Hawaii Strong: Pandemic brings unexpected swell for longtime surfboard shaper
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When Glenn Minami shapes a surfboard, every aspect of design and detail receives his full attention.
The Pearl City native has been crafting boards by hand since the 1980s and he’s done a lot. His best guess? About 40,000.
“It was just three or four years where we was just doing it for fun, a hobby and then I started getting better at it, so I thought, maybe I can work for a company,” said Minami, who shapes boards daily at a Sand Island factory.
[This story is part of HNN’s “Hawaii Strong” series, profiling businesses in the islands adapting to the pandemic and its economic fallout. To suggest a profile, send an email to email@example.com.]
In a short amount of time, he made a name for himself in the surfing community with veteran pros, rising stars, and loyal customers trusting his work.
“I’ve been riding his boards for over 40 years,” said longtime customer Aki Yoshimoto. “‘He knows which style I like and how he can make it good for me.”
Pre-pandemic, business was steady. But in march 2020, Minami and his five-person operation suddenly found themselves in a rising swell.
“Everybody was working at home and they were getting COVID money, the stimulus checks and unemployment,” Minami explained. “The industry just exploded. It’s not just in Hawaii, the U.S., it was worldwide.”
Demand is always a good thing, but meeting that need depends on access to materials and the supply line was clogged.
“The blanks were really limited,” Minami said. “The factory that we pick blanks up from, if you say 100% full, it was 90-empty, 10% full. So a lot of blanks was not available, and a lot of them we had to special order just to get it.”
And of course, that led to a ripple effect ― the orders kept coming but they couldn’t be fulfilled.
“You cannot over-shape because there’s nobody to gloss it,” Minami said. “All the factories were super busy. The bad part about it is customers had to wait a lot longer to get their boards. We used to try to get their boards in four weeks, but now it was taking two to four months.”
Minami says business is now stabilizing to pre-pandemic levels and he considers himself fortunate to be able to keep operating.
He’s also thankful that the crisis got more people in the water.
“That was really good, you can see more families getting involved with the sport with the kids and the daughters and whatnot,” Minami said.
“A whole family would go, ‘OK we want to order four boards for me and the three kids,’ so in that way, it was really good. I think it kind of brought families doing things together.”
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