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Extreme Success


A hedonist work ethic leads to big bucks for SC entrepreneurial slacker

By Mary Spicuzza

SURF MORE, WORK LESS. It may not be a classic slogan for the Protestant work ethic, but according to Rebecca Herath, marketing communications director for NHS Inc., this purely Santa Cruz mission statement has proven to be the secret of success for this local skateboard- and snowboard-manufacturing prodigy.

NHS--named after its founding fathers Rich Novak, Doug Haut and Jay Shuirman--recently celebrated its 25th anniversary in style. The company, now owned solely by Rich Novak, has decided to skip the traditional 25-year silver and go straight for the gold.

In fact they've already had a taste of it. At last spring's Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, Gian Simmen of Switzerland won a gold medal in the first Olympic snowboarding event while riding an NHS Inc. Santa Cruz snowboard. The proud parent company got the best birthday gift imaginable as staffers watched Simmen, shimmering medal draped around his neck, cradling a Santa Cruz board in his arms.

But then the company is used to surprises. Since NHS' earliest days, it's been a wild and bumpy road to the top.

The year was 1973. Roller disco was yet to make it big, Star Wars was no more than a glint in George Lucas' eye and three young Santa Cruz surfers found that excitement rolled in only with the tides. Novak and his surf buddies dreamed of a lifestyle devoted to surfing in the morning, shaping boards in the afternoon, then paddling out again until nightfall. The result of their wave fetish--Santa Cruz Surfboards.

The scheme would have been perfect if they had made enough money to pay for their Sex Wax.

Luckily for Santa Cruz and the world, NHS found slim profits in the surfboard-manufacturing biz. But the still hopeful entrepreneurs Novak and Shuirman started making skateboards out of their excess fiberglass. With wheels borrowed from the humble old-school roller skate, Santa Cruz Skateboards began selling faster than the dedicated surfers could fashion them.

Twenty-five years and countless innovations later, NHS has parented many boards. Its brand names include Santa Cruz Skateboards, Creature and Sonic Skateboards, Independent and Krux Trucks, Speed Wheels, Santa Cruz Classics, Titus Safety Gear, Santa Cruz Snowboards and Combine Snowboard Clothing. The extreme-sports company continues to be a worldwide innovator as well as a leader in the local scene.

Things haven't always rolled along smoothly for NHS and boarding poobah Novak, however. The skateboarding industry has experienced some heavy-duty down cycles that have sent many competitors spinning into bankruptcy. In spite of two major crashes--one in 1977, the other in the early '90s--and venomous anti-skateboarding ordinances and opposition to skateparks, NHS has managed to stay in front of the skate-rat pack.

"A lot of people have been with the company 10, 15, 20 years," says P.R. specialist and snowboarder Herath, her accent oozing with healthy doses of laid-back California calm. "There is just a love of the company among workers."

She adds that many workers, including company president Bob Denike, are dedicated professional skaters as well. Founder Novak explains that even in NHS's early days, "It wasn't a matter of money. It was a matter of lifestyle."

A trendier company probably would have switched to neon roller blades long before Miami Vice went off the air. But heading into the next century, NHS remains committed to "pushing the company to make the most innovative skateboards and snowboards that are technically possible." Forget jumping on the bandwagon; NHS is cutting its own tracks.

Looks like everyone--from locals who grew up riding Santa Cruz Skateboards to anti-athletes who've seen the infamous Santa Cruz logo cruising all over the world--can rest assured that as long as NHS has anything to say about it, Santa Cruz will continue to be a technological trendsetter excelling in what the our little town practices best--hedonism.

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From the May 21-27, 1998 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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