Originally published in the Raglan Chronicle's Local Rag on 9 May 2022
Words by Ruby Gibbs
Raglan Surf Co has been an iconic part of the culture and personality of Whaingaroa since it opened in 1992. Craig and Liz Hughes opened the shop at the original location on Wainui Road and when Craig passed away in 2013, their son Luke took over the business. In 2017 they moved to their current location in the historic Vinnies building. Luke and I sat down in the boardroom to have a chat about the legacy of Raglan Surf Co and what the future looks like for them.
Hi Luke, how are you feeling about Raglan Surf Co’s 30th Birthday?
You know, it’s kinda funny, I never thought of business as a succession, I just grew up in the foundations of this business. I look back 30 years, to 1992 when we first took over properly from Matt Holl. I look back on the photos that we have of the business back then, the shop, the boards and I remember that so clearly. For me to then fast forward the clock 30 years to now, a lot has happened! But I guess if I was to summarise in one word, I would say I’m proud.
The Hughes’ family and the shop have been a huge part of my life and to me Surf Co represents this community and family spirit. So much has changed in 30 years but I don’t think that has. How do you nurture that vibe?
Well, our building houses so much history for this community that it’s quite ironic that we have ended up here of all places. The fact that I grew up in Whale Bay with Rhonda and Colin’s kids who were running Vinnies here at the time and through the 90s and 00s, Surf Co and Vinnies were iconic in the community and existed side by side for years.
There was a really cool rapport going on, the number of surfers that would come to town and get their food at Vinnies then come into the shop. It’s crazy to look at it now, that we’ve ended up investing in that building and it’s now the foundation of our future and my kids are growing up here. There is a big whanau community involvement that is present and that is a pretty important motivator to our business.
Obviously you still have to be business minded and financially aware, you have to be present in this ever changing environment, which is what we have done for the last 30 years. We appreciate this community and the people that live here. I think it’s why we have had so much support because people see that it’s a big part of who we are. Our family has also done our best to try and support other businesses and people in our community, whether that’s through the Point Boardriders or the school.
Speaking of rolling with the punches, how has running a business through Covid been for you?
Well, I look back on things I’ve been through and some of those earlier challenges, like losing dad and having to make the choice about taking over the business, that’s taught me a lot of lessons and given me the skills to problem solve and be versatile and you’ve just got a bit of grit there. It’s all about perspective. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been easy, it was pretty stressful.
I have a lot of people that I value that I can gain sound advice from. In that uncharted territory, I wasn’t in control of a lot of parts, so I looked at my strengths and what I could control. A huge component of that was honing in on our specialty; surf gear and our Raglan brand. I worked on my strengths rather than trying to compete against the circumstances.
You took over the board manufacturing after Craig died, how have you navigated through that side of the business?
Taking on the responsibility of the store was one thing but to take over the board manufacturing, that was a job in itself and that came with a lot of pressure. Dad had built up this reputation of over four decades of being in the industry and he had one of the most progressive and well respected surfboard shaping factories in the country. When he got sick, he said he felt his factory was the best it had ever been. At that time, he was making the boards and I was helping him further develop the customer service online presence.
I had learnt a lot about board concepts and design from being in the store but also through my competitive surfing career. I was in this position to learn about the boards through that realm, so when dad’s condition worsened, we had an operating factory and we had to figure out a way to keep the boards turning over.
I decided to take on that responsibility and it was pretty stressful. At the time, dad was world renowned for his skill and calibre and there were times there when it all felt pretty heavy. Not just to take on the business, but the pressure to take on your father’s name, in craft. Fast forward to now and here we are, upstairs in the boardroom, it’s kinda cool.
The way I look at it now, when I’m in the shaping bay and I’ve been through this consultation process with the customer, we talk about where their surfing is at, where they aspire to go, what they are currently riding and I take so many more steps to analyse their equipment choice and what will help them improve. That’s what surfing is all about ya know; you’re going out there to have fun, to go sit in the ocean with your mates or by yourself, that’s why it’s so therapeutic.
My responsibility is to help someone enjoy that moment even more, by having the right board under their feet, by allowing them to have a better surf. I’ve used a lot of what I learnt in my upbringing to give me that edge. I never went through an apprenticeship but I’m very lucky that Mark Camenzind and I have a pretty amazing relationship. He and I have worked in conjunction with one another and he’s definitely helped me with my shaping over the years, but so much of it was osmosis as a kid and spending so much time with dad in the shaping bay.
So, how are you feeling looking forward?
So I’ve got some stuff in the pipeline, I’m pretty excited about the new things coming. They are part of my vision that was one of the motivators to take on this business and, without saying too much, create something that’s not just a retail environment. I don’t know if I would have as much enthusiasm about it if I only ran a store that was just products with no culture, no vibe, no authenticity, no uniqueness.
I have the ability, not just within myself but with the story of this business, the history, the position that we have in this community, to give back. The coffee bar for example; that was a concept to bring people in and be something for people outside of surfing. We have so many customers based on the fact that we make an amazing cup of coffee and then it builds this vibe and attraction of that environment.
For me, that’s part of the vision; to create an atmosphere where people can come and associate with our business and my family but not feel pressure to only have a relationship where it’s a retail store and to be a part of it you have to buy something.