For 32 years, pioneering Victoria Skimboards has ridden the wave of success and will continue to lead the charge as long as there are skimboarders who love the sport as much as they do.
By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Raised by a mother who learned to surf under the tutelage of legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku, it’s no surprise that Tex Haines became an avid wave rider himself. But for Tex, the call of the water was so strong he turned his love of the ocean into his life’s path. Along with co-founder Peter Prietto, Tex opened Victoria Skimboards on Laguna Canyon Road in 1976. When Peter left the company in the early 1980s, Tex continued, solo.
The Early Years
Tex grew up skimboarding and surfing the waters of Laguna Beach during the 1960s, most notably Victoria Beach, from which the company gets its moniker.
By the time Tex came into the sport, the round, plywood boards popularized in Laguna in the ’30s had evolved into elongated wooden boards. “You now had basically two parallel rails which allowed you to turn; before you couldn’t,” Tex explains. “We also rode the boards into the shore break, which was quite different than before.”
As kids and teenagers, Tex and Peter talked about one day making boards. That day finally came after Tex’s graduation from Stanford University in 1974. After earning a bachelor’s in biology, he decided against a veterinary career in favor of following his childhood dream. In 1975, Tex and Peter made their first wood boards, officially opening the company at 2535 Laguna Canyon Road in 1976. “We were off and running, or walking, as the case may be,” Tex remembers. Victoria moved to its present location in 1984.
Victoria’s first boards were completely flat and made of wood. These flat boards could travel far and fast, but making the transition from sand to water could be challenging. In the first half year of operations, they sold 50 boards.
A couple of years later, the company learned “how to bend wood very inexpensively without using heat or steam,” says Tex, a discovery that eventually led to wooden boards with “rocker” at the bottom. Rocker refers to the amount of curvature in the board from nose to tail; according to Tex, it’s the key to a well-functioning board.
“You have to have just enough kick in the nose to get over the transition where the water hits the sand, but too much will slow you down,” Tex explains. “A flatter board goes faster. It is a very fine balance between having just enough rocker, which adds stability, and having it be relatively flat so you can go far. For skimboarders, it’s all about going big distances without slowing down and sinking.”
In 1980, Victoria introduced the first foam core skimboards. Foam allowed boards to be as much as 30 percent larger without adding weight. “That kind of size increase meant you went much farther across the water,” Tex says. “Where with a wooden board you were really lucky to get two barrel rides in a session, with the foam board you could get to the waves early and have countless barrel rides.”
Two years later, in 1982, Tex spoke with Laguna Beach’s chief lifeguard Dean Westgaard at Tex’s wedding to wife Lynn. “Dean said, ‘I wasn’t so sure about you guys at first, but you guys are going to do fine,’” Tex remembers. “Dean was larger than life. That was one of those moments when you realize that your older generation thinks you’ll make it. It was really empowering.”
In 1990, Victoria faced an important turning point when the company implemented a vacuum-bagging process. Borrowed from a local car-racing team that also produced small numbers of skimboards and had tried the process on both car fenders and boards, Victoria took the process and refined it. Vacuum bagging involves putting the board under vacuum pressure, which refines the shape and lightness of the boards, and allows for more consistency of the all-important rocker.
“When we glassed by hand, it was like watching a pizza dry,” Tex says. “It twists, turns and bends all over. We’d end up with one of 10 boards with decent rocker on the bottom. When we started vacuum bagging we were more consistent. It was a big
In addition to technological advances to the boards themselves, the company has cemented its place as the dominant name in skimboards in other ways. In its first year of operation, it introduced the Victoria Skimboards World Championships of Skimboarding. Now in its 32nd year, the contest, open to pros and to the most qualified amateurs by invitation only, takes place at Aliso Beach Park each July.
“We are the biggest contest on the circuit and have the most international draw,” says Trigg Garner, Victoria’s general manager, who grew up skimboarding in his hometown Laguna. “We are worth the most points to the riders on the professional tour.”
Victoria pro team rider Bill Bryan, who Trigg refers to as the “Michael Jordan of skimming” has won the invitational 13 times. Victoria’s team of riders numbers nearly 50, with the focus on a core group of 12 to 15 professionals and amateurs; rounding out the team are international and flatland riders. (Flatland riders skimboard in shallow inland waters.) The riders serve as ambassadors for the sport and the company.
“We’ve tried hard to avoid a counter-culture image,” Tex comments. “With every team rider who comes to me I say, ‘You are a great rider, but your character is 50 percent of why you are here. You’ve got to be a good role model, get good grades and stay in school.’ Also, we advocate obeying the lifeguards’ wishes, respecting other people’s use of the beach, picking up trash.”
Team riders also perform new design tests, which are an integral part of the company’s research and development, says Trigg. “We don’t tell them much about the board we want tested, we just say, ‘Take it and give us your feedback.’ It really helps us refine our product.”
Today, Victoria makes approximately 16,000 boards a year, the majority of which are produced in San Clemente’s so-called “surf ghetto,” where nearly a dozen board manufacturers operate. Victoria also manufacturers boards overseas.
The company offers boards for beginners through advanced riders as well as custom boards. “We are still a custom shop,” Trigg says. “You can call up and get anything you want from us.”
Victoria boards can be purchased at retailers all over the United States. And its overseas reach is growing. Approximately 25 percent of Victoria’s products are now sold in Chile, France, Australia, Japan, Portugal and other countries.
“We may be a small industry, in relation to, say, the surf industry,” Trigg says. “We’ve been around 30-plus years, but over the past three to five years I would say we are one of the fastest growing water and action sports. We’ve seen the sport ramp up with more manufacturers—meaning more competition for us—more riders, more skimboards on all the beaches and more retail locations looking for the product,” he continues. “Victoria has always led the charge, and we’re going to continue to lead the charge and set the trends.”
“This is traditionally a very low profit gig,” Tex adds. “Though we see a boom coming with inland skimming, skimming behind boats and other things, we’re in it for the love of the sport.”
Get Your Board On
If you’re looking to get out on the water with a board by Victoria Skimboards, here are the shops that carry this local brand in town.
294 Forest Ave.; 949-497-3304; hobiesurfshop.com
Thalia Street Surf Shop
915 S. Coast Hwy.; 949-497-3292; thaliasurf.com
Victoria Skimboards Factory Outlet
2955 Laguna Canyon Road, Ste. 1; 949-494-0059; ocean.victoriaskimboards.com
On the 2008 article: Practically synonymous with Laguna Beach, Victoria Skimboards launched back in 1976 when longtime skimboarders Tex Haines and Peter Prietto decided to start making and selling their own boards and became the leading brand in the sport for decades. In this story, we learn how Haines turned his love of the ocean into his life’s path.