Tags: creative director
First time I saw a paddle surf I thought to myself, now that’s a really long board, I wonder how people ride it. Then I realized how much fun it can be and I saw others get into paddle surfing as well. I was having Sunday cocktails with a friend, when she told me she decided to have her own sup surf shaped, by this guy who is super talented and makes his own boards. Making boards here in Greece? That seemed pretty interesting, so I had to grab my camera and visit his workshop, only to find a super clean, super organized space with people coming in and out talking about surfing and boards and all I could think of is why am I not at the beach trying to learn how to surf. After endless questions and lots of glue that makes your head as light as a balloon, I figured Cohete is a pretty cool brand, and the brains behind it, John, is a pretty cool guy. Actually, the boards do reach a level of perfection and John himself is a child prodigy and a living example of discipline, will and determination to excel in the art he chose to perform.
Do you recall the first time you surfed?
It was in 2000, I was with a friend in Rafina. I liked it a lot and then a couple of years later I moved to the UK, where I bought my first boards. Then I started surfing a lot more.
Was it hard? Learning how to surf? Did you snowboard or skateboard before trying out surfing?
I used to skateboard a lot. But like very extreme sport, there’s a lot of technical details you need to learn, so the first time you try it out, you don’t really know what you are doing. Of course I remember the first waves I rode, because it’s a feeling that’s so special, but the more you get into that, the more you evolve and you get a better understanding of what surfing is really all about. So, I would say I have been surfing since 2005, that’s when I knew what I was doing.
Surfing in Greece is an easy task?
Not really, because we don’t have the luxury to have the perfect beach with the perfect waves just outside our door. You have to go after the perfect weather and the perfect conditions, watch the forecast, get in your car, drive long distances and reach the spot that allows you to surf. But that makes it a lot more special, because it turns surfing into small excursions.
I am guessing it makes you appreciate a good wave even more.
Totally. It’s always like this: when you really want to get involved in something, you have to leave something back, because getting involved in something takes a lot of time.
Cohete has been around since 2007. You have been surfing since 2005, what made you chose surf production as a job instead of just opening a surf school?
I never intended to own a surf school and am not really interested in doing something like that. You know the production of boards started out by chance. When I started surfing, it wasn’t a very popular sport in Greece, so you couldn’t really get your hands on boards or any kind of gear. If you wanted to get a board, you either had to order one online or travel to some other country and buy one. So my friend and I decided to experiment a bit. We gathered all the materials we could get our hands on and tried to make a board. Of course we failed, but I never stopped thinking about it. If something is my main characteristic, that would be my perfectionism. So I kept wondering what went wrong and after a while gave it another shot. One thing led to another, soon making boards became my hobby, I turned the basement of the house I was living back then in into a workshop and started producing surf boards.
How did you manage to shape the boards?
By hand, everything was done by hand. The cnc came later, and made things a whole lot easier and, of course, more precise.
So, what happened next? Your board production became successful?
I gradually developed my skills and the boards started coming out pretty good, construction wise, because design wise, which is the most important thing when it comes to surf boards, I needed to improve my technique. The design is everything. Everything else is just a fancy wrap that makes your board waterproof.
How many boards did you tear apart, in order to learn from their construction and design?
A few. When I started out shaping boards, a lot of friends and friends of friends would bring their boards that needed repairing over, which made me learn a lot. I would observe other shapers’ work and get taught from the boards I was fixing. But I have also bought a lot of boards, which I later reshaped to meet my surfing needs. I spent many hours online doing research, traveled a lot, met other shapers and when I got the cnc machine I was able to produce more and better boards.
You mentioned you have a team you sponsor.
Yes, I have five Greeks, probably the best riders in the country, an Australian rider and one from Costa Rica, but I am talking with other riders as well, expanding my team.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face when establishing your brand?
The whole thing is a challenge. I am running a business in Greece, all by myself, and you have to educate people about surfing. You have to make them understand that it is not about the board, it is not about the wave, it is much more. Surfing is a lifestyle. At this particular moment, with my company having reached this stage, I think the greatest challenge is to go global. That’s my goal.
Do you see people supporting independent producers rather than large companies? How do you cope with the competition?
As an independent company, we offer after sales, which is something you cannot find anywhere else. Meaning, if you buy a board and you hit is somewhere, or something happens to it, we can repair it for you, and we can give you advice on what to look after and what to do. We maintain a personal relationship with our customers. Plus, you have the option of customizing your board. From shapes and sizes to color and design. You don’t get that with mass production surf boards.
Would things be smoother for your business if it wasn’t located in Greece?
If I had started my business in a surf – oriented country, I would also have a lot of competition. I would have many orders, but I would also be competing a lot of other shapers. My only competition here is the big companies that export their products to Greece. But through all this, and because of the fact that I am the only person making boards in this country, I had to evolve my knowledge and skills, and I had to bring my products to a certain level of quality. The fact that I had no one to ask for questions or advice, made me become self sufficient and stronger in my work. So it all turned out to be a positive thing, starting my business in Greece. What makes things difficult is Greek’s obsession to foreign labels. They always relate made in Greece to low quality and I have no idea why they do that. But, this mentality of theirs forced me to bring my brand to foreign standards. I still find people being surprised when they realize Cohete is a Greek brand.
When you think of the future of Cohete do you imagine yourself detached from the production and more into the management field?
No, but surely I will not get involved in so many parts of the production. That’s my main goal. I love designing my boards, milling them on the cnc, I love to test the outcome and make alterations based on what I have observed. That’s what I want to do, and that is the core of my job. In other countries you have the shaper and a whole lot of other people around him, that do what needs to be done in order to have a surf board, but the main factor is the head shaper. It’s an art, and can never know enough. I learn so much everyday and I am still learning, it is a never ending process.
A few comments on the things pictured above:
John, the founder of Cohete and the guy answering all my questions, both here and on my visit to the Cohete headquarters, is the guy with the socks pulled up. That’s his style. He claims the socks help the blood circulation on his legs, but that’s just his style. / Panagiotis, who is glassing the boards with John in the final pictures is mainly working in the production part. He loves constructing things. / Nikitas, who is searching around the boards is responsible for the management. / Stelios is the board’s painter. / All the graphics for Cohete have been made by Dimitris, aka BooHaHa, who is the guy in the brown cap. / The logo of each board is actually silkscreen printed on a special paper, which survives the glue from the glassing process of the board. / Pictures try to follow the timeline of a board production. More or less. / Most importantly, Cohete is actually a Spanish word. It means rocket.