All words and interviews by Michael Ciaramella

Cover photo by Steve Sherman

Channel Islands are the worst.

Referring to the archipelago, of course. They block Santa Barbara’s famed points from our summertime south swells, ones that would allow us to surf Rincon, Sandspit, and C-Street for the entirety of the year. Instead, we’re forced to wait for winter swells with juuuust enough west in them to wrap into the south-facing breaks of SB. Damn you Channel Islands. The archipelago, of course.

Channel Islands the surfboard brand, I have no beef with you. You’re strong and independent and have the best team in surfing. You’ve got the most brand recognition and the highest sales. You partnered with the best surfer of all time, for over 25 years. You are the pinnacle.

…Right?

Photo: Seth De Roulet

What was once a foregone conclusion is now up for debate. Is Channel Islands still the greatest surfboard manufacturer in the world? Many would say yes, but others might point to a recent series of departures by their most iconic riders as a sign of decline.

I decided to talk to people in the know, like CI team manager Nathaniel Curran, current riders Kanoa Igarashi and Conner Coffin, and recently-ex-riders Rob Machado and Taylor Knox, to get their take on the state of the brand. Because with Kelly, Rob, and T Knox out of the picture, CI loses a big a chunk of its star power.

And what is a surfboard company if not a beacon of hope?

Photo: Steve Sherman

Photo: Steve Sherman

Interview 1: Past Channel Islands members, Rob and Taylor

Surfing: First of all, why did you guys leave?

TK: My shaper for the past 6-7 years, Chris Borst, was the lead designer for CI for a number of years, and he was ready to get his own thing going. He wanted to put all of his work into his own brand, and I chose to go with him because I still wanted his boards. That was most important for me.

RM: I remember when I tried to get Al to make twin fins and single fins he used to laugh at me. He was so focused on moving forward, he didn’t wanna go back. And that forward momentum has helped CI reach the apex of high-performance shortboards, but I think we got to a place where we grew in different directions. That and new opportunities came about for me.

Photo: Steve Sherman

Surfing: How will Channel Islands fare after your departure?

RM: CI is probably still the best high-performance surfboard manufacturer in the world. I think they will continue to stay on that path. There are plenty of talented team riders that they work with now, you know… Conner, Dane. They don’t have much to worry about.

TK: CI is still such a strong company, I don’t see it being affected too much. But then again you never know, losing Kelly made a huge impact right away, so I’m sure they’re gonna feel it, but they’re just gonna have to share the market (laughs). What I’ve seen around here is people reverting back to getting boards from good local shapers as a opposed to going with a big brand. So in that sense, the whole industry is more competitive, and it will be interesting to see where the market gravitates.

Surfing: Any parting thoughts on CI, business or personal?

TK: CI has a lot of pressure to keep releasing and more models. This can be good, because it helps evolve the sport and the brand, but it can also be bad because when you’re in pursuit of “hitting your numbers”, you may have to concede valuable R&D time. You start with one design, and it feels good, but there’s always room for improvement. It took me a good 3-4 months to finish my model, and that was with one of the top 3 surfboards designers in the world.

RM: I got my first CI when I was 15, and I’m like 80 now, so I was with them forever. They were basically family to me. Everyone there -- the guys at the factory, all the way to Al and his whole clan. I’d go up and stay at their house, work on boards and just hang. It wasn’t really a work relationship, it was much more than that. I’ll cherish those times together.

Photo: Jimmicane

Interview 2: Current Channel Islands members, Conner and Kanoa, plus Team Manager Nathaniel

Surfing: Three of Channel Islands’ most prolific surfers have left in the past couple years. What does this mean for the company and the team?

NC: We love those guys obviously – Kelly, Rob, and Taylor – they’re part of our DNA. But with them leaving, we’re in a bit of a tricky time. When Kelly left, he took the current team manager, Travis Lee, along with him, which is why I’m here today. But his move ended up being a good thing for everyone. Since Travis had such a good relationship with the older guys, it allowed me to start working on the newer generation. Now I know what’s going on with the younger guys and I’m able to build the team back up. There are some great prospects that we’re really excited about, along with our well-established guys already on the CT.

CC: It’s always a bummer when good surfers leave the team, but they’re at the latter stages of their careers, so they’re probably just exploring other options and opportunities. CI has so many guys on the team who are pushing the sport, like Dane or whoever, so I don’t think they will lose any credibility from those guys leaving.

KI: At the end of the day, the most important thing is the performance of the boards. CI has great brand recognition, but they also have the boards to back it up. I mean, ADS won a world title on them last year. So while losing those legends is unfortunate, it won’t affect the company because the boards are still of such high quality.

Photo: Steve Sherman

Surfing: Who is your favorite rider to have ever ridden for Channel Islands?

KI: Kelly, for sure.

CC: Either Tom or Dane.

Surfing: What does it mean to you to ride for such a historic brand?

KI: Travis Lee picked me up when I was 11, I remember getting my first two boards and being the happiest kid in the world. I never thought I could get the same boards Kelly rode.

CC: I grew up around their headquarters so I’m probably a little biased, but CI always seemed like the sickest company. The best guys rode for them, and I grew up watching TC ripping all the waves around my home on their boards. As a kid, I wanted nothing more than to ride CIs, and I’m just as stoked now as the day they picked me up.

As a final question, I asked everybody for one word to describe Channel Islands -- the boards, the brand, and all the people involved with it. The answers included iconic, diverse, consistent, passionate, and best.

Which leads me to believe that CI isn’t going anywhere. Just like that damn archipelago.

Photo: Corey Wilson


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