Crafting regional cultural production: emergence, crisis and consolidation in the Gold Coast surfboard industry
Surfboard-making is concentrated in regions with vibrant surfing subcultures, suitable waves and sufficient expertise in crafting boards, by hand, to suit prevailing coastal conditions. This article charts the rise of the Gold Coast as Australia's most concentrated cluster of surfboard-making, from its origins as do-it-yourself craft in backyards and sheds, to professional, export-oriented industry. Out of highly informal, subcultural origins, a regional cluster emerged in the 1960s, fuelled by the growth of surfing, tourism and suburban development, and by the needs of surfers for customised boards that suit their body size, surfing style and local wave conditions. What transpired was a vernacular form of coastal creative industry combining craft skills, subcultural knowledge and design flair. Nevertheless, a mix of factors, including automation, increased competition from cheap imports, increasingly aggressive retail trade, and mistrust among board-makers, has threatened viability. Some workshops overextended into export production, marketing and automation, and consequently suffered from exposure to risk (as well as a commensurate decline in regional tourism). Others survived, and in some ways turned full circle: those small workshops continuing to service local markets, within their means, were most able to ride out the industry's turbulent times. Small-scale cultural production persists despite the volatility of the larger brands, geared instead around loyal customers who want hand-crafted boards made by shapers who they know and trust.