Jim Newton is one of the few remaining surfboard shapers and repairers in the local area; cheap imported boards have made it all but impossible to make a decent living out of the craft. Focus went along to Jim’s shaping bay, to find out more.
Currently one of the only people offering quality repairs for surfboards and SUPs in Coffs, if you spend time in the sea you will find your way to his door sooner or later.
Can you tell us about your connection to the Coffs Coast?
During the 1990s I lived in the Grafton area and made a few surfboards for Paul Guthrie’s “North Coast Surf Company”, in Grafton, Woolgoolga and Toormina.
I moved to Coffs Harbour in 1997 and I helped build the Christian City Church (C3) in June Street.
I was employed by Peter Lubans of “The Promenade” to run the canoe hire there and manage the maintenance of the “The Promenade”.
In 1994, I purchased the canoe hire and expanded it to include Coffs Kayak and Canoe Centre sales and hire.
In 2012 I was compelled to look into the surf industry in the Coffs region. I discovered a lack of specialist surfboard repairers.
Surf Craft Repairs re-emerged, and the desire to make surfboards again came as well. As a minor player in manufacturing, it does allow me to design new concepts and offer glassing services and tips to other young shapers around Coffs.
I sponsor a couple of riders in Coffs Harbour, in varying degrees – Joel Brennan and Josh Burrows (a few others are on the watch list).
Could you briefly explain what it is that you do?
Surf Craft Repairs repair all forms of surfing craft, surfboards, SUPs and SLSC craft.
Surfboards – new and second hand, plus accessories.
Newton Surfboards makes surfboards from young grom size to Malibus.
How long have you been involved in this line of work?
Since 1970 and on through into the ’90s.
I’m originally from North Narrabean in Sydney, where I made surfboards and repaired them, starting “Surf Craft Repairs” in 1978.
During the ’70s and ’80s I glassed surfboards for my brother, Bryan Newton, and other shapers on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.
I also a short stint at “Morning Star Surfboards” at Mona Vale in ‘79.
During the later 1980s, I spent time at “Bennett Surfboards” and “Shane Surfboards” with Shane Steadman and Rod Hocker, developing the epoxy systems some manufacturers are using today.
Where did you learn how to work with surfboards, resin and foam?
I am self taught – knowing there has to be better ways … finding new ways to do things.
However, watching others in manufacturing in the industry (covertly), had a lot to do with it.
I learnt from some of the best: Col Smith, Bryan Newton, Barry Bennett, Shane Steadman, Rod Hocker and others, all legends.
The industry was a lot more close-knit in those days. Although each had their way, many still shared.
How have things changed in the industry?
Those who know have become more protective of their knowledge; in part, because we have seen many in the industry ripped off.
The Australian “Free Trade” arrangements has not benefitted small business in Australia; it has put many out of business. So much for a government that says it prides itself on supporting small business!
The imports from China, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam have damaged the local industry with inferior product (some improvements have been made, but nowhere near enough).
“Entrepreneurs” have thought more about making a buck, than looking after local industries, having taken advantage of the “free trade” – killing many small businesses.
You also do a lot of repairs. Can you briefly describe the range of what comes through the door?
The biggest change in the surfboard industry since the 1970s has been the quality of the workmanship in making a surf craft.
In the early years, surfboards were made to last.
Today, many of the surfboards you buy have a life span of three months (surf hard, you could go through a few surfboards each year).
The products I repair the most are “off the shelf” surfboards, most made overseas.
This includes surfboards, SUPs (Stand Up Paddleboards), and SLSC paddleboards.
Damage? Everything; I fix everything – polyester and epoxy.
What makes a good surfboard?
Simply, a surfboard made to meet local conditions, from local surfers with local knowledge.
e.g. Why buy an $850 surfboard, when a local guy can do it for less than $600?
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to purchase his or her first board?
It is all a “size to weight” ratio.
If you’re small, you don’t need an 8 – 9 foot Malibu.
If you’re big, maybe you do.
However, something around 7 foot.
A foamie is OK for about three months, then you’ll get frustrated.
For a young grom (youngster surfer), no bigger than 6 foot, with some area in the shape.
There are very few shapers left in the local area; why is that?
I have covered that previously … imports, disillusion.
There are a few still holding to the vision: Ron Goddard, Richie West, Dennis Anderson.
What do you love most about surfing on the Coffs Coast?
Mateship sums it up. Much of that has disappeared in Sydney, where I grew up.
Where can people contact you?
Surf Craft Repairs / Jim’s Tradition Backyard Surf Shop / Newton Surfboards.
Ph. 0402 864 062.
4/6 Druitt Court, Coffs Harbour (directly behind “Lifehouse Church”).