Our first surfing spotlight features Nick Halleran of Make And Ride Surf Exchange in Virginia Beach, Va. Make And Ride offers instructor led surfboard shaping sessions, allowing you to bring your surfboard visions to life.
Nick's passion for riding the proper equipment for your local waves helps to create boards with a unique feel. Boards that will help you up your wave count, which is what every 9-5er wants.
MAR has standard store hours, but Nick is conscious of the working man/woman and can accommodate lessons to fit your schedule. If shaping a board isn't your thing, he'll work with you to develop and shape a custom surfboard.
MAR prides itself on its friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Tim and Ryan have personally shaped 3 boards with MAR and can vouch for the experience. All 3 boards have made their way to the top of their quivers. Enjoy learning more about MAR and be sure to check them out at @marsurfexchange.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and Make and Ride:
I grew up in western New York, near Buffalo, so not much (...any) surf to be had. I’d always been drawn to the beach and interested in surfing, so I moved to VB when I was 19 to start exploring that while working other jobs and finishing up school. I’m now 28, married, and working and surfing are my only hobbies :).
The vision for MAR is to help strengthen our local surf community and culture by providing surfers the experience of building their own boards. Every community is made of authentic individual relationships and we’ve found that building boards together (and the inherent vulnerability in that process) is a great tool to work with towards that cause.
We also have a small showroom where we sell stock boards designed specifically for our local waves, make a bunch of custom orders, and do countless ding repairs-- anything we can do to help more people get the most out of the local conditions.
What led to the start of MAR?
After building and repairing my first few boards in 2012-2013, I was hooked and determined to find a place for myself in the surfboard world.
I did the thing that surf movies and culture say you’re “supposed to” do and tried to find a local board builder willing to take me on as an apprentice or employee, but was repeatedly met with closed doors.
That left no other option but to start something myself, but in my search for an employer I realized that it wasn’t just me that was getting “no’s”-- there were no young guys or gals learning the art of board building and that meant that if someone didn’t start teaching them we would have no next generation of true hand-shapers.
It obviously took me a few years to learn myself -- and I’m still learning every day… haha -- before I’d really be in the right position to teach, but I saw an opportunity to do something unique that might have a deeper impact on our community than just building boards and working with people face-to-face suits me personally much better than just being alone in a shaping bay all day.
What keeps you chasing these experiences and your mission?
There’s certainly an internal motivation to find success in such a strange new way, but mostly it’s the people that keep a smile on my face. I always remind myself and my team that we aren’t just making or fixing surfboards, we’re doing the behind the scenes work so that someone can get the wave of their life. Our legacy will be the stories that old men tell about the barrel they got on their favorite board back in the day, whether they’re kind enough to mention us or not, haha.
Seeing the look of pure joy and disbelief on someone’s face when they pick up a beautiful board they’ve built themselves and getting that “Dude, it works so good!” text is a magical feeling.
We also hear and see the deeper appreciation of surfing, surfboards, and all board-builders after someone’s been through a DIY Experience with us and that’s a huge motivator too.
It may not be a world-changing concept, but that small shift in an individual is a small victory and I trust that enough small victories can help the world be a little better.
What makes your home such a unique area to do what you do?
I often get asked this question with a much more negative connotation...haha. Virginia Beach certainly isn’t known for its huge amazing waves and because of that some people find it strange to build boards here.
I see our finicky conditions as a huge opportunity to hone my craft in a different way. Waves here are typically small and fun to longboard, but we also see head-high barreling waves on occasion and everything in between.
That combined with the fact that most surfers here aren’t surfing every day means that I have to be able to build virtually all types of boards for all types of surfers. Rather than making the same 5’10” thruster for some perfect wave ten times per day, I rarely build the same board twice and the process of understanding the needs of the surfer allows me to have a more personal connection with them and the board I build for or with them.
VB is also unique in that there are many days where surfing just isn’t an option due to the conditions. That leaves surf-addicts with time where they can’t scratch the surfing itch and there’s no better way to do that out of the water than by building a board for the next swell.
What challenges do you face turning a passion into an occupation? How do you find time to do what you love and keep everything fresh?
Ever heard the saying “the shoemaker never has any shoes”? Most of my boards are dinged and I don’t get to make myself half as many boards as I’d like to haha. It’s definitely a challenge to balance work and play, especially in an industry that’s known for its low margins and a business model that’s new within that industry.
With that said, I consider myself incredibly lucky to be able to do something I love for work. Most mornings it’s incredibly easy to get out of bed and go to the shop because I know that the work I’m going to do will make someone’s life better and the team I get to work with makes my life better too.
I’m learning to get better at managing my time--making sure that I’m efficient at work, not over-extending my commitments outside of work, and refining my social engagements so that my family and good friends get the best of me.
Waking up early to surf and staying up late to finish paper/computer-work helps me stay ahead, but I’m working on refining our processes and building our team at the shop properly so that I don’t have to keep that up forever.
What advice can you give to someone who is struggling to find the “right” board?
GO TALK TO A SHAPER WHO LIVES AND SURFS WHERE YOU SURF! And don’t just talk to him and then order a board from a huge label telling them what you think he told you (insert face-palm emoji).
No well-known logo can replace the personal knowledge and relationship of having a board built specifically for you by someone who knows the waves you surf and who takes the time to understand your needs. If you’re in the mid Atlantic and reading this, I happily volunteer myself to be your shaper, but the fact is this; if you’re surfing anywhere else, I’m not your best option.
Find someone local, be clear and honest about your needs, and trust their experience. This is especially true for folks who don’t live at world-class surf-spots; big-name brands build their boards for big-name spots. If you want something that works at home, go to someone who understands your home.
What’s on the horizon for MAR? Any big plans for the future?
Who knows?! We have big visions to create more opportunities for our community to engage with and enjoy the art of board building. I’m interested in diversifying the ways that we can invite our community to do that, but first we have to catch up with the fires that are already burning!
We’re doing more DIY Experiences, custom orders, and ding-repairs than ever. We’re planning to start our second space expansion in less than a year within the next couple weeks to help facilitate that and we’re growing the team to help us keep up with the workload.
We’ve got lots of ideas for our next steps in growth, but we’re trying to be smart about staying true to our vision and providing for our community in the ways that best serve them. If I keep typing I might spoil a big surprise, so I’m going to shut up ;)
How can people find you, and stay connected?
Come say hi! We’re at 617 Jack Rabbit Rd in Virginia Beach M-F 9-5:30 and Sat 9-1. The best way to see what we’re about is to see (and smell) it for yourself! Marsurfexchange.com, @marsurfexchange on everything, firstname.lastname@example.org
Interested in hearing more about Make And Ride?