A family passion for surf boards

KASHKA TUNSTALL
Last updated 05:00 18/08/2012
OLD PRO: Craig Hughes has four decades in the board-making business.
BEN CURRAN

OLD PRO: Craig Hughes has four decades in the board-making business.

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In the garden at the back of the Hughes' home, 19-year-old Nat Hughes is shaping a surfboard.

It's mid-morning, there's surf just over a back paddock, and it's quiet out in Whale Bay.

Nat is working away in the shaping bay, lit low so the contours of the board he's working on show up. All the while dad Craig keeps a watchful eye on him.

When the job's done, Nat will add the board to the stack of Hughes Surfboards leaning on the wall ready to be taken to the Hughes Raglan factory to be glassed.

Craig Hughes has been making boards for 43 years. He's spent a lifetime honing the skill which has taken him all over the world.

Europe, Australia and Hawaii all served as home before he made his way back to New Zealand and moved to Raglan with his family in late 1980s.

He opened Raglan Surf Co and took on work making boards for international surfboard brand Town & Country while producing his own boards for customers who had heard the reputation of the master craftsman.

He started focusing exclusively on his own branding of boards once the partnership ended about five years ago.

It was a profitable move, cutting out the middle man in the business transaction, and allowed him make a product that suited what he saw that people wanted.

"You don't make a lot of money out of surfboards but you do it because that's your passion and if you're like Craig you're involved in the design of it and the innovation to make something that enables a person on a surfboard," Craig's wife, Liz, says.

"That's what it's all about, he's got a gift and he's sharing it."

Craig Hughes shaped his first board at the age of 14 after his dad made him his own.

It was the 60s in Whakatane, back when boards were big and heavy, and Craig watched his dad make the board in the woodworking room at the local high school.

It came out light, totally different to surfboards of the day. He could carry it down to the water resting it on his head.

"That kinda fuelled my interest in building surfboards so when I got a bit older I actually started to play around with it myself with mates in the back shed and that just developed," he says.

And it's the same with his boys.

After watching their dad make boards all their lives, Nat and older brother Luke, 25, have fallen into the same industry as their father.

The two have taken on the day-to-day shaping and Luke has become more involved with Raglan Surf Co.

The older Hughes is standing back and watching his sons take up the reins, carrying on the name that he has made famous not only in Raglan but in the world of New Zealand surfing.

Top Kiwi surfer Billy Stairmand can be found on one of the family's boards.

It's a custom-made job; Luke and Billy are longtime friends and Raglan Surf Co shaped him an epoxy board for aerial manoeuvres that is in vogue with young surfers today.

"Developing those styles of boards further is quite an exciting time. It takes what we do outside of the mainstream. It means we're making boards different to what is made in the mainstream internationally," Craig says.

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He says the industry is dealing with an influx of lesser quality imports which affect the market. "The whole market is over-catered for with imported stuff," Craig says.

"New Zealand's awash with all this product that's now on Trade Me and you can pick it up in Cash Converters. They don't work very well."

But Kiwis are seemingly putting stock in quality boards made in New Zealand, for New Zealanders, he says.

"Surfing has come of age . . . people aren't that fussed on a brand from overseas, people aren't looking for a Hawaiian brand in New Zealand anymore."

"It's not about the brand, it's about surfboards," he says.

Stairmand takes his Gherkin2 on the international circuit and it's garnered the brand a bit of attention - the boards have stood out.

"There would be a lot of people who check out his equipment internationally and we've made boards for Aussies and other people from time to time because they've seen what he has," Craig says.

"Billy is very loyal and he's kind of pushing our brand internationally which is a great opportunity for us. He's actually developing a market for my sons.

"I've been involved in this industry for a long time and I'm probably getting to the end of it but it would be nice to see kids getting the opportunity to get involved in a manufacturing industry like that."

Nat finishes up, pulls his mask off and brushes his hand over the rails, giving the board a final check.

"It's looking good," his father says appraising the work before Nat susses out the surf over the hill.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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