Back in May, Dennis Jarvis, longtime shaper, founder of Spyder Surfboards, and a man very concerned about how imported surfboards are affecting the bottom line of domestic board builders, wandered around the Boardroom surf show in Del Mar wielding a petition.
Jarvis' petition asked a simple question: Do you support imposing a tariff on imported surfboards?
Right now, surfboards, unlike lots of other outdoor sports toys, don't pay import duties, meaning the only additional cost for overseas shapers—where labor costs are a fraction of what they are here— is shipping.
Jarvis told me recently that he didn't expect a ton of interest. "I thought I'd get lots of eye rolls and weird looks," he said. Instead, after one day, he had to print more pages. Jarvis collected hundreds of signatures from concerned board makers.
"We sent a letter to Trump," Jarvis said. "We're trying to get more attention on this issue."
Jarvis' aim is to get import duties slapped on surfboards shipped into the U.S. The way he sees it, it's unfair for companies to make boards overseas where costs are lower, then turn around and sell them in the States for the same price as locally built boards (or sometimes higher), free from import duties.
"I'm a capitalist too," Jarvis said. "I don't hate the guys importing boards because they're making a profit. I just want to level the playing field."
The Trump admin got back to Jarvis, by the way. A generic "thanks for taking interest in our trade policy" letter, but still, who would be surprised if Trump brought up the plight of the domestic board builder on an inevitable swing through cherry red Orange County during the upcoming midterms?
Jarvis’ plan, or hope, really, is that if an import duty is imposed on boards shipped in from overseas, one or two things will happen. Either the price of the board made overseas has to go up to absorb the tariff, or two, the overseas companies' margins shrink to resemble what a shaper makes on a board built in, say, Florida.
Or at least, that's how it seems. Jarvis is still on the ground floor of his fight, a bit unsure of how to proceed or how a tariff would affect costs.
He's also waving his sword at the demons of consignment, a model that allows big boardmakers to flood a surf shop with boards that the shop doesn't have to purchase themselves. But that's a whole separate issue, really.
Jarvis has created a website, American Board Builders, where you can see his call to action and check out the petition.
Jarvis also hopes to start a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to hire a lobbyist, a professional far better trained to bring this issue to Congress.
Jarvis, a busy man lately, was also at least partially involved in the plan to make surfing California's state sport, possibly a way to use as leverage the importance of the board building industry—and the surf industry as a whole—to California's economy.
For a far, far deeper look at the domestic vs. import surfboard market, with takes from both sides of the Pacific, including Mark Price and Hayden Cox, as well as Jarvis and social media gadfly Peter Schroff, check out "A Crossroads for Surfcraft" in our latest issue of SURFER Magazine (August, Vol 59.4) on newsstands this week.
Scott Bass also hosted Jarvis on a recent episode of his podcast, "Spit," well worth a listen.