Jon Laurenson - Vampirate Surfboards

When did you get your first surfboard?
I got a foamie when I was 4, then my first real board when I was 12.

Surfed consistently since then?
Yeah, I didn’t surf for about 10 months when I was about 20 because I was living up in the Whitsundays working. But, besides that pretty consistently.

What is your most memorable session / wave?
Scar reef last year, I was out there with Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, 6-10 foot only him and I out there for a couple of hours, it was absolutely flawless. The first time I went to Hawaii was pretty special too. I remember getting dragged out in big Sunset then getting washed ashore thinking I was going to die. Plus G-land sessions are always good, I’ve gone there every year for 15 years, and growing up in WA I’ve spent a lot of time in Gnarloo which is pretty much the ultimate surfing experience.

What is your go to board?
Since getting involved with Vampirate I’ve started riding shorter wider boards obviously built for speed. At the moment it’s a 6’1 Vampirate Deadsled which is a Hybrid between a short Fish and a performance board. I have about 12 boards in my garage plus about another 6 in Bali and a few in Hawaii. As well as my Vampirate’s I ride a lot of JS’s and a couple of others I’ve picked up along the way like specialty boards for Hawaii.

Do you have a favorite Surf Travel destination?
I went to Scar Reef last year and Panama to the Bocas Del Toro islands which was pretty cool. I really want to spend some more time in Mexico. I’m a bit of a creature of habit though and always end up back at G land.

What kind of education have you had?
I did well at school but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve always worked hard though, I went straight out of school and did a pre-chef apprenticeship. I’ve always been out and about in the mix in terms of working.

What was you first job?
My first jobs were mainly just working in restaurants. But I also worked in a boomerang factory after school where some mates and I made boomerangs and packed them, which was pretty cool.

How did you get into the Surf industry?
It was just a stroke of good luck. I Came up to Sydney looking for work, I rang up a mate of mine John Blake who had just started working with Arnette and asked him if there was any jobs in any surf shops and he told me to come over for an interview as they had an opening in their warehouse. So I drove over to Manly that morning and met with him and Jim Laseritis who owned Arnette here at the time and they gave me a job that I started the next day. I worked my way up and a couple of years later I was their Sales manager.

You’ve had quite a few different jobs in the industry haven’t you?
I was at Arnette for about 5-6 years then a year later I started with Electric and founded them in Australasia who I was with for 9 years until we sold to Volcom. Since then I started the Action Sports ready business, I’ve done more consulting and Marketing work as well as distributing some other brands like Brixton. Plus some other bits and pieces.

Tell us about your time at Arnette and Electric?
At Arnette I started by packing boxes then worked my way up to warehouse manager, then into sales where they used to fly me around the country to help out different rep’s. I guess I was a bit of a natural Sales person so after John left I became the National Sales Manager. There were a couple of years there I looked after Australia, NZ and South East Asia which was a big job. We had some big growth; it was a really fun time to be in the industry. Obviously there was a lot of money around and all of us were under 25 so we had a good time. Arnette got purchased by Bausch and Lomb who ended up selling their eyewear division to Luxotica (owners of Ray Ban, Oakley etc) I went to a couple of early meetings about that but then decided to leave. I wanted to have a year off and do my own thing. While I was travelling that year I was in France and ran into the guys who started Arnette in America Greg Arnette, Kip Arnette and Bruce Beach, who had just come from Italy meeting with Luxottica and were thinking about leaving the company. 2 months later I was in Brazil staying with Luke Stedman just visiting him during a contest and they tracked me down and contacted me with a new idea asking me if I wanted to be their Australian Licensee and that’s basically how Electric started. So I flew home and got hold of Luke Egan and put a little team together, then we got started pretty much straight away in January 2000.

I ran that until January 2009, it was a big time in my life that presented a lot of opportunities and learning curves as well as some wild experiences. Even from the start, I remember at the time the Australian dollar was worth 80 cents US then when our product landed 6 months later from what we purchased the dollar was down to 48 cents US. So our cost price for the product was just about double. All these kind of issues nearly shut us down before we even started, not to mention that those first products were pretty average in terms of what was expected of us. It took about 4 years before we got our feet on the ground and really got things happening to become a force in the Eyewear market. We went from last to first in about a year in 2003.

Can you tell us about Action Sports Ready?
We were trying to set up an online learning and development website trying to teach retail staff about the products they were selling in store. They were all interactive lessons and testing so they’d get a score that we would provide to managers letting them know what they did and didn’t know. The long-term goal was to improve the customer experience by having staff in these stores knowing all they could about specific products and categories they were selling. It was a time when surf retail kind of lacked a bit of substance and those working in stores didn’t really know the ins and outs of products. I think that’s a fair assumption based on the stage it is at now. Training and education can be thanked for that. Unfortunately for us it was bad timing when we launched that site. Retail was under a lot of pressure and there was a lot going on. Our business model probably wasn’t right in terms of running a profitable business.

What about Vampirate?
Yeah, so I’m currently doing some work at Vampirate with Ozzie Wright and Mark Gnech. My role is developing the brand and our products which at this stage are Surfboards and Skateboards plus some t-shirts plus some home wares. It’s going well but hard to get retailers to stock it in Australia at this stage. We’re getting a lot more international interest, which we’re going to target a bit more next year. We even had an enquiry from Urban Outfitters last week.

What is your favourite working experience?
Definitely Electric. We worked hard, had a lot of good times and faced some really rewarding challenges, which was great. I tend to gravitate more towards the Marketing type things, that’s my forte. I love branding and it seems to be my natural habitat when I’m out there having fun in the field.

Where can we find you online? 

Web vampiratesurfboards.com
Tumblr vampiratesurfboards.tumblr.com
LinkedIn au.linkedin.com/pub/jon-laurenson/40/7a1/8b2

Posted by: Troy Roennfeldt, on September 10, 2013
Categories: Interviews

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