34.0522° N, 118.2437° W
‘America has the sense that there’s no ceiling and no limit.’
Gems in this
Sydney-born surfer Hayden Cox has gone from shaping surfboards out the back of his parents' house to running cult classic brand Haydenshapes. With stores in LA and Sydney, and stockists everywhere from Tahiti to Cape Town, his entrepreneurial lens has reshaped the parameters of traditional board design.
Hayden's unwavering dedication and passion for his creative pursuits have taken him across the globe, and while his company’s cutting-edge technology, FutureFlex, has revolutionized surfboard construction, his penchant for sharp design extends beyond the realm of surfboards. He has also worked with brands and artists including Alexander Wang, Daniel Arsham, Google, Audi and IWC Schaffhausen. We sat down with the powerhouse designer, entrepreneur and author to talk about chasing swells, his thirst for pushing innovation, and hunting down the best food in LA.
On first taking to the water
I grew up about a 15 minute-drive inland from the Northern Beaches. I started surfing down the south coast of New South Wales, Australia on school holidays. Nearly every holiday my family would go camping along the coastline and that’s when I’d surf. It was only in high school that I realized I could jump on a bus and head for a surf at Mona Vale, Manly Beach, Dee Why or Curl Curl beaches. That’s when I started surfing every single weekend.
On how you began building your own surfboards
I did work experience at a surfboard factory in Mona Vale, Sydney. After I shaped my first board, I was starting to become more absent from school and found that I really enjoyed my time in the factory. My second board, I shaped out the back of my parents’ house. I welded my own shaping stand at school and put lights up by the creek out the back and tried to shape the board at nighttime. I got stuck trying to figure out how to use the planer on the nose rocker, so I had to call the guy from the factory. He told me to get on a bus and bring the board. From then on, I rented his shaping bay each time I shaped a board.
On making the move to Los Angeles
I’d been travelling to America for four or five years, and we’d started to build relationships and work with shops there. Then we signed a global distribution deal and moved in 2011 for five years. We lived in Venice Beach and set up a shop in El Segundo. We had a really solid base in the States so we needed to back our brand and set roots there. For four years, we also ran a second custom-manufacturing facility there and had between eight and 12 staff, but when we decided to move back to Sydney it made sense to consolidate and increase the size of the custom factory in Australia, instead of running both. We invited all of the staff in America to move with us and take up their same job, and a couple of them did. Chris is still here working!
On building your business in the USA
America has this sense that there’s no ceiling and no limit. As a brand, we still have a long way to go in terms of growing in the American market. Yet there’s this positive feeling that you can achieve your goal there. The energy you put in is what you’ll get back.
On the intersection of surfing, travel and creativity
The culture of surfing is very territorial and quite localized, so there were always going to be hiccups in moving the business to LA. But it’s how you carry yourself and approach situations that makes a difference. That and listening to and understanding what each community is about, and being respectful of what they are doing, day-in and day-out.
Surfers travel a lot and generally it’s not traveling to hotels. It’s more about finding and exploring waves off the beaten track. Surfing has taken me to some remote places around the world, and while there you must always respect the culture and the fact that, potentially, people in those areas don’t surf and they don’t know what you’re about. This can be translated to the experience of moving overseas and getting to know the local community.
‘My second board I shaped out the back of my parents’ house. I welded my own shaping stand at school and put lights up down by the creek out the back and tried to shape the board at nighttime.’
We employed a lot of people when we set up the LA factory. It was through our staff that we started to learn more about what was happening in our area. You still come across moments where someone gets a little ruffled by the fact that an out-of-towner is moving in, but we’re all there to design and make surfboards, and it’s about surfers having fun while riding your boards. Different flavors and personalities should be celebrated. As long as everyone respects one another. That’s what traveling really teaches you.
On hiring team members who don't surf
I like to have an open mind and take all walks of life into our factory. I started shaping at 15 and had someone help me for the first two boards. I followed my instincts with building boards, which led me to working with different materials and developing new technology, rather than sticking to standard industry procedures. So I’ve always enjoyed employing staff who maybe have never touched a surfboard. You need a blend of people who have creative flair, those who understand material or skill adaptation, and those who can run production. Every personality can fit in a different part of the factory. You want a team who are passionate about the product they’re building. That’s what’s important. Whether they surf or not doesn’t make much of a difference.
‘There’s this positive feeling that you can achieve your goal in the USA. The energy you put in is what you’ll get back.’
On bringing new creativity to surfboard design
FutureFlex is a patented construction that I came up with in 2007. The most defining feature is that we’ve removed the wooden stringer from the center of the board and replaced it with a parabolic carbon-fiber frame around the outside of the board. This changes the flex response and the dynamics of how the board responds under your feet. FutureFlex boards are lively and generate a lot of speed, so you feel vibrant when riding the technology. It does a lot of the work for you and makes everyday surfing a lot of fun. It also really opened the eyes of many other shapers to adopt the same set of materials within their own designs. With these composite materials, there’s now a level of evolution and innovation in the industry, not just from the shapers but also from the material suppliers too. Creative minds are showing what our industry has to offer.
On what you're working on right now
I’m currently working on FutureFlex upcycled construction. We’re taking fiberglass and carbon-fiber manufacturing waste and putting it into a new fabric that’s being woven out in Western Sydney. We’re then using bio epoxy resin and experimenting with different bio-based foams. I’m really enjoying experimenting and pushing the ability of manufacturing waste and bio materials to generate a performance-based board that’s durable and feels good. One that you want to keep riding for a very long time.
‘You do still come across those moments where someone gets a little ruffled by the fact that an out-of-towner is moving in, but we’re all there to design and make surfboards, and it’s about surfers having fun while riding your boards. Different flavors and personalities should be celebrated.’
On your creativity outside of the surf industry
I’ve always enjoyed design and I have many other interests outside of surfing. I’m interested in technology, architecture and furniture design. Recently I worked on a cast resin project for Crown Towers Sydney. I’m also in the design and development phase for a project with Akin Atelier for the Art Gallery of New South Wales. I’m applying the knowledge I’ve learned over my 24 years of surfboard building into how we can work with the chemistry of epoxy and polyester resins for building and furniture design. We’ve also been working on three different surfboards with Daniel Arsham, an amazing artist in New York who applies crystal erosions to different products.
On your new Los Angeles showroom
When we shut down our US manufacturing, our vision was to maintain a retail presence in America. We ended up renting the old civic building that was built in the early 1900s, right in the township of El Segundo up on the hill. It’s a freestanding building on Richmond Street that’s been newly renovated and it has such a cool vibe. Walk down the hill and Rock & Brews is right there, plus a whole heap of other drinking holes. Many come into El Segundo for work, so come 5pm there are a lot of people walking the streets and having post-work drinks.
On a favorite way to spend a day in Los Angeles
I always enjoy getting out of Venice and taking a day trip up to Malibu to catch a little bit more of the open-space feel that is similar to back home in Australia. There are also a lot of surf breaks up there that are tucked into all different spots. It’s very tidal so you have to know the conditions, the swells and understand what’s going on. It’s also fun driving the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway). The sunsets are especially cool and there are some great little spots to eat at along the way.
On where to go in Venice Beach
The flavor of Venice Beach is really unique and there are so many different spots to eat and drink. Hinano Café near the Venice Beach pier is a great place to have a beer and get to know the local crew. There are always stories being shared about the different swells that have hit Venice Beach over the years. Then there are newer cafés like Great White, which is owned by a couple of Australian guys, and it always felt like a little piece of home.
‘Surfing the waves is obviously really exciting, but the beauty of travel is exploring new cultures.’
On your favorite surfbreak
I really enjoy surfing at Topanga, even though it was generally quite crowded and you wouldn’t catch too many waves. But there were always some interesting personalities that you’d have a good yarn to. Not to mention the shape of the wave was fun and you could ride a shortboard or a longboard, depending on the swell. It was a great wave to just get a couple of lengthy rides in and get wet.
On where to shop in LA
General Admission is a fun shop, and ET Surf and so many of the other surf shops have incredible histories. You can head to all of the different surf shops along South Bay and each has a different community with stories to tell, some with linkage to really iconic moments in time. As an Aussie born in the early 80s, there’s lots to learn from the stories of each individual owner. I’d recommend going to any and start chatting, because Americans love to have a yarn so it’s always fun.
On where to eat in LA
There are so many great restaurants to explore. In LA there’s great sushi and Japanese restaurants, as well as Mexican restaurants. Generally I’d travel to the hole-in-the-wall style of Mexican restaurants, the ones where you know you’ll be getting similar flavors to food down in Baja. Everytime I’d have to head down to Costa Mesa in Orange County to visit one of our factories, I’d head to this awesome Mexican; I don’t even know the name of it. I’d always tell my wife how good the food was, to the point where she said that I was just driving down there to have Mexican for lunch. It was the good perk of sitting on the 405 for an hour each way.
‘Generally I'd travel to the hole-in-the-wall style of Mexican restaurants, the ones where you know you’ll be getting similar flavors to food down in Baja.’
On some favorite spots surfing has taken you
My exploration through Indonesia has taken me to some really interesting places with some of the most beautiful waves. You get such perfection across the whole archipelago of Indonesian islands. Then, I’ve traveled to Japan a lot for business and there is so much history and so many subcultures to explore. You’ve got everything from Tokyo’s bright lights to remote fishing towns with underground places, like a little surf shop that’s out the back of the owner’s house. And he thrives on the local community who come to his home to chat about surfing and to buy his products. Surfing the waves is obviously really exciting, but the beauty of travel is exploring new cultures.
On traveling without a surfboard with Awayco
We work with a program called Awayco, where you travel around the world and book surfboards in all different locations around the world. You can travel with less, turn up and book a Hypto Krypto. But I enjoy riding any board; there’s that surfer side of me that will ride any board and feel it out to understand how it works. So it’s sometimes fun to travel without a board and just rent one.
On a window or an aisle seat
Window. I catch up on sleep generally. Maybe I’ll have one glass of wine and then I’ll try and sleep for most of the flight and get my routine down.
On Los Angeles in one word