I just started selling old surfboards on eBay,” he told Luke Wiatt Gilbert on the podcast Vicariously, “because I needed cash while I was in college at UCSD. I was on the surf team, so I’d just clean up old boards and put them on eBay.”

The first board he dusted off was left behind by one of his surfing apartment buddies. He put it up for $1. “By the end of the week, it had got to $380. No-one had listed boards. It was a light bulb for me. Most of the kids buying them didn’t want super-boards. They just wanted to get in the water and try one out. And this was direct — me selling to them. So I called my buddy Doug Pate and said, ‘Let’s sell surfboards online. Direct to consumer!’”

Doug borrowed $20,000 from his brother. Marc designed the boards here, then ordered a containerful, made in China at a fraction of the cost people were paying local board makers. They set up a website. No stores, no hiring surfer stars to be seen riding their boards, just constant online presence. “We were aiming at beginners and mid-level surfers, and honestly, most of our customers lived inland. Arkansas, Idaho. Our niche wasn’t the cool dudes; it was the mass-market niche.”

He says success wasn’t instant. “There were whole months of eating ramen.” But in two years, he quit the job he hated marketing mortgages, and moved full time into a National City warehouse. Of course, copycats followed, and business leveled off, but then along came Laird Hamilton, “the king of surfing,” with a revolutionary idea: stand-up paddling surfboards.

“The thing is, most of the time, San Diego waves are gutless,” Marc told Gilbert. “With paddle boards? That’s no problem. They slide through the water so easily you can catch 20-60 waves on a single day. That’s what grabbed everybody. No knee-paddling! It’s stand-up! And with such a wide platform — my first design was 12 feet long, 33 inches wide — it was just fun. I was addicted! Using that, you can — and a ton of people do — go fishing on them, practice yoga on them — really! You can have races, and get to see the view, because you’re standing up! We got our first shipments in 2012. Big boards for flat water.”

He says sales took off. Again, largely to inlanders. People who wanted to glide around their local lake. “Some yoga people even put them in their pools, just for the floating feeling, and to get a slightly less stable base.” Now inflatable paddle boards are the rage. They are light, and also foldable, so you can fit them in your car.

His dad Gene shakes his head. “I am very proud. But Marc is a true surfer. Go to his own IPO at the NYSE? He couldn’t be bothered. He’d rather be back in Bali.”

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