The eagerly anticipated Michael Ostler Interview.....
This weeks sees us head over to Durban, a wave rich section of the South African coastline that boasts some of the heaviest waves in the world and has produced some of the best Bodyboarders on the planet as well as some sick photographers and some of the hardest straight talking women you will ever come across......
In Michael's own words.
" I'm 28 and I live in Durban, South Africa, which is on the East Coast of SA, i've lived here my entire life and absolutely love it.
I was 10 years old when I picked up my first bodyboard, board Shaper Marc Rossouw and influencer Steve Benson did a presentation on the sport at my school.
I was so stoked on it from day one, I can remember that whole presentation and my mind was blown! I am still close with both of them today, Steve actually married my wife and I, while Marc is the official board shaper for my company,
The Hand Picked Movement.
I was just a frothing grom and had so many heroes growing up, my local heroes were Wes Fischer and Andre Botha.
They were the ones who pushed me, I was fortunate enough to grow up under names like Craig Maree, Sascha Specker, Mark McCarthy and a few more but Dre and Wes were the target of what I wanted to achieve.
Internationally was more simple. The No Friends group, Skippy, Hubbs, Roach and Stewart. The entire cast of NF were undoubtedly my idols with Rawlins, Winny, Ben and Hardy too. I will always be in a position of gratitude for what those guys did and still do both for me and the sport.
In Durban things are all pretty close but I grew up surfing this wave called North Beach, which is a pretty cool beachy, consistent and warm. We had an amazing group of guys surfing here back then so it was always sick to get down to the beach and surf with the guys. Nowdays I reckon I surf Cave Rock more than any other wave, however there are a few hidden treasures around there too that I find myself dabbling in, Come to think of it, I’m actually not really local anywhere anymore hahaha
If I was asked where I would consider my favourite break in SA I would have to say I love Cave Rock when all things are considered. Its incredible and super consistent too. Outside of my home town, there are two places that come to mind, Caves and West Beach, if I had to chose one though, it would be Caves (Koelbaai) in the western Cape.
I couldn’t say i’ve fallen in love with so many places and surf spots anywhere else in the world.
My first real board was a 42 Inch Planet Surf, it was forest Green with a white slick. I rode that board for years!
There were a ton of people in my local crew, too many to mention. I would say locally, I surfed most of my life with Iain Campbell. We grew up together and we pretty much spent our days trying to one up on each other. It was epic because we are both really competitive so we both grew as riders.
I did compete once upon a time, i've won a few South African tours and Titles.
Locally I won the Free Surf World tour as well and I spent a few days in the IBA Tour Rashvest as well as a few APB events. I think the “competing internationally” stage of my life was badly timed from my side. I wasn’t ready mentally to be on the tour and my passion for the sport was affected by this.
I was not inspired at all to raise a trophy or travel to compete.
I was kind of just floating, for me, I wanted to make a career out of this sport and there was no forward progression for not only myself but a lot of people around me too. It bothered me, I hated that even some of the best bodyboarders in the world, worked part time jobs to make ends meet, to me, that is not right.
It frustrated me, it kind of messed my head up a little bit. Like we all knew there was a lack of funds within the sport but I never knew it was that bad. Im generalising of course but bottom line, it affected me.
In my head, even if you were on top of the world you were still scraping by. I wanted to change it, well I wanted to make a change but obviously, I couldn’t do much big because, essentially I am nobody in the grand scheme of things. So I did some research and thats when I decided to take matters into my own hands as much as possible.
I felt the brands here in SA were misguided and unfortunately, we as bodyboarders would “be grateful and accept what we were offered” and that irritated me, the more I looked into it, the more frustrated I got. So I started my own brand to create a movement of like minded people and slowly start changing the sport from the inside out.
I figured that all these businessmen here were making a good living out of the sport of bodyboarding yet the athletes who represent them, suffered. In fact some of the biggest importers in the country, don’t give a CENT back to the sport. Not a single team rider, not a single event sponsor, nothing! However If I make mention of this, I’m viewed in negative light because I’m talking down on bodyboard brands but fuck it, whats the point in keeping quiet when these guys are riding us for free.
I work every single day, for a small part of the industry, I might not have a huge financial gain for riders at this point but we stand behind them completely. If the brand grows, we all grow. Events get bigger, riders pay cheques grow, advertising grows, I treat HandPicked like a mini ecosystem. We are more interested in having people believe in what we are doing.
We are a business, we want to make money and we do make money. Im not embarrassed to say we make money out of bodyboarding, fuck I’m actually proud that we do. Im proud of it because I have a sustainable business and I want to grow that business, and the only way to do so, I need to grow the industry from the inside out. Don’t get me wrong I’m not a mass market millionaire able to change the game, rather I’m a small entity and I’m just doing my part in standing up for my industry and what I believe is missing here in South Africa. So although it may not seem it, I’m coming from a humble approach as I want to do good to our sport but that doesn’t mean you cant stand for what you believe and that is often misconstrued as arrogance. Take it how you must.
I would like to just give Des over at Emerald Surf City a big shout out, thanks for all your support bro....
I will always do my best to support those who share our vision and I support bodyboard brands so long as they put back into our sport.
I would like to share one of my fondest memories from my journey so far when I met Jhubb at Pipe.
That moment was pretty big for me as a youngster, I finally made it to the rock and was sharing the line up with my childhood heroes. Yeah I reckon thats my favorite memory, it was just extremely symbolic to me.
I’m in the shaping bay every day, watching, discussing orders and learning but most of my time is spent on the computer or in the water.
HandPicked is not only a brand, we are a manufacturer too which is pretty rare nowadays. We have a world class shaper Marc Rossouw shaping our boards. He shapes incredible boards and I’m proud to have him on board the Movement.
So its interesting to watch the wizard create art! Other than Emerald Bodyboard Store, we don’t stock any retailers and we focus our energy on Building customs from our online store. We also distribute Limited Edition Fins and leashes from our store as well which is exposing South Africa to some more brand options. So from a day to day basis, thats pretty much how it unfolds. We also focus on rider interaction, put some time back with the team.
Often we sit and discuss options, plan trips, targets etc which is really cool. We have a first hand opportunity to shape the champions of tomorrow. Infact Liam Kavanagh has just won his first South African Title and watching his progression has been incredible. Its an honour working hand in hand with these guys, they have that passion I had when I was their age and we try our best to keep that flame alive! We are developing the champions of tomorrow and we owe it to them.
I'm not a pro rider as my source of income is through the business, I'd like to say I was pro once but I was delusional. Just because you’re getting paid, doesn’t make you a pro rider. My priority is to grow HandPicked.
Every day has new challenges and although we are a business, we are working toward something meaningful which is epic! I feel I’m moving in the right direction and I’m not going to let anything get in the way of it. So if I have offended anyone in anyway whilst writing this, good. You’re probably the reason the SA industry is where it is and we are here to try and change that.
Im not treating the sport like a charity, that's degrading for everybody involved. We are giving back because we want the industry to grow, so we can grow. Hand Picked is a business and we are proud of that fact.