How Hayden Cox Crafted A Link Between Surfing And Luxury

Given more than 2.5 million Australians surf, we thought it time to catch up with one of this now billion-dollar industry’s contemporary leaders, Hayden Cox.

By Richard Clune 31/01/2020

Necessity is often the dominant force of creation. Such is the case with surfboard shaper Hayden Cox. He never set out to start a global surf company – Haydenshapes. But it’s exactly where he finds himself today – 73 countries stocking his products, engaged by an innovative approach that marries unique function with impeccable form; attributes that have set him apart from the pack and driven incredible success.

Cox’s necessity landed as a 15-year-old. It was school holidays and the Sydney surfer had just broken his only board. What to do? Well, for this teen who didn’t have the dollars for another, it was time to hit up a local shaper for some work. He cleaned the studio and swept the floors, and then, eventually, he was shown how it all works – shaping a debut board.

Cut to now and Haydenshapes is a brand that has progressed surfing like few others – its use of carbon fibre (FutureFlex) a game-changer and one that’s led to acclaim, allure, and more than a few international design awards.

It’s not always been easy, mind. Cox and his company sailed dangerously close to the sun in the years following 2007 – limping away from the GFC with some valuable business lessons and an even stronger resolve to succeed.

Speak to Cox and you quickly become aware of the 37-year-old’s acute passion and eagerness to progress – to look ahead and advance. It’s this that led him to pen a book a few years back and has inspired him to achieve alongside artists and elevated brands – think Alexander Wang, Audi, IWC, and soon, New York artist and designer Daniel Arsham (who this year helped drive the set design and some of Dior Homme’s spring 2020 collections ).

Still, when we caught up with Cox on the waters near his northern Sydney home, he was adamant summer will mean some downtime and waves with his young family.

Let’s meander back a bit – has that want to tinker and to understand how things work always been with you?

I guess from a young age, yeah. I was just really interested in how things were put together – I always enjoyed the craft of building and creating something.

And it just progressed to this point?

That’s it. I love the challenge of innovation, I love new ideas and materials and how it all comes together to produce a surfboard that has a feeling that’s special and unique.

Carbon fibre is key to your many successes – especially as seen in the Hypto Krypto board. How big was the challenge here, in having the industry accept something that has proven quite revolutionary?

There was a group of pros [professional surfers] who were interested in what I was doing and they jumped on it and started winning events on the QS [world qualifying tour]. But retailers and other shapers were very sceptical and pigeonholed it as something that had been ‘done in the past,’ when no one had actually been doing what we were doing. So there was a bit of old-school unwillingness to change… To be honest, it was more satisfying that way, because if it all happened immediately and it was served up on a silver platter – well, that never happens in surfing, you never get the best waves straight away. You have to get used to being knocked down pretty regularly, and it’s from this that you learn to fight and go again.

A slick aesthetic has always been a strong feature of what you do at Haydenshapes. Is that driven by function or does it also inform the initial process?

It’s probably come about as a byproduct of the functionality to be honest – product design leads and then you create [the rest]. But we definitely look to build a story around each element. We also connect with people, our riders, who surf in a unique way and who have this incredible vision, and so when you package it all up it tells a complete brand story… but that’s something we’ve evolved as we’ve gone along.

Let’s talk about sustainability as that’s something that’s coming into surfing – and it’s something we understand you’re increasingly looking at?

[As an industry] we’re using materials which do consume energy and water to produce most of our performance products. For me, I’m looking at upcycled fibreglass and what can be done there. I’ve also looked at other materials we can use that aren’t fibreglass too… For now though it’s about upcycled waste and looking to consume everything we’re buying. There’s a long way to go but it’s a start, and then we move on from there to next steps and what else we can do – by looking at our production processes with a sustainable lens over what we’re doing and how we can be better.

You’ve worked with Alexander Wang in the past and continue to work with the likes of Audi and IWC – what does that give you?

It challenges me to learn and evolve what I know. These brands are about performance and engineering, and are innovative – so there’s an obvious synergy between us and what we do. But you know, I learn a lot from these guys – I’ve had the opportunity to go to their facilities and I’m always the guy there asking a lot of questions, [so I can] learn things that I can then take back into my own craft and what I’m working on.

And there’s a new project with New York artist Daniel Arsham happening?

Yeah, it’s exciting. It’s about how to combine his world and mine and then how to apply art and design to our boards. It has been one of the most challenging projects I’ve worked on actually – different production and manufacturing techniques that have been about me upscaling my skills and learning new things to achieve something unique and beautiful. It excites me as a designer… and you’ll see what we’ve been doing in March with some really fun and cool content that will go along with it.

Your boards are now stocked in more than 70 countries – crazy to think that given the beginnings in the back blocks of Sydney’s northern beaches?

It is crazy, yeah. We go into places like Egypt, Jordan and Israel [through distribution partners] and a lot of these guys are not only selling boards, but they’re also teaching people to surf. Up in Dubai our distributors have a program to teach women, a program that actually got banned for a while, they got arrested, it was crazy. But they persevered with it, they pushed the boundaries. And for me, to have a connection to that, to these incredible people, that’s probably one of the more rewarding things that we do.

How important is it that you remain hands-on with each and every product – is it even feasible?

Oh it has to be. That’s the part I really love – surfing the product. I love to get in the water and test things and see what’s working or not. Then, once I’m happy with it, I’ll make a couple more for friends, for family, for some customers, or our team riders, and then have them ride them and see what they think. You want to test the product on all types of surfers because you want it to appeal to everyone out there.

Summer’s here – plans?

I’ve got some HS soft boards which have the carbon fibre frames inside coming to market and I’ve been testing them out with the family. So for me it’ll be more of that – I grew up having family beach days and that’s what summer’s about for me – water, sun, fun and a few projects on the go too. There’s always lots going on, but family life on the beach is gold to me at this time of year.


This piece comes from our 2019 Summer Edition –  to get your copy click here.


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