The world of skimboarding is one that can seem distant, even for many Outer Banks locals. Often regarded as the red-headed stepchild of surfing, the fast-paced, ankle-bruising sport is not only distant in culture, but also somewhat in location.-Daniel Barlow
Skimboarding dates back to circa-1920s Laguna Beach, but it wasn’t until the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that it began to gain traction. Since then, the industry has been largely dominated by three board-manufacturing giants—Victoria, Zap, and Exile, the latter coming along in the late ‘90s. Two of those giants are based in California, where they were founded, while Zap maintains its headquarters in Florida.
In recent years, however, one local glasser has been working to build a home for the skim industry here, on the Outer Banks.
Long-time Buxton local Curtis Cromwell is the owner and founder of Shortbus Skimboards, the only local skimboard manufacturer on the Outer Banks. In fact, it’s the only one in North Carolina.
Like many inventors, Cromwell found his talent in crafting sort of by accident.
“I started with glassing surfboards,” Cromwell said. “I was working at Natural Art Surf Shop with Scott Busbey, when a guy who works with me now, Neil Toslon, came to me and wanted me to repair one of his skimboards. More and more skimboards started showing up for repairs and I thought, ‘These are really poorly made—there has to be a better way to build them.’”
From its humble beginnings in an 8’ x 24’ travel trailer, Shortbus catered to a small, local market. From 2007 to 2009 Cromwell sold a total of, “maybe 50 boards”. Today, Shortbus not only sells roughly 200 boards per year, but also features several models and hosts a sponsored team.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Cromwell said. “I started it thinking, ‘I’ll just build one or two, and see what happens.’ When I decided to turn it into a name, I posted on Skim Online that Shortbus Skimboards was going to be starting up, and I got about 3,000 negative hits within 24 hours.”
All of that negative publicity may not have been such a bad thing, according to Cromwell, because within a few days, Shortbus started getting orders simply because of the name and the hype from that forum.
“To be honest, it was the best thing Shortbus could have done,” he said.
Shortbus couldn’t have taken off at a better time, according to Cromwell. As the sport continues to gain notoriety in the US and the world over, the industry is becoming more organized. It’s increasingly common for children to become sponsored riders, which in turn is getting more parents involved, creating expansion attracting the public eye. Where there used to be isolated cliques of boarders, you see a noticeable community forming.
“I have seen it grow since I started the business—it’s evolved and become more organized,” Cromwell said. “It’s a lot of what made me want to pursue the industry. It’s exciting to be on the ground floor of it, and see it happening.”
After achieving local success in its first few years, Shortbus was able to upgrade its facilities from the cozy travel trailer to a slightly larger room in Cromwell’s home, and eventually to a more suitable workshop in his yard. And while he’s happy with the achievements Shortbus has made already, Cromwell said it can be difficult to compete with the “big three”, especially with a wife and two kids at home.
“When you have money like the other companies have when they get into it, you can become known really quick, where, you know, I’m just building them board-by-board,” he said.
But Shortbus isn’t at a total disadvantage when it comes to squaring up against the competition. Cromwell uses techniques in crafting his boards that are totally unique to Shortbus, from resin injection to vacuum-bagging—techniques that he believes set his products apart from the rest.
Content with a local presence, but longing for more, Cromwell plans to continue growing Shortbus from sea level up. His ultimate goal is to target the international skim market, which is more lucrative than it sounds, with huge followings in Mexico, Brazil, and parts of Europe.
“I’d like to see a big company come out of the Outer Banks, something that hits worldwide,” Cromwell said. “My plan is for Shortbus to be international within five to seven years. I just got off the phone with a guy from Canada, so I’m already getting there.”