Surfboards to Photography (a look into my past with Black Pearl Creations), Part 1

It was the summer of 1991, just a couple of years out of high school, I was attending graphic design school at the time, commuting back and forth to Tampa four nights a week when my three buddies and I discussed this idea. We thought, wouldn't it be cool if we started our own surfboard company? Now, this might not sound crazy to most people, but keep in mind, we were four surfers, living in Central Florida, about two hours from the nearest ocean. We were what you would call “landlocked” for lack of a better term. Plain and simple, we were just “Weekend Warriors” who spent more time in the car driving, just to get to the beach, than actually surfing. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but it sure felt that way most of the time. Already with a direction and career path chosen for myself, building surfboards was certainly not in the plans. We proceeded with our idea, the odds certainly not in our favor. Especially, since none of us had any prior business experience or any idea how to build a foundation for a successful company, let alone a surfboard. We decided, the first thing we should do was come up with a name; that would be simple right? After several ideas were tossed around, my good friend Mike Schemmel (one of the partners in this venture) came up with “Black Pearl”. I think at that moment we all looked at each other and just knew that was it! We now had our name. We had accomplished our first task as a business, and on that day, Black Pearl Creations was born (aka BPC).

Above: Original Founders; Tom White, Mike Schemmel, Stephen Walcott and Mike Curling (Mike Curling not pictured) Bethune Beach, 1992

The next step toward implementing our plan was to actually be able to produce and manufacture a product. Oh yeah! we kind of needed to learn how to build a board to actually be a surfboard manufacturer, don’t ya think? That might help. So, we did a lot of research, made some phone calls and soon hooked up with a shaper named Doug Wright, owner of Rainbow Surfboards in Melbourne Beach, Florida. What a great guy; with 30 years of shaping experience under his belt, not only did he sell us the supplies we needed to build a surfboard but he also took us under his wing and helped us out from time to time, showing us techniques and little tricks. Now Doug was one of a kind; not many shapers would do that. Unlike photography, where everyone, including seasoned professionals, are so willing to help and teach each other tips and tricks, we were learning quickly how cut throat and secretive the surfboard industry can be. No one wanted to give away their secrets or any other information for that matter. Especially to four kids they barely knew. Doug has since moved on from shaping surfboards, to designing and engineering high end composites, molds and 5-axis Milling for offshore racing boats. You can check him out at Doug Wright Designs.

So, now we were set. We had everything needed to build our surfboards. We had our tools, we had our “blanks”, which is what you call the foam the board is shaped from and the resin and cloth to fiberglass the finished shape. There was only one thing we didn’t take into account. Where in the heck were we going to build these things? We decided to rent a couple of small storage units to get us started. Fairly inexpensive, and quite frankly, all we could afford at the time. We needed one unit to shape, airbrush and sand the boards, and the other unit to glass the boards. Next, we decided on what type of board each of us wanted to build. I decided to go with a 6ft shortboard, simply because that’s what I surfed at the time and I felt like I could evaluate it’s performance better once it was time to test it out. Using every bit of knowledge and information Doug from Rainbow surfboards had given us, I proceeded to build my first surfboard, as did the others. After a couple of days went by, I had done it! I shaped my first surfboard. What a feeling of accomplishment. I just wanted to sit and stare at it. I couldn’t believe I had actually shaped a surfboard, but it wasn’t finished. My next task was to airbrush a design which is done right on the foam before it is fiberglassed. Being that I had always been the artist and creative one out of the group, I was soon nominated to airbrush not only mine but everyone else’s boards as well. I went with a simple black rail color. I believe Tom White, my other good friend and partner in this venture, had shaped a longboard so he wanted a crazy looking sun airbrushed on his board. Once all the artwork was complete, it was time to move on to the next step, fiberglassing. I found out quickly that glassing a surfboard was definitely not my strong suit. Mike, on the other hand, seemed to pick it up fairly quick. He just seemed to have a knack for it. So much so, he would soon be named the official laminator of the company. Once the boards were laminated or fiberglassed and the fins were attached, the final step was to then sand the boards down and wait a couple of days for cure time. When you first glass a board, it's soft and has a green tint to it. Once it becomes cured it hardens up and turns clear. Then it's ready to ride. 

Above: Some early photos of our original surfboard factory (Storage units, Winter Haven, FL)

The time had finally come. After a couple of weeks of hard work and determination, it was time to give our surfboards their first test ride. We loaded the boards on the car, so proud of what we had accomplished, and headed out. We were off to Sebastian Inlet to a surf break everyone called "Spanish House". When we got there, we couldn’t get the boards off the car fast enough. Quickly running through the wooded trail to get to the beach, we were soon in the water. Ahhhhh!, By the way, we weren’t only running from excitement but you kind of had to move quickly through the trail because the mosquitos were the size of small birds and would carry you away. Now, I won’t go into detail about our first test run, but let’s just say we had a lot of work ahead of us. Quite a bit of trial and error so to speak.

After a few months had past, our four-man operation had soon turned into three but that didn’t slow us down. We were now building boards for friends and using them as guinea pigs. Hey, what are friends for right? We also started advertising at the mall in the next town over in Lakeland, FL. We would post flyers with our BPC information on it in hopes of gaining some new customers. It was, what I guess you could call a small surf shop and about the closest thing locally we were going to find at the time. We soon met up with a Lakeland “local” named, Kevin Mileski. He had seen one of our flyers and gave us a call. He wanted to try out one of our boards. We were extremely nervous, excited, scared, you name it. You could say it was all the above, but we were ready for the challenge. He soon officially became our first customer. Yeah, we had built boards for other people but they were all friends. Kevin was our first paying customer. I guess you could say everything worked out because he soon was inquiring about becoming a team rider as well and after checking out his surfing skills, we thought this would be a great opportunity. Another first for Kevin in the Black Pearl Creations history books.

Surfboards to Photography (a look into my past with Black Pearl Creations), Part 2 coming next week.