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He’s practically synonymous with surf culture… Paul Naudé enjoys it - and success is proof positive

By MAGGI HENRIKSON

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

He was fixing dings and dents in surfboards, and little did anyone know that a surf industry pioneer was at work. Certainly Paul Naudé figured he was just doing something he enjoyed in between surf sessions in his hometown in South Africa. 

Paul Naudé

There were a few others inspired by everything surf-related there in Durban, and it seems like they collectively said, “California here I come!”

They came, they saw, they conquered. Witness the many South African entrepreneurs who conquered our sunny shores with their innovative surfboards, and their surf-style fashion trends. And they grew businesses, placing Orange County on the global map as the economic capital of the surf industry.

How did successes such as Billlabong, and Gotcha blossom from small-time garage stores 10,000 miles away? 

“In South Africa we were outdoor lifestyle driven. The [surf] industry is vibrant in South Africa,” Naudé said. “I don’t know if it’s the work ethic, or it just happened that way.”

Naudé’s early shop progressed from surfboard fixing and building, to the beginnings of surf apparel – wetsuits. From that small and successful business in Durban, he then ran the South Africa branch of Gotcha International, which broadened the nature of surf-related retail. When he was asked to make the move to California he enthusiastically said yes. 

California and Hawaii were always the dream back in South Africa, sparked in no small part by the movie, The Endless Summer. To this day, Naudé has a holiday home in St. Francis Bay, home of the famous Bruce Beauties surf break from the movie.

“Anything California or Hawaiian we gravitated toward, anything surf related – boards, style, apparel…” All good, he says. “All the great board builders – they were all California guys.”

Naudé moved here in the early ‘90’s and has been shaking up surf culture ever since. He recently stepped down after 15 years as the president of Billabong USA. And now he’s in the thick of a new venture.

A world-wide branding

Billabong had been slipping as a publically traded company during the economic woes since 2008. Naude saw the better option, and great potential in taking it private. He took a leave from his position to form a coalition with equity partners and make a bid to buy Billabong himself. 

The tough part was the three-month process of framing the bid. The mixed-benefit side of the next five months of waiting for the decision involved surfing. Of course!

“I headed up Billabong USA for about 15 years and in 2012 decided to step out to try to buy the company and take it out of the public market and into a privately held concern,” he tells us. “The first three months of that project was intense but then there was about five months of back and forth communication that took up very little time daily. It was a sort of forced sabbatical and I got to go surfing virtually every day.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

 Photo by Jason Naudé

He smiles, “I really got to appreciate Southern California surf. I drove around to different spots and chose to ride whatever board was best for the conditions.

Sometimes I’d have stretches where I’d ride a different board in each of 15 odd consecutive sessions. Anything from a 5’5 board to a 9’6. It was amazing.”

He also found out there’s actually a limit to the amount of free time he can stand. “I found I got a little bored. It cured any thoughts of retirement! 

“I need to be active in business.”

When the bid to buy Billabong was rejected, Naudé decided to take his idea of an independent retail line and run with it. With his years of experience and global contacts, he has already reached markets in more than 30 countries for his new lines: Vissla (men’s clothing), D’Blanc (eyewear/accessory brand), and Amuse Society (women’s beach wear line).

Take a walk around Coast Highway in Laguna and you’ll no doubt see several young guys walking around wearing Vissla T-shirts. The clothes are sold in independent stores, and also on-line. Naudé tells us that the graphics in the designs are key. “With e-commerce you get instant feedback what customers want. T-shirts and board shorts are staple items. The graphics are trend-driven.”

Recent economic shifts are not a downer for the global US market, according to Naudé. “People adapt to economic fluctuation. My own point of view is that the US is going to maintain a position of strength for the next few years. I’m very optimistic about the future. Sometimes correction phases are good reminders. It gets people back to center. Are the best years ahead? Always! I’m an eternal optimist.”

Wildlife, the ocean, family, and other things that matter

Running a global company and surfing, at least on the weekends, is not enough for this South African. He also became an American. “I came to Laguna Beach in ’92. I’m a naturalized American and proud of it,” says Naudé. “It is interesting to learn the history of this country, and it’s an incredible opportunity to become American. I’m grateful for it.”

He also makes the time to give back to two things that have engaged him his whole life: wildlife and the ocean. 

“We have property in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in a wildlife conservancy called Amakhala,” he said. “We have a small game lodge, Hillsnek Safari camp, and are also involved in rhino conservation. Our foundation is Chipembere Rhino Foundation, which is very active on the anti-poaching front.

“I have had a few fundraisers here in Laguna to raise funds for the anti-poaching efforts down there. The good news is that a dollar goes a long way in that country based on the foreign exchange rate. I’ve been interested in wildlife since I was a young boy.”

Ocean conservancy gets his attention in a big way too. Naudé is president of the SIMA Environmental Fund that has an annual fundraiser, The Watermans Ball. 

“We raise funds for surf related ocean environmental groups. We just completed our 26th annual event and have raised about 7.5 million dollars during that time. I’m really proud of the surf industry’s effort in this regard.”

Surprisingly there’s something else he’s proud of, and it doesn’t have to do with any of the above. Back in 1976 he became a publisher, and the magazine is still in business today.

“I started a surf magazine in South Africa called ZigZag (after a surfing term back then). It was pre-desktop publishing. Typesetting, layouts and gluing down columns of copy and captions was painstakingly slow. In my long business career in this industry I’m most proud of the fact that the magazine is still thriving today.”

Click on photo for a larger image

 

Naudé does his own board “up-cycling” at home

Meanwhile, on the home front, Naudé and his wife Debbie have two kids – Frances and Jason. In some backyard downtime they grow grapes on their Laguna hillside, and bottle wine from it. Or he and Jason create camp knives together, out of exotic woods.

But many an afternoon Paul Naudé can be found out back shaping boards just for fun. “I like to build surfboards. It’s how I started. I’ve always liked it. I have a shed at home and I take broken boards and re-build them, I call it up-cycling. I’ll take a broken long board and make it a short board, or a belly board out of pieces that are left. It’s a lot of fun.”

They say if you do what you love, you never work a day in your life. For Naudé a little hobby, and a little fun have gone a long way. 

And on it goes!

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Lynette Brasfield, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Social Media Manager & Writer.

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