Let’s be honest. If you picked 100 people and asked them to name ten things that are manufactured in Northern Ireland you can be pretty sure that by the end of it you could count on one hand the number of times someone answered ‘surfboards’.
As unlikely as that seems, that’s exactly what a pair of brothers from the north coast are up to.
Brothers Chris and Ricky Martin decided that after years of using poor quality rental surf boards that they could do better.
Ricky: “I have a surf school in Portush called ‘Alive’. For years we were having the same problem of boards falling apart each year and having to constantly buy new ones. So, I spoke to some surf schools in different parts of the world and found they were all having the same problem.”
As well as looking after the Sales and Marketing side of things for Skunkworks, Ricky runs a surf school in Portrush while brother Chris is head of product development – the science behind the new boards.
Like almost all of the Skunkworks team have spent time living in other parts of the world before returning to the Causeway Coast. Chris lived in Glasgow making t–shirts before spending three years living in Amsterdam while Ricky enjoyed five sunny years surfing the Sydney coastline in Australia but neither have regrets about returning to NI.
Ricky: “I loved coming home. Everyone’s so friendly. We basically have everything we had in Sydney in Portrush without the weather… only we also don’t have sharks, we don’t have jelly fish, we don’t have spiders. We wouldn’t even consider moving back to Sydney.
“From a business point of view, it’s great. People actually go out of their way to help make our lives better. They’re so supportive of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s just blown us away really!”
Now they’re both happily back in the surroundings they grew up in and have recently opened a 15,500 sq feet eco–friendly surfboard factory.
Chris: “The other killer advantage is the factory is located inside the harbour which sits on the bank of the river Bann. We can actually arrive to work on a paddleboard and at the end of the day we can paddle down to the river mouth and surf the wave there.”
Not a bad commute to work!
Now their boards are currently being exported all over Europe, with enquiries from even further afield.
Ricky: “Our first run of production just got sent to surf schools in France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, Norway, Ireland and the UK. We’re giving out quotes at the minute to Uruguay, Costa Rica, California Australia, South Africa, the Maldives, Sri Lanka. All over the world!
“The feedback we’ve had from our customers so far has been amazing.”
To take a product from idea into production and export takes time as well as plenty of help and support along the way, as Ricky admits:
Ricky: “We wouldn’t be here without the likes of Catalyst Inc, Belfast Met, Queen’s University, Invest Northern Ireland, Northern Ireland Polymer Association…without these guys we just wouldn’t exist.”
With this support, the brothers have been able to manufacture boards in Northern Ireland, in a highly eco–friendly way using materials sourced only from the UK and Ireland, something that’s important to them.
Chris: “I want to show the people of the U.K, Ireland and Europe that we can manufacture products here and make money doing it. I want to encourage other people to bring manufacturing back and stop getting everything made in the Far East.”
The Skunkworks Co team aren’t resting on their laurels either. They’re continuing to innovate and continuing to push things forward – coming up with ideas for products to manufacture in Northern Ireland.
Ricky: ”We’re working with a design company in Belfast to make the world’s strongest leash (the bit that keeps you connected to the surfboard). We’re also looking at making outdoor beanbags and the world’s most indestructible flip–flop… and we’ll definitely be doing those in Northern Ireland.”
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