Legends of innovation and progression, Mike Brum (MB) and Buzz (B) have worked side by side throughout the years developing and progressing the crafts that we now ride while helping to cultivate the careers of some of the industry’s most influential shapers. The sound of foam cutting, the heat of the laminator, and the smells of molten hot foam is an unforgettable experience. My life since joining the BBR staff has had some amazing experiences but this was one day that I will never forget as long as I live.
B: Where is that board? … There it is … that’s where it all came from. That is the first board that I built in 1988.
MB: How did we get to where we are today?
B: In 1988 my friend that I use to surf with at 18th Street in Cayucos, Ben, came over one Saturday on his bike in a t-shirt and surf trunks. He says to me, “Hey look at this, surfboard manufacturer for sale.” That’s what they were calling it back then. He goes, “What do you think?” I said, “I don’t know call them up man.”
So Ben calls up. It’s this guy over at Biola, and it’s not a surfboard manufacturing business it’s a bodyboarding manufacturing business. He says, “What do you think?” I said well arrange an interview and a tour of the stuff and lets go over there and check it out. This guy made a fucking living making park benches. I was like there is no surfing going on anywhere, what the fuck? He told me, “ Hey come with me.” He had this big factory out in the valley with this warehouse that was probably 20,000 square feet. Over in the corner (of the warehouse) was all this shit, just pushed in with loads of foam. There was this contraption from hell. I should have taken a picture of it. Ridiculous fucking thing!
MB: (As he points) That orange roll. That is probably one of the original rolls.
B: I have probably been dragging that shit around for twenty-five years.
JS: No way?
MB: Yeah, twenty-five years.
B: They had some boards there. They had a BZ Pro-Flyer, and they had a Mach-7. The
BZ Pro-Flyer looked like somebody had taken a shotgun and just blasted the thing. The Mach-7 was cut in half right down the middle. So they were reverse engineering.
These things were horrible. They were asymmetrical. We negotiated and talked to the guy. I couldn’t figure out how to glue these things together? I am looking for glue and the guy says, “There is no glue.” I said, “ Well how in the fuck do you do it?” He says, “You buy the stuff and I’ll tell you. I’ll give you the keys to the Castle.” I was like, “Fuck you man.”
I didn’t want to commit myself to that much stuff at the time, and I didn’t like the equipment they built, nor the process. I could see, and was already thinking about how to do it differently. So we’re walking out of there, and there’s a bag of scraps. I had seen some heat guns, a bunch of them, and thought, what the fuck are those for? I just couldn’t put two and two together. I had no idea. So I said, “Hey can I have some of that scrap? I need it for some packaging, I’m going to send something.” He said, “ Yeah, go ahead. Take it. ”
When we got back home I went out into the garage. At the time I was flying model airplanes and my Monaco shrinking gun was a little hot air gun. I fired it up and I took out some of this scrap material. I thought it has to do something with heat. It has too. I got my little Monaco shrinking gun, put it on there and did a little touchy-feely. I was like what’s going on with that? I wrapped the end around, blew some air in there, touched it together and BINGO! That’s how they do it. It’s just hot air. They weld it together. So then I started thinking about it
I told Ben we don’t need the equipment, we just need the foam. I didn’t know anything about the plastics industry and the economy of scale. He says, “ What should we do?” I said, “ Well, we will make him an offer.” Ben called the guy up and told him seven thousand bucks. He told Ben to fuck off. He called me back and said, “What are you thinking? You don’t know how much work it is to develop all that stuff.” He was all pissed off and insulted. I said, “ Dude, I can make all of that stuff. I have a machine shop, I have fabrication shop. I can do all of that stuff. I don’t need the equipment.” He said, “Well what are you going to do about the material?” I said, “ I think I have some sources.” He said, “I don’t think so. Good luck.” Boom, he hangs the phone up.
Three weeks later I was working on something and the phone rang in the shop next door. I didn’t have a phone in my shop. He comes over and says, “Buzz, that guy Pat Henry is on the line and he wants to talk to you.” I picked the phone up. He says, “Buzz, it’s Pat, get your money, get a truck, and get over here and pick this shit up.” Then he hung the phone up.
I called Ben up and I said, “Fuck dude, he accepted our offer.” Ben was like, “Oh shit, no way?” He was all excited. We rented a twenty foot U-haul and had Ben’s little Ranger 4×4 with a camper shell and went over there. On the way over we stopped for lunch and he asked, “How are we going to do it?” I said, “I don’t know man, I don’t know anything about business other than what I am doing.” He said, “That’s alright. I will do the management and the sales if you build.” We turned to each other, shook hands and that’s how it’s going to go.
I didn’t even want to look at the stuff at first. Eventually, all the guys in the alley where the shop was came over one day. They just started dragging shit out. They got extension cords out and hooked the laminator up. They set it all up and were like okay, well what are you going to do? I was like, “Well, fuck I don’t know.” So we got a blank and just started playing with the equipment and we did it. We ran the laminator and the first board we shot through caught on fire. BOOM!!! Big flames flying everywhere. This was when they were using propane and butane to expand the core. So if there was any residual gas in there, the fucking thing would be on fire.
So we were fiddling around and finally that thing (pointing to the board on the wall) came out after four hours of fucking around with it. Those guys were all fired up. Randy, Jeff, John, the guys from PRW… they all thought it was bitchin. We were making something. Nobody makes anything. These guys all made parts, they sold stuff, but they didn’t make a product. They were asking, “ Where are you going to sell these things?”
I had to change the stuff. I couldn’t handle it. I had to change the nose saw. It was too big, it was taking up too much space in my shop, so I just whacked it off. I made a few more boards and made a run of ten little cheap-o boards with soft bottoms on them. They were okay, I mean they were horrible. Ben took them to Steve at Wave Links. He walked in there and said, “Hey this is our product would you like to buy them?”
B: I had made a stamp in the process, while I was trying to figure out what to call them.
MB: There it is. That’s the original stamp we used.
B: So I just took some pipe and stuff and made this Toobs. T-O-O-B-S!
JS: Hold on I have to take a picture of that.
B: Ben’s wife Annie came up with it. “Two B’s for Buzz and Ben and you guys like to get tubed and you’re always talking about tubes,” she said. We were like, “Yeah well that’s T-U-B-E-S.” She said, “Well it doesn’t matter.” So we called it Toobs. That’s what happened two B’s Buzz and Ben. Ben was fired up, “We got to go at this thing, I know this thing is going to go.” He had a lot of belief and he wasn’t afraid.
We rented a space over here on Quintana Avenue. It was 1100 square feet. We dragged all of the stuff over, tuned it all up, and had a pretty good process. I started building boards. The first thing that happened was we ran out of material. Remember back in the negotiations I told the guy I could get the materials? So I call this company up, called Wilsher Foam. All the guys in the bodyboard industry know about Wilsher Foam because they are the distributer. Like I said, I didn’t understand the economies of scale of the manufacturing business.
A brief side track- when they make that roll of foam there, they make forty of that color. They don’t make one because it doesn’t make any sense to make one. The machine is gigantic. It could fill this whole fucking building up and more. They fire that thing up and the fricking electrical meter on the outside of that building starts spinning like gyroscope. This is an energy intensive, super technical process. So when they do a run they make four to five hundred rolls of foam. It’s the only way they can make it for a price that anyone can afford. Well I didn’t know that.
So I call up Wilsher Foam and I was like, “Yeah we want to buy a couple rolls of foam.” The guy says, “A couple rolls of foam? I remember talking to you. Let me get back to you.” He calls me back and says, “Here is the deal. Twenty roll minimum per color.” I ask, “How much is a roll?” He says, “Four hundred and fifty dollars a roll.” I’m doing the math, we need at least a couple of colors, and then realize we can’t get materials. So I call
Ben and tell him, “We’re fucked. We’re fucked man! I burnt the bridge.” That was part of the money that guy (Pat Henry) was going to sell us the foam connection. Ben tells me to call Pat and just see. So being me, I call him up, and he just starts laughing at me on the other end. He yells at me, “HA! I told you. You fuckers man. You idiots! Alright, I am going to give you the keys to the castle.” He gave me the name of this other guy, G___ P_____. He was the production manager at the foam plant, and he and Pat were in little league baseball together.
I called G___ P___. He’s laughing at me too, and says “Having a little trouble getting some foam are you? Well, you seem like a nice guy, why don’t you and Ben come over and we will have lunch… And bring your truck just in case.” He interviews us, debriefs us, and makes us squirm. Finally he says, “Okay, I’ll sell you guys a couple of rolls.” He sold me that orange roll there, which was horrible, and a black or white roll. The stuff was reject foam. We had to write a check to this guy and the place, which was called Sealed Air. He says to me, “We are just using you guys to fund the Christmas party.” The shit these guys did at this factory was unbelievable. It was pretty classic. We wrote the check, and got the two rolls. We created a relationship, and every time we needed a roll of foam we would call them up. And I mean it when I say, they charged us. It wasn’t $450 a roll, they would make us pay $700 a roll.
JS: Because you weren’t buying it in bulk?
B: Just because we were stupid and they were trying to torture us. They held us hostage for about a year until finally, we started to get some traction. One day Ben says, “Fuck this man, I am going to put Annie’s car up for collateral and we are going to make a real order.”
We called up the guys at Wilsher Foam and said, “ We want to do the real deal.” I can’t remember exactly, I think it was a yellow and a light blue. We got twenty rolls of two colors. It was a lot of money. I’m not sure how, but Ben did it. He made it happen and I just went with it.
We had really good material all of a sudden, but still didn’t have any bottom skin. Pat Caldwell brought me a label off the box. I called up the company and said, “Hey we need some bottom skin.” He said, “Well do you understand the economies of scale?”
I said, “I do, I know, I know. I can’t go there though. Do you have some scraps, or something lying around?” It just so happened that at the time there was a guy up in Stockton, who was building a boogie board for the river. The lady there said, “I have some odd shaped material here from Bob Carlton, and maybe from Jerry (Madrid). I’ll put together a list of their stuff and I will give you a call.”
We sent them the check, a truck shows up, the guy opens the door and the shit just spills out. The pallet had busted open and sheets were shooting out of the back of the truck. Fuck man, all of this really high end, expensive plastic just laying all over the ground, but it was slick skin and there was enough in there to keep going.
I saw Mike Brum on the beach with his Mach-7 and his brother Brian with his BZ. They were Mike Stewart and Ben Severson guys. I showed them one of our boards and Mike said, “Nice nose melt,” holds it, looks at the rocker, doesn’t say anything else, hands it back to me, and walks off. Typical Mike. That’s all he said and just looked at me like ‘who in the fuck is this old geezer guy’.
Well time went on and Ben had hooked up with Heath Erickson, and had signed Mason. They were out there with the product and knew what it needed to be. They were helping me to get it better. I finally locked onto how to keep them flat. With some shit that I got at the appliance store, I finally had this laminator that worked pretty good. From there everything just kept evolving and we kept modifying it to where it is now.
The process evolved but the purchasing was a huge thing. The core became an issue. We found a foam fabricator in Hayward that did foam packaging. They sold us some Dow which went for a long time. Then the Arcel thing became a big rage. A lot of the history and evolution of the product is related to the availability of the material. The product itself comes back to economies of scale once again.
JS: I know just from working construction that this stuff was used on pop-outs on the new fabricated houses.
B: Absolutely. This has big usage in the construction industry. So it was really easy to get the stuff at the time. Now, because of the economy, this stuff is unavailable. If we had it we would be building boards with it, right?
MB: For sure.
B: But remember the economies of scale. The machine that makes this shit is twice as big and turn this rig on the manufacturers need volume. They need committed volume and all of this economic stuff and makes them feel really secure when they turn on this machine they are making money. This thing right here is pure oil. That’s all that is man. That comes from all of the ethers in the cracking column down there in refinery in Dallas Texas. They take that oil, put in there, heat up to 800-1000 degrees right and fractions off. All of the different liquids and fractions of petroleum, the long chain poly-hydro-carbons, they all settle at different levels in that column. Well of the ethers, polyethylene, polypropylene, and the whole group of thermoplastics come off about halfway up that column. I am not shitting you. There is a pipe, this thing just goes next door and that’s where they make all of the plastics. The guys over there take that ether and turn it into all of these different kinds of plastics and it goes off around the world.
Bodyboarders have no fucking idea how technical that thing is at that level. At our level it’s fairly technical and the process continues to improve itself. The craft in it is the higher art. What Mike does is the higher art. What I’ve done is just this. The equipment that Mez has in Indonesia is the same shit I built for him. I gave him the keys to the castle. Mez is a good guy. Brian Peterson too.
There is all this dynamic that goes on but this (He points to a blank core) still remains the thing that no one really understands. The way this shit comes and is made is psycho. You should see these places. This is different man. There’s gnarly industrial manufacturing that goes into this product. In surf boards too. I mean building the fiber glass and the resin. The chemical technology in surfboard resin, even though now it’s a lot of epoxy stuff, … Surfrider Foundation totally misdirected. The surfboard is the filthiest fucking hand made product on the planet. It really is. The thing is horrible, and these guys go around on this big mission to save the ocean and crap. It’s like you need to start with your own little vehicle dude.
The cool thing about the bodyboard, and what I always thought was the greatest thing, is that it’s potentially 100% recyclable. Unfortunately, when the technology got pushed out there with the polypropylene, the thing got fucked up. On the original Mach-7, you could take that whole fucking thing, peel the bottom Surlyn off, take that thing and melt it down, then put it right back to the front of the process. You could make lower grade plastic quicker and you could put it back in there. You could use it for containers or some other purpose, and you could turn it around a few times. Make that oil go farther.
Now you look at the surfing industry and it’s kind of misdirected. You don’t have a real job, you don’t have real insecurity like everybody else. You guys live this magical lifestyle, totally sponsored. It’s easy to pick up a passion and have a cause and wave a big banner. Now we got to pay rent, we got to buy food and we got to do what by the way we might not want to do.
Hopefully you will get lucky. I got lucky. I don’t know. I hope Mike (Brum) feels like he got lucky. This is a pretty cool place to work. We might just have nickel more than we need and we are happy with that.
The materials are the true story of the bodyboard. Tom Morey … I remember when we first started Toobs somebody gave me Tom’s number, I think it was Pat Caldwell. I called him up. He says, “Who?’ I said, “It’s Buzz Morasca, I am in Morro Bay California building bodyboards.” He said, “What? How are you building bodyboards in Morro Bay California?” I said, “Yeah, it’s too much of a story to tell you. Can I ask you a few questions?” He said, “Okay.” So I say, “How did you get the idea for the bodyboard?” He goes, “Well, I was working at General Dynamics and there was a big piece of etha-foam in the dumpster and I pulled it out …” I think this is how it goes you’ll have to ask him. Josh you need to talk to him about it.
JS: I guess I need to talk to him.
B: You need to talk to him about it. This is paraphrased and twisted with time but he said “I looked at it and I looked across the parking lot. There was a boat parked over there. I looked at the side of the boat and I looked at the billet of foam and realized that’s how it has to be.” So he took it home, took a butchers knife and plowed parts of it off then took it down to the beach.
Material is a huge part of the story and you would have to talk to 20-30 people to put the pieces of the puzzle together because everybody is going to have a different story and slant on it because of who they know in the industry. The way it came to be. All I know is the problem for this company, since the first day and to this day, is getting the quality materials that the product requires.
(Later on in the day, production gets going. Mike begins to make boards. Mike Brum, Pat, and myself started talking about bodyboarding brands that have come and gone and trends that he has noticed over the years. Mike is a humble man who doesn’t like to talk too much about his impact on the sport, but it goes without saying that many of the great shapers of our time were once an apprentice to him. If you ask any shaper out there who they respect the most, Mike is most likely the first name that comes up. Mike has shaped boards for so many legends I dare not start naming them off, and it goes without saying that innovation in board design in the last twenty five years started at the edge of his blade. This is a bit of our conversation while he continued to shape through the afternoon.
JS: How do you feel about the fact that so many companies got their start and inspiration from Toobs? I guess what I am getting at is the fact that some of the guys, like Mez, got their start here and whether or not they have done good or bad with that knowledge is interesting.
MB: It was like an apprenticeship. They learned this stuff from us and now they are able to go and build something. Now they are off doing their own thing. It’s cool that we got to help them to get there.
JS: Are you bummed at all about what Mez and others and have done with the knowledge that you gave them?
MB: No, not at all. Mez is a good guy. I don’t think he even tried to get where he is now. Things just sort of happened that way. The guys in Australia have a bit of an advantage too. The sport is booming there because they have waves suited for bodyboarding. I think just being there, it just sort of came I guess. Personally, I wouldn’t want to live in Indo like him, but he’s a good guy though and it’s really cool to see what he has done with it. He makes a lot of bodyboards.
JS: I think in a strange way if it wasn’t for that industry, it wouldn’t be …
M: It would be what it is, exactly! I think it goes back to the Morey Boogie days, where you have to have someone driving it. It’s not going to drive itself and Mez is doing what he has to in order to keep things rolling.
JS: It’s also nice to know that he came from here as well.
MB: Well, he didn’t come from Toobs but he came through here and I think that helped him along. Haha. (Mike goes back to shaping)
JS: So I noticed that your tools look very different from other shaper’s tools.
B: Well this right here I made just for Mike. He asked me for something that was completely adjustable for any board.
MB: One size fits all.
B: Some of this stuff I can do because I have a machine shop at my disposal. Mike dreams up solutions and I make it happen. He makes a little sketch, I engineer it and …
MB: Then it shows up. That is the one thing that is cool about our method. We were able to have someone come in with an idea for a board and it was able to go into production in a matter of one day. We could be making it as a stock model (snaps his fingers) just like that. You don’t have to go through all this other bullshit. You could just do it on the fly.
JS: That is amazing
Mike continues to work …
JS: Wow! That is so nice.
MB: It helps when you have done 50,000 of them. There are variations in materials and no two people measure things the same way. If you ask me for 12-21-18 and I make a 12-21-18 and then you measure it, you will see that it isn’t exact. I mean, how could you truly measure the center point without a special tool. You can’t just stick a tape measure up there and say “Yep, it’s exactly that wide.” But, I rarely ever get someone who complains about dimensions. I think if someone buys a board from us, PMA, or JL, they assume that it’s going to be right. Some people specify rail ratios and they will say I want 60/40 and if I make something that comes out at a 55/45 I never hear anybody say ‘Aw man my rail ratio is off.’ That just doesn’t happen. However, some people want different pieces of foam for the tail and nose and I don’t understand why they do that.
Mike continues to work…
JS: I noticed that when you work, you work really fast. Is that a style thing or is there practical reasoning for that?
M: Yeah, it’s completely by design. If you go slow, you have the tendency to walk. If you go quicker and are confident, you get a nice clean straight cut. It is all about the technique and the subtle things you do that have the most importance. You should just float when you are making a cut and then there is no sanding or anything else required. It’s just nice and clean, with no wobbles in it. It comes with time and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years now.
JS: Do you see any correlation between Toobs continued success and social media i.e. Facebook?
P: Oh yeah, because here is so-and-so, doing this at this spot, and instantly you have a little clip of something special.
MB: Sometimes I will take a picture with my phone of me building a board, post it, tag the guy and next thing you know he’s telling his friends ‘look at my board, it’s on the Toobs site’. Then the kid is super stoked. The great thing about social media is that we get to talk directly with our customers. I can talk to 3000 people right now! Like this guy from Hawaii who wrote, ‘a week ago this board was just a concept…now it’s this.’ I made the board and he was freaking out and was super stoked. Stuff like that really means something to me. That guy is our customer and those are the type of people we’re geared towards. That’s where these boards area going. (Mike points to a stack of unfinished boards). Their friends liked the board and now we’re making these boards for them.
P: It’s cool because what guys need in order to be able to perform aren’t always in shops. They have a hard time getting the boards they need from a shop because they are not as specific as what they need for a particular break. Then it’s those guys who go to shops asking for our stuff and then it leads to something like Town and Country (Pat points) which is what that is over there. They just so happened to order boards for the first time in three years. This little grass roots thing is working over here.
MB: Yeah check it out. (Mike shows me the Toobs Facebook page) These guys are taking pictures of their boards and posting it. It’s not just a board to them. It’s something special, because it’s something different; something unique to them. That’s who we want buying our boards… guys who are stoked on what they’re riding and not buying just because we are some label.
JS: They’re stoked because it is theirs.
Pat: It’s like Pete said in your interview with him, “It’s more than you think it is, it’s a craft that someone built.”
MB: He takes pride in his stuff too. He wants people to appreciate the effort he put into building their board. That’s what it is. I don’t want to do that and have some kid going skim boarding on it, haha, which most of them do.
JS: I think as kids get older, I think it’s like when you are waking up in the morning, you start realizing that a board is much more than toy.
MB: Yes. It has value.
JS: Yeah. It’s a bit more special when you collaborate on something with someone.
B: There is a sense of history and feeling of where it came from. You know? It’s cultural, it’s much more than foam.
JS: I think that’s the hard thing right now. People don’t see the art of it yet. I was telling Mike, when he walks around that board it’s like a dance and an art in itself. Kids don’t know that. When they see the thing, it doesn’t correlate. The amount of love and energy that goes into one board is just amazing.
B: I always hoped that the industry would go more that way like in surfboard shaping and the niche markets and shapers. I wished that the whole thing wasn’t controlled by material and giant suppliers.
MB: It has gotten like that in some areas like Portugal and Japan, where there are some shapers who do 10-20 boards a month for their local riders.
B: If material were readily available like surfboard materials then things would be different.
MB: They would have their own niche.
B: If each shaper had their own little demographic and their own little area like Argentina or wherever, there would be some guy who knew the breaks and had the material for those waves. He would have a following and those guys would be out there pushing the limit. They would have their own wave and the boards would be designed for that wave. Then when they had a bodyboard contest there, it would create so many different ideas that there wouldn’t be anymore cookie cutter crap.
We have been generous with what we have here and giving up with hopes that one day it will have a connected history and a culture of craftsmanship in the boards with art and creativity. I think then at the point, more juice will come back. Wouldn’t you love to turn on Fuel TV and see bodyboarding at some serious bodyboarding waves? It’s as spectacular as anything you can show on that fucking network. Don’t you agree?