Published on 9 August 2013
Renowned surfboard shaper and former pro surfer Tom Wegener of Cooroy has turned his attention from the big waves to the big issues facing his industry.
Mr Wegener, 48, began a PhD at the University of the Sunshine Coast last month to research the sustainability of surfboard manufacturing across the region.
His study has gained a joint research grant from USC and Sunshine Coast Council and is likely to have implications for other niche manufacturers locally and in other areas.
Working from USC’s Sustainability Research Centre, Mr Wegener wants to find out what Sunshine Coast surfboard shapers need to do to stay afloat in the face of enormous competition from a globalised surfboard production market.
“The surfboard industry is one that I’m really passionate about,” he said. “It has really declined on the Sunshine Coast and the local manufacturers are having a difficult time. Not only are there fewer shapers, but the volume of business has dropped.
“I want to understand why this is happening. It might be due to overseas imports or it might be due to a whole bunch of other reasons.
“Local manufacturers are an important part of the local framework. They are important people in the community who might just disappear here as they have done in other parts of the world.
“We need to say ‘Let’s have a look at this because we might lose something here and we might regret that later.”
Mr Wegener – whose thesis topic is “Globalisation influences on local production systems; a case study of the surfboard manufacturing industry on the Sunshine Coast” – is no stranger to study.
He completed degrees in Philosophy and Law in his home state of California, where he also honed his surfing, shaping and movie-making skills, before moving to the Sunshine Coast in 1998.
His approach to research looks set to take a distinctive inside-outside surfing flavour.
“To start with, I’ll be looking at the surfboard industry from the inside out: A lot will be about my experiences making surfboards and I’ll be doing surveys of local manufacturers.
“Then I’d like to get information back looking from the outside in. I’ll be asking surfers what they’re purchasing and why.
“The end product will be to make suggestions and provide strategies for local manufacturers to help them stay in business and confront those forces that are putting other manufacturers out of business.”
Mr Wegener was a professional surfer in California from 1991-97 and he produced and starred in several surfing movies, including the popular 2000 film, Siestas & Olas: A Surfing Journey Through Mexico, and Tom's Creation Plantation, which won the best short film award at the 2010 Yellingup Surf Film Festival.
His surfboard shaping expertise, especially in crafting traditional wooden boards and finless boards, has won him numerous awards. The most recent was a 2012 Sunshine Coast Living Smart Glossies award, which recognised the sustainable and innovative nature of his work.
His Seaglass Project Tuna claimed best design at the 2011 Australian International Design Awards and his work on producing traditional alaia surfboards earned him the prestigious Surfing Magazine's Shaper of the Year award in 2009.
— Terry Walsh