Banskia Drive recognise the Bundjalung Arakwal people, the Minjungbal people and the Widjabul people as Traditional Owners and custodians for the lands on which we live, work and create.

Local Makers: The Craftsmanship and Family Ethos of North Coast Surfboards

One of Byron Bay’s longest standing surfboard factories.

Words: Natalie Woods
Photography: Montana Cooper

Local Makers: The Craftsmanship and Family Ethos of North Coast Surfboards

Acacia Street is the home of North Coast Surfboards, one of Byron’s longest standing surfboard factories. We spent a day in the shaping bays, learning about the craft of this unique local business.

It’s not often you meet someone who has worked in the same company their entire working life, let alone a whole team of people who have worked at the same craft for decades. “I came here straight after school. Dad asked me what I wanted to do for work and I said, well I like to surf so I’d love to come make surfboards with you guys”, explains Evan Squirrell as he shows us around North Coast Surfboards, a business started by his father, Tony Squirrell and shaper Paul Hutchinson in 1990. “I’d always been in and around the place anyway, cleaning the rooms and hanging out since I was really little.”

Started in a shed out the back of Paul’s place in Newrybar, North Coast Surfboards soon outgrew the shed and moved to a larger workshop in the Byron Arts and Industrial Estate in the mid-nineties. In 2000, they outgrew that space again and moved into their current surfboard factory on Acacia Street, where they have been operating ever since. “This place is great because we’ve got the manufacturing out the back and the showroom up front.” The smell of resin wafts into the tidy showroom filled with a rainbow of surfboards. 

“I’ve been in and around making surfboards my entire life, so I take it for granted, but being able to show the customer how we actually create surfboards from start to finish is something the team really loves. Seeing a customer get really stoked when they pick up their new board, and seeing how much joy it brings them in the water, that’s why the older guys have been doing this their entire working lives.”

Evan Squirrell

Tony and Paul’s partnership has grown into a business renowned for creating some of the highest quality boards in the country. “Paul has been shaping surfboards since he was 15 years old, that’s over 55 years of honing his skills. He’s super underground, no ego, but he’s arguably one of the best shapers on the planet,” explains Evan. “Dad has done a lot of sanding and polishing work, but he’s hung up his mask a little now and let’s some of our younger team take care of those jobs that are a little more harsh on the body”. 

It was Paul who created the first Vouch surfboards with Evan when he was fresh out of school. “Paul has been shaping my boards since I was 4 years old. I would always get him to shape all my stuff growing up. Around 2007, we started to design boards reminiscent of the late 60’s transitional era of surfboard design, that’s when Vouch really started to seed and take shape,” says Evan. “People started asking what the boards were so we came up with the name Vouch.” Vouch Surfboards is North Coast’s in-house brand and they also manufacture Donald Takayama and Gerry Lopez Surfboards as the Australian licensee.

Evan takes us for a walk through the factory, pointing out the different rooms that every board will pass through at different stages – Paul’s shaping bay, Kai’s sanding bay, the laminating bay where customers can choose any colour they can dream of, and then the polishing bay out the back where Rodrigo will spend over two hours polishing one board to glistening perfection. A rack of boards outside each doorway acts as a daily to do list. “I'll usually get in here an hour before everyone to make sure all their work is laid out for the day and order forms are all in place, that way the guys can come in and get straight into it.” A well-oiled, or perhaps well-shaped, machine, but with plenty of time for banter and experimenting on new designs. 

Growing up in the industry, Evan recalls the old school ‘surf shop’ experience – a bunch of people that enjoy hanging out everyday and making beautiful surfboards. “I came in here as a fresh-faced 18 year old with older guys and just loved it,” says Evan.  

“That’s how it used to be for all these pioneers we still have working here. You could come in and talk to the people making your board, offering feedback and involving yourself in the whole process.” 

Evan Squirrell

North Coast Surfboards has a family atmosphere, and not just because Evan works here with his dad (and his mum who manages the bookkeeping). “I consider all of these guys family. I went to school with our laminator’s daughters and have known him since I was young. I’ve seen the other guys have babies that have now grown into young adults. I really enjoy that aspect of working and growing as a team, we all mesh really well together.” And the family rule? No headphones when you’re not working on a board. “We say to the new younger guys, ‘We're humans here. Let's converse.’ It's all about communication and loving the people you work with. We spend a lot of time together!”

Along with the family atmosphere, there’s a real sense of craftsmanship and apprenticing at North Coast, with the older master craftsmen sharing their skills and knowledge with the new guys coming through. “Four of our guys have been doing this for 50 years each and they’re teaching the younger guys the right way to do things,” says Evan.

“There's a lot of keen younger people that want to do the job, but they want to run before they can walk – they don't want to put in the time to learn properly. Our motto here is “do it once, do it right.” No shortcuts. I'm on 20 years full time here and I feel like I'm only just hitting my stride now.” 

Evan Squirrell

It’s that craftsmanship and experience that Evan hopes really comes through for the customer. “Everyone who works here just loves making surfboards. And I think you can feel it when people come in and grab their new board – they can tell that there’s so much love and care that’s gone into it.” says Evan. “Seeing someone happy and stoked and appreciative of work you've all put in, that's what it's all about.“

Find North Coast Surfboards at 1/7 Acacia St.

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