Interview with Chuy Reyna of Firewire Surfboards
Chuy Reyna is Firewire's head of marketing, a former pro surfer and just an all around nice guy. Chuy has a long history in surfing and the surf industry and we were stoked at the chance to ask him a few questions about his life. Read on to hear more about Chuy's life, the behind-the-scenes makings of Firewire and definitely one of the more unbelievable Kelly Slater stories.
Some people may not know that you were a pro surfer in the 80’s and 90’s, how did you first start surfing?
I was fortunate to grow up near the beach but I really didn’t start surfing until I moved from Carlsbad to Oceanside. Basically there was only a two mile difference from where I lived but one community was a little barrio and the other was a beach community. When I moved from Carlsbad to Oceanside I learned how to surf with my brothers. I was around 5 years old. I got to get in the water really early in life and that’s when my passion took over.
Were they older brothers? Do they still surf?
Yeah I had six older brothers, two of them still do.
What initially got you excited and interested in working with Firewire?
I was a competitive amateur surfer and at an early age I knew I wanted to be a pro surfer-like even in middle school, because I was exposed to sponsorship early on in life and got to meet a lot of pros. Then, as my pro career tapered off in the early 90’s because of the recession, there was maybe only five or six guys that were making a really good living and the rest were just kind of like off to the side.
I was given the the opportunity to work as a sales rep for a snowboarding brand with no experience which was pretty lucky. So I went from an a amateur surfer to a pro surfer to a snowboard sales rep, and then I spent my majority of my life working for Dragon Optical Sunglass company. After 13 years of Dragon Optical, I chose to part ways and start up with Firewire surfboards.
Yeah Dragon had a really good surf team right, with like Mick Fanning and Rob Machado?
Yeah Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Dane Reynolds, Benji Weatherly. Yeah, I had an all star cast.
So you joined Firewire from the ground up right?
Yeah yeah I was one of the first employees, we started it March 2006. I took a trip to Australia and I got to ride the boards and ironically two of my pro sponsors were Peak Wetsuits, and that’s Dugall Walker, who had just started Firewire, so he approached me. In the background I knew that Mark Price was coming on board and he sponsored me all through my high school career at Gotcha Surfboards. So I already had a working experience with two of the main founders. So it was an easy transition to assess, like pretty low risk. We got really good financing, a great management team and obviously, the product was superior to anything that I had experienced.
You guys have had a lot of continued success the past couple of years, was there ever a time where you noticed things were starting to really take off?
Just to give you a snapshot, the early days seemed easy but they weren’t. The reason being is there was another recession that kicked in, the global recession.
Basically it altered our ability to sell X amount of surfboards in the marketplace. We had already committed to multiple factories so we had to consolidate all of our overhead and eliminate the factories in Australia and San Diego and consolidate everything to our factory in Thailand in order to basically not go out of business.
So was this around the time that you offered custom dims on boards? You could change the width and thickness I think?
So that was actually before that because that was an investment we made that surprisingly didn’t have as much traction as we anticipated. We had a licensee agreement for the software to enable anyone to change their dimensions width wise but the problem is that we could not change them lengthwise. The reason being is every single one of our boards that we make, had to have multiple rocker beds meaning that the board is being built inside the male version of the rocker so there was never any distortion.
The boards never set alone on a shaping machine, because it didn’t have a center stringer and without enough integrity it would just bend out of shape. So we had to cradle the boards in the rocker bed, which is the male version of the surfboard.
So the rocker beds are..
It’s another surfboard, you have to build a rocker bed per board. So we weren’t able to bring that on to the equation. But honestly, and I don’t think this is just Firewire but I think the stock board dimensions are really accomodationg every surfer. Like I don’t ride custom boards where as my background was all custom boards. I think the variables in how good stock boards are nowadays are suitable for most pros.
We’ve had a few of our pros compete on stock boards.
Wow, that’s cool. Speaking of boards, the Spitfire has always been popular at the shop, and a few employees psyche on it. Why is it so sick?
Basically, I was a fan of Dan Mann’s Dominator which worked incredible up until about 3 feet. And then I started not necessarily going too fast but I wasn’t able to bury the tail to accommodate proper carving, if that makes sense?
We knew that the board was magic and it had a lot of traction. My idea was just to knife in and do a step in the rail, to give you the ability of knifing a wave without sliding out but also not jeopardizing the thickness of the tail block so when it’s small it still worked.
Recently just watched the Momentum Generation Documentary on HBO and know that you were peripherally around for a lot of that era.
I have one little clip in one of ‘em, but honestly that’s when I had to start working for a living haha. I was 24 years old and needed to get a job.
Any good stories from living on the North Shore in the early 90’s?
Oh yeah, I mean it was a really strong brotherhood. I grew up going to the North Shore since I was 16 years old, staying at the Hill’s house and having all these young groms kinda mature into legitimate warriors like Todd Chesser, Brock Little, Shane Dorian, Ross Williams. We all were in the same strive of trying to make something happen for the Triple crown or make a name for ourselves during the winter. It wasn’t necessarily around photos, it was more about respect. And once you got the respect you were able to get the waves. It was a slower process to get to the pecking order but it was well worth it.
Who was your favorite and least favorite person to surf against in a heat?
My favorite people were probably like Todd Chesser or friends that we were really comfortable talking shit about each other in and out of the water. But we would just heckle each other all the time. But we were very, very courteous, kinda like used gentleman rules. Like if you were next, you were next.
The least favorite guys were the guys who were really tactical and would paddle you up and down the point and basically sacrifice 15-30 minutes chasing you around the water instead of surfing. There was a handful of guys that made careers out of it.
Watching the Pipe Masters this year, I think a lot of us were drooling over Kelly’s RP Tokoros and step-up Dan Manns. Will the public ever get a taste of either of those shape?
What you saw on the Dan Mann board is the FRK stretched out which is Kelly’s new go-to board that is designed by Dan Mann. I think it releases next week and you’ll kinda validate what I’m saying. He rode it at J Bay, at the surf ranch and at Pipe and it’s his go to competitive board. It’s a soft round pin tail and surprisingly it has similar DNA as a Dominator. The Rocker and fin placement are exactly the same. It’s just a great all around board Dan really mastered the rocker and fin placement.
Can you beat Kelly in a round of golf?
I have before, but he has to give me a couple of strokes now. He plays way more than I do. He’s got the Jedi mind trick.
Are there any other shapers out there you guys plan on working with in the near future?
We attract a lot of great designers and shapers because we have a really seamless process to work off of an existing file that we convert into our file. We’re able to take all the variances out of building a board. Meaning that there is no real skill set with the shaping because it’s done on CAD design. We’re the only manufacturer on the marketplace, that I’m aware of that uses over a seven axis shaping machine that allows the machine to tuck the rails on the board. Which is like the hardest thing to do on a shaping machine is to get underneath the board without pulling the board off the rack. By having the boards in rocker beds we’re able to get the shaping tool underneath the rail and basically mimic what the shaper originally had designed.
That’s also how were able to do swallowtails, and channels. All those technical things that take shapers hours to sign off on, we’re able to replicate with all the CAD design and machinery that we use.
That’s pretty impressive.
It really is, like Michel Bourez won multiple contests on John Pyzel’s board without John ever seeing it. Same thing Taj and Kelly, the boards that are coming off the rack are that good?
Does Firewire ever plan on allowing customers to build custom boards with their specific dimensions, tail shapes, etc?
I think that’s the goal we got to get to the crossroad to where we don’t have to make a rocker bed for every single board.
Yeah that makes sense.
I think once we take that out of the equation, which is pretty hard. Cause like mentioned we don’t have center stringers, so the boards bend like crazy before they’re laminated and skinned, dealing with 1lb and 2lb cores there’s not enough integrity to support them while they’re underneath the stress of the shaping machine.
We would have to make multiple rocker beds to support a custom board.
So do you have to create a unique individual rocker bed for every single size of a model?
Every single one.
That’s insane so for the Sci Fi there’s probably like 12 or 13 rocker beds.
Yeah exactly. What’s interesting about the rocker beds is that people have this perception that they’re just there to support the board, but in reality they’re the male version of the bottom of the board. So we’re able to press the rockers. The success with Taj, it had a lot to do with we made his magic board once and were able to reproduce it over and over.
Because the rocker bed was actually implementing all the concaves and contours of the bottom of the board.
And it’s a fixed thing, like once it’s built it’s not going anywhere.
Correct. It has think lamination on it so the foam in the rocker bed is way stronger than the foam we’re putting it up against. So when we go and put the vacuum process on, it’s pressing the contour into the bottom of the board.
You’ve had a diverse career in the surf industry. What is something (a project, role..) you’ve done that people might not know about?
Well I’ve literally approved and disapproved of like thousands of surfboards that we’ve worked on regarding our tech. They’ll build me boards without even telling me what it is and I’ll have to break it down for them.
I have a good track record of letting them know what the ideal flex for a high performance board is.
Woah that’s super interesting. So you’ve been the test pilot for lot of different models and dims.
Totally, I kinda approve what should be a standard flex pattern for X amount of volume. Cause it’s really easy to make a board that’s too soft and it’s really easy to make a board that’s too stiff.
You’re surfing shortboards at a high level and have been for years, do you have any secrets for longevity in surfing?
I actually do. I try to ride as little volume as possible. And what that does is it gives you the ability to kinda get more out of your session. A lot of people like to stay out in the water longer and have a lot more foam but I’m the opposite.
I’d rather be out of the water sooner but my energy level and my cardio is way greater than being out there for two hours. I’ve been surfing since I was 5 and I’m 51 so I’ve been surfing for kind of a long time. With surfers here and all that, I just want to get my waves. I’m totally content getting three great waves instead of 10 average waves.
Low volume is what I tell all my friends, it keeps you young. As long as you have the legs for it, cause that’s where you create energy out of it. I think it’s really healthy. Your boards are so much more precise, if you start you first turn with speed you can pretty much guarantee your last turn is going to be pretty strong.
I don’t go to the Gym, I just play golf and go surf and that’s pretty much it. My surfing gives me my exercise. Every one of my sessions, I’m working harder than the guy next to me but for a reason.
Anything new coming up your excited about from Firewire?
We’re actually working on a new tech that I can’t really share too much about. It’s been in the making for along time but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for a new construction.
We’ve been kinda grinding on it to make it production friendly. I mean, you gotta understand we’ve tried and done so many different things, but at the end of the day if you’re not able to produce a product that’s production friendly and cost effective it’s just going to be a novelty that won’t have any legs and won’t do anyone any good.
Top three Firewire models of all time
The Spitfire, the Cymatic and probably the Hydronaut. It’s hard to do three but the Machado Go Fish is up there.
Seriously thanks again for taking the time to answer these questions..
Yeah no worries is there any more questions you may have, any crazy Kelly stories?
Haha well yeah, definitely if you have any nuts Kelly stories..
Ok this is a story he swears by.
He was in Indonesia, filming for Taylor Steele and he got hurt, like pretty bad. Being Kelly Slater you draw a lot of attention to yourself. He was trying to get a massage and the guy was like “ah no I know another guy” and this guy came over from Java and he had this technique that they swear by. For bruises, circulation, it drains any kind of bruising and goes right to the cartilage.
So they bring in this medicine man from Java to help Kelly out. He got his first diagnosis and he knows his body really well. He’s thinking he’s out of the water for like two plus weeks, a severe strain. I think it was his hamstring or something, he could barely walk.
This crazy, well I’m not going to call him crazy, medicine man comes from Java and he’s one of two people who know this technique. And Kelly doesn't know too much about it but he’s willing to try anything since he’s about to be on a boat trip.
The guy shows up, he has this little electric box that he plugs in and than he steps on it. He’s taking the current from the wall, the electricity into his legs and distributing it out through his hands. He massaged him in the area that he was wounded and literally Kelly could not believe it. It was stinging him and he couldn’t believe it was happening. He went to test it and it was totally live. So this guy was able to absorb electricity out of a freaking wall socket, transfer it from his body, put it through his hands and massage out all these crazy kinks and injuries he had and Kelly was in the water a week later, just absolutely baffled.
Surprised that guy isn’t at the surf ranch.
Hah I know, right?
That’s pretty insane, like super insane.
Yeah I’m listening to this story all “dude, c’mon” and Kelly’s pretty adamant, he’s seen a lot of crazy things in his life and been exposed to a lot of things. He’s all “I couldn’t believe it, I touched the stupid box and it was f*cking fire”.
So never underestimate a medicine man I guess...
Thanks again to Chuy for answering our questions. We're stoked and proud to have carried Firewire's boards since the beginning. Firewire has always pushed the envelope with new materials, constructions and designs and we're excited to see what they do moving forward.