Who does Dane call when he needs a fresh quiver for a last-minute trip? Who’s that dude caddying for Slater? Who’s that jet-lagged fellow dragging two massive board bags through the airport while posting to Instagram? Meet Channel Islands’ Travis Lee. He doesn’t make the boards, but he makes sure the best in the business always have a stockpile of weapons at their disposal wherever their next flight takes them. Lee explains what goes into arming the most explosive team in surfing. —Leo Maxam
TRAVIS: I’ve been at Channel Islands for over 20 years. Britt Merrick gave me a shot. I started at the factory and was at the retail store on weekends. Funny story: I actually took Al [Merricks]’s daughter, Heidi, out on a date in high school. I remember being super nervous and Al saying I needed to bring her home by 10 p.m. I swear she was home no later than 8:30 p.m., so that might have played in my favor.
While ad creative, branding, and media/public relations are all aspects of my job, my main focus is providing a bridge between our athletes and the brand. That means keeping the team armed with new quivers for the various waves on the World Tour. The demand placed on equipment by the team is so high now that they go through My favorite thing about my job is being around surfboards all day – that and the great group of people I get to work with around the world. My least favorite thing would have to be telling one of our shapers, after he just put his heart and soul into shaping a board, that it was a lemon. But it goes both ways. Providing positive feedback from a team rider on a magic board is pretty special and definitely outweighs the bad.
Some of our riders like working on their own boards, others like direct interaction with a shaper, and others work with me and/or some combination of the above. Currently, Dane Reynolds is the most hands-on. He shapes a lot of his own stuff and works with CAD [computer-aided design] files to modify different shapes. Kelly has also played a hands-on role in the past, but lately he’s been more theoretical. He’ll call in the middle of the night with new design ideas, wanting to talk hydrodynamics, rocker and bottom contour configurations.
Most of the athletes still travel with two board bags because it’s more cost-effective than shipping. You avoid a lot of customs hassles this way. I do bring backup boards for a few of the top guys in case a situation arises. This can get a bit crazy sometimes. Last year on a night flight to Australia I had a total of 16 boards, a pregnant wife with the flu and a wild 2-year-old boy. That may have been the longest 16-hour flight of my life.
From SURFING’s May 2014 Issue.