INT Softboards first grabbed the attention of the surf media and industry a few years back with the release of a 4' 11" softboard dubbed the "Blackball Beater." This squirrelly little ripper, which was conceived and carefully constructed to get around restrictions imposed on summer surfers by Blackball, had those in the know stoked as they invaded what were previously no-fly zones to shred summer swells in spongy delight. Pros and mortal surfers alike were fired up, and with the media and industry turned on as well, INT was out of the gates with tons of momentum. Capitalizing on the boost it received from the Blackball Beater, INT has steadily grown the brand for the past few years. A focus on core distribution, a quality product, and a progressive and innovative design philosophy has resulted in the company enjoying an unprecedented level of credibility within the surf world for a softboard brand, and now INT is truly beginning to blow up.
Walking into INT headquarters in Carlsbad, Calif., it becomes immediately clear that they're in the process of full-on expansion. Saws buzz in the background, electricians tinker with the wiring, and a demo guy diligently piles debris. It's a scene, and would be chaotic, if not for the presence of INT mastermind Louie Hayward, who smoothly cruises the premises injecting guidance to the morning's work, effectively ensuring that nothing in the operation misses a beat. Manufacturing continues unabated in the back as a pair of INT craftsmen grind away on the rails of some fresh product, and computer and invoicing details are dealt with calmly by Hayward, despite the power-tool-supplied noise and nosy reporter in his face. It's obvious he has a lot on his plate at the moment, but judging from his upbeat attitude and friendly demeanor, it seems he wouldn't have it any other way.
Up front in the office, away from the din, Louie explains that the expansion work in the back is part of INT's plan to enlarge their Carlsbad-based warehouse/factory, nearly doubling the square footage of the operation to give them the extra storage and manufacturing space they need. He also clues in that they're currently putting the finishing touches on opening an INT satellite factory in Brazil to address the South American market. Louie is stoked on the project, but is quick to point out that INT will always be based in the U.S. and that all manufacturing guidance will come directly from here. This is because he feels the advantages of basing his brand in California far outstrip any benefits of moving the company headquarters to foreign soil. "Being here keeps us close to the pulse, and I like the control it gives me," he says. "Plus, I like that if I have an idea, I can go in the back right now and build it. I don't have to fly somewhere or try to mock it up on cardboard or something."
Hayward also says that quality control is a key incentive for maintaining a strong domestic manufacturing presence. "Making five bucks more a board by moving to China doesn't equal out to the back-end advantages of staying here. The risks of having a defected, inconsistent and flawed product just aren't worth it to me. Other softboard brands have been through that and it's really tough to recover. You lose the faith of the industry, and ultimately lose the faith of the retailers. Right now, we have the faith of the industry, and retailers and consumers have accepted our product as a surfboard. We've broken down barriers and have come to be viewed as a legitimate board builder, so to hand it over and send it overseas, and then have it possibly fall apart … I just don't want to risk that, it's not worth it. "
Hayward makes a strong case, especially for his brand in particular, because it's clear that a quality product is the basis of INT's credibility. More so than any other softboard brand on the market, INT has focused on creating a board with similar performance characteristics to those found in glass. The rails are hand-shaped, fiberglass stringers add stiffness, and tail designs and rocker characteristics combine to create a softboard that offers the inherent safety of foam, with performance capabilities unheard of in the softboard realm.
For INT, innovation and progression are key components as well. They've just completed testing on a new blank that is compatible with both epoxy and polyester resin, and gives them the option of not only creating their trademark softboards, but now allows them to use glass as well. A new breed of Blackball Beaters, with hard, glassed bottoms and a soft deck are the front line of this new direction, and the rigidity that comes with this innovation has allowed INT to glass Future Fin boxes into the boards. The combination of a hard bottom and real fins gives the half-breed softboards speed and performance capabilities unique to INT.
Performance prowess aside, the glassed-bottomed Beaters have also offered INT the ability to partner up with some major players in the industry to do a little marketing. A new project, conceived by Quiksilver's Bob McKnight, has INT glassing the patterned fabric from Quiksilver and Roxy swimwear lines onto the bottom of the boards, creating in a sense, a rideable advertisement. It's a win-win deal that INT is excited about, and one which further cements the company's ties to the core surf industry. "It's cool," says INT General Manager Bobby Hansen. "Not only are our boards fun to ride and progressive, but now they're marketing tools as well." Similar ventures with Sony Music may be in the future, and an INT-sponsored expression session during the MADA Benzo Surf Classic reflects a well-rounded marketing approach that keeps INT exposure rooted to core brands and traditional arenas.
With a good marketing campaign in place, expansion both domestically and overseas, a strong relationship with retailers and industry stalwarts, and a constant enthusiasm for bringing an ever-better product to the softboard realm, INT seems poised to continue its growth and maintain its position as the most respectable softboard brand on the market, and Hayward should continue to constantly have a full plate.