David Skedeleski is an inventor. Born and raised in Hawaii with a Polish/Japanese background, he is the mind behind those eye-saving and puncture-preventing nose guards we stick on our surfboards. He’s a surfer with a gift for creating. With no engineering background, he started Surfco Hawaii over 20 years ago and has made a successful business out of keeping people safe. We called David to find out a little more about the business and his inspiration.
Did you start Surfco Hawaii yourself?
Well actually, Eric Arakawa and myself started it in 1986, and we co-invented the original nose guard. We decided to do our own distribution of the product and we needed a business entity, so we formed the name Surfco Hawaii. That winter we gave out nose guards to the surfers on the North Shore because there was an injury caused by a well-known California shaper. He was free surfing and hit a girl in the eye who was swimming, I understand. It caused a real concern for the whole surf industry about liability for surfboard manufacturers with the sharp tips on surfboards. So that was kind of the beginning of why we developed the nose guard: to reduce injuries to surfers.
Over the years, what would you say are the worst injuries you’ve seen resulting from fins and noses that could have been avoided with, say, a nose guard?
You know one, ironically, happened to be one of my employees. He had taken his nose guard off his board and was reconditioning it. He had a new nose guard to put on it, but he went surfing anyway and got speared in the eye. He actually didn’t lose his eyeball but he lost vision and now I think he has about 50 per cent of his vision in his eyes.
As far as fin injuries, my son, Michael, was 14 years old and was surfing on a really small beach break at Bellows Beach Park. He had a chunk of meat cut out of his leg from a fiberglass fin that required over 125 stitches. So that was the beginning of the real motivation to develop the Pro Teck fins. Our theme is not surf safe, it’s “surf smart”. My whole philosophy on developing things is to create unique things that function and aren’t just gimmicks.
What’s your creative process for coming up with new products?
(Laughs) I pray a lot! I think a lot of my ideas are from the Lord, because a lot of times I’m like, “How did I get that idea?” We’ve also been fortunate to have some really good people that get involved in our designs. We’ve got some great manufacturers that help us with the development of our products. One thing I kind of feel strongly about it that all of our stuff is made in the US. Once you kind of understand the process, there are particular steps that you go through in the development, and getting into the market is a little bit easier for us now because we’ve been in it for 20 years now. Our products are in just about every surf shop in the world.
How did you get the funding to start your business?
All through my own personal investments and working with banks. I’m a real fan of the SBA (Small Business Administration). They’re set up by our government to fund companies like us, small little start-up companies, that have ideas. I don’t take on partners. Eric is on his own now. He decided to become an independent shaper well over ten years ago and he’s doing quite well, so it’s basically myself. My wife and I are in the office, so it’s a real ‘mom and pop’. I have a full time bookkeeper, one person in charge of shipping and we have a bunch of college students and some other people that work for us.
—Maggie Scott and John Fowler