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Hayden Cox: riding the high wave, with both feet firmly on the ground

Haydenshapes Surfboards is an industry-leading, award-winning and commercially successful brand. Founded by Australian designer Hayden Cox during his school days, the company is proof that entrepreneurial success arrives when excellence, integrity and adventure unite.

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Who better to speak about entrepreneurship at Julius Baer’s annual Young Partners Reunion than a surfboard designer who turned his passion into an industry-leading brand? The story goes that Hayden, in need of a new surfboard, decided to shape his own at the age of 15. Word of mouth spread fast and he began to sell his boards online via a website coded during school lunch breaks. 

Fast forward to today. The award-winning brand Haydenshapes Surfboards merges high-tech innovation with clean lines and an artistic nod, delivering both commercial success and a great ride for customers. As Hayden explained to conference participants: “I found that in life I’ve really enjoyed the things that I’m doing, before they became a job or a chore… I just woke up every day with a new idea and wanted to go out and do it”.

Revolutionising the surfing industry
Though the story is one of success, its backbone consists of self-belief, hard work, sticking-to-your-guns and unwavering vision. After around eight years of hand-shaping boards, Hayden questioned his approach to both the craft and his business operations. Asking what could be improved in terms of structure, materials and manufacturing opened up an opportunity to revolutionise the surfing industry.

Hayden came up with a way to create boards that maximise speed and drive while minimising twist. He achieved this using a new combination of design and materials and patented it as FutureFlex. True to his brand, the technology benefits all levels of riders and, by storing and releasing energy as a surfer transitions through a turn. The board literally harnesses the dance between surfer and wave and turns it into an advantage. 

Staying on course
While FutureFlex has been adopted by the surfing industry and brought Hayden widespread recognition, its 2006 launch meant the global financial crisis hit during the technology’s formative years on the market. This turbulent patch brought near bankruptcy and some investors bailed out due to the financial risk. Hayden, however, decided to go all in and upscaled his plans. He chased bigger markets and opened an offshore manufacturing process. The grit and gumption paid off and Haydenshapes Surfboards are now manufactured and headquartered across three continents and sold in 70 countries.

I try to break down the barriers and challenges of current construction methods and create innovative products.

Hayden Cox

Despite once destroying 700 imperfect boards in favour of long-term quality control over short-term financial gain, Hayden is not one to be wasteful. His latest challenge focuses on upping sustainability in the surfboard manufacturing process, which has traditionally seen foam and fiberglass wastage levels of around 30 percent. Haydenshapes is now working on a future within their manufacturing line that will see the repurposing waste into performance surfboards and accessories, working with brand partners to raise awareness around sustainability through multiple industries and markets.

Drawing outside the lines
The ability to chart his own path and stick to it is one reason that Hayden has ended up in roles a fifteen-year-old surfer would probably never envisage. He’s a brand ambassador for IWC Schaffhausen and Audi, as well as a member of the MR PORTER Style Council. An Australian bank recently put him in charge of redesigning and launching a range of payment devices and wearables. “It’s projects such as these that I really love to hang my hat on,” he explained. “To go out and try to break down the barriers and challenges of the construction methods and create innovative products really sets the tone for what drives me as a designer."

To celebrate the launch of his company’s 20th anniversary, Hayden released a book in 2016. Titled New Wave Vision it transparently details the challenges and wins of Haydenshapes Surfboards and features interviews with iconic innovators and business leaders, including skater Tony Hawk and Google Maps Co-founder Noel Gordon. The fact the company didn’t create a how-to manual or sell an overnight success story says a lot about its approach: follow your passion, strive for perfection, repeat the process until you get it right and don’t compromise your values in doing so.