This is an interview with John Schlesinger, co-founder of Surf Crime, a board company with a unique aesthetic and an eye for making quality, sustainable soft-tops—or ‘softies.’
For those of you who don’t surf, softies are surfboards made with foam top layers, typically used by beginners because they’re bigger and easier to stand up on than fibreglass boards. They’re also way less responsive than regular boards, so instead of trying to score points with invisible judges on the beach, you’re forced to just stand up and have fun, which is what surfing is all about. We asked John about the origins of Surf Crime and the brand’s mission to keep the notoriously disposable softies out of landfills.
First question: When are you guys gonna get some boards over here in Australia?
We’ve been working on that for the last couple of years; the exchange rate is really what’s preventing it.
And I suppose you would’ve hit pause on everything last year, right?
Yeah, last year with the shipping, things really got slowed down a lot. Actually, when we finally got our delivery three months late and, you know, people were just grabbin’ at those things like they were Cabbage Patch Kids.
Wait, Cabbage Patch Kids?
Yeah, in the 80s moms were fighting each other over them at toy stores.
Oh, yeah! I remember that!
Yeah, it was crazy.
Before we get into it properly, I wanna quickly say thanks because every time I’ve gotten an email from you, I’m reminded that every day is rad because it says so in your email address.
You’re welcome. Yeah, I just wanted to have a sorta positive mantra to my life so I could just go out there and, I don’t know, try and enjoy it.
And that’s what Surf Crime is about, right? Having fun and enjoying life.
Yeah, it’s about fun, positivity, unity, and you know, we all share the common interest of surfing and skateboarding, design, and we’re just trying to make a good product that we love.
That’s awesome. And from what I know, the intersection of surf and skate is a bit tricky, right? And you guys have got a bunch of pro skaters in the water, Chico [Brenes] and Erik [Ellington] and…
Yeah, it’s really cool.
Seems like a lot of skaters are getting into surfing right now?
Yeah, and they’re getting into that sorta alternative surfing too, like longboards, mid-lengths… It’s all about fun; you don’t really have to be doing all these crazy air reverses, which are impossible to do anyway. But I’ve surfed a couple of times with Chico, and he says surfing gives him the same feeling that skateboarding does.
Yeah, he just loves it. He’s hardcore, up at five in the morning every day.
Do you have a background in skate?
Yeah, I worked in the skate industry before the surf industry; I worked for Deluxe. I was an art director there, I designed for Thunder Trucks and Real Skateboards back in the early 2000s, and I made a few relationships in the skate industry.
Skating was always my first love growing up in San Diego; you know, it’s skate Mecca. But I always just loved the mature, artistic deviant quality of the art on skateboards, it was always just so much fun and I was obsessed with it when I was a kid. Anyway, I was working for Deluxe; I was there for about three years, went really good, learned a lot, and then I turned 30—and I was living in San Francisco and it was really expensive—so I needed to earn a little more money. Deluxe understood and we parted ways, and I took a designer job down the street at Dolby Laboratories, but I noticed I really didn’t like working in that environment and after three years I left them and started working for NHS (laughs).
Back to the skate industry!
Wait, so Dolby Labs, is that the audio cassette people?
Totally, that’s their little logo you see on tapes. So what they do is they design technologies for consumer electronics, and I think one of the first things they made was this thing that made cassette tapes sound really good.
Pretty cool company, but it wasn’t for me.
So you went back to the skate industry.
Yeah, so I went and worked with NHS for about a year, and then this opportunity popped up in 2011 to work for a new company called Catch Surf. I became the art director of Catch Surf and I worked for them until 2018, and that’s pretty much when Crime started: 2018. So, I left Catch Surf, and they were great people and I wouldn’t be where I am today without that job, but I wanted to see something a little more evolved and, you know, CJ [Nelson] and I met just out surfing, and I was surfing a lot on the finless boards. I was always seeing Derek Hynd and Ari [Browne] and all the Jack Coleman videos and I was like, ‘God, I wanna do that; that looks like so much fun.’
I started surfing finless, and I wanted to draw different lines—being a creative person, I sort of got sick of just pumping down the line and doing turns.
I started doing that and became obsessed with that, and CJ saw me… And he came up with the concept for Crime, and he needed a designer for it. He was like, ‘Do you wanna collaborate on a board model?’ So, I designed the THR model, the finless shape for them. It’s THR because Josh loves Conno and Amaze, he’s one of the hardest in the crew THR. Long story short, he’s a friend of mine and I got him to do that art. So, I designed that board and it was really nice working with CJ, we really see eye-to-eye and we’re on the same page. He was like, ‘Dude, let’s do this—do you want to be my partner? Let’s create this brand, Crime.’ And I was ‘like’, ‘Let’s do it. It’s on.’
Yeah, and it came at the perfect time. I left Catch Surf at the start of October 2018 and then at the end of October, he asked me to join him.
That’s rad. And a big part of the Crime philosophy is sustainability, right?
Normally softies are kind of thought of as disposable.
Yeah, they totally are. They fill up with water and there’s just no way around that. I mean, they’re still fun with the water in them… Those soft-tops, I was surfing them a lot and when you take the fins out of those things, they’re so fun (laughs). They’re like those 88 boards and the log, even the Wavestorms—like, with fins I don’t really like them, they’re sorta too stiff, but without fins they’re the best training wheel boards if you wanna start finless surfing. But yeah, they produce so many of them… God, it’s crazy what the world’s coming to with all its waste.
So how do Crime boards differ?
They’re made with an epoxy and an extra layer of EVA on top, which is that grip, it’s the same materials, like, track-top, and it creates a nice shock-absorption layer that’s really comfortable when you’re riding it; then the rails have it around there, so that’s sort of like a bumper that protects the board. And we do double stringer, and the Gliders have a triple stringer. They’re really strong, and if you look after it the way you would a hardboard, you can have it for a really long time. That’s what we hope for; we hope that people look after them so they can stay around for a while.
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