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BOULDER CREEK – When Jerry Jett, 58, is not surfing, he is sketching geometric designs to adorn his handcrafted wooden fins and hoping an improving economy will boost sales at Jett Fin Co., a one-person enterprise he launched in the spring.
“They’re gorgeous,” said Jeff Langston of Haut Surfboards in Santa Cruz who agreed to sell some fins on consignment. “They’re beautifully crafted, designed out of really thin veneer.”
The intricate wooden inlay designs are entirely unique, Jett said, adding that he has a secret new way to design and cut wood for detailed work. “I am not limited by old technology with a computer.”
A starburst or flame design starts as a penciled doodle on tracing paper, one of literally hundreds that Jett draws before settling on his top choices. An out-of-work construction worker, Jett said he is inspired by nature.
He digitizes the sketches and, using a variety of locally grown, different colored woods such as tan oak, fir, madrone, white cedar and maple, he cuts them at the TechShop San Jose, a community workshop that allows members to use specialized machines. But Jett isn’t telling how that process works.
Glen De Witt, principal owner of Rainbow Fin Co. in La Selva, works with Jett, encasing the wooden cores in fiberglass wraps.
Direct competition is sparse, but selling high-end items into a niche market during a recession is no easy feat. Langston said he has yet to sell one.
“They are really beautiful to look at but may be better for a board you can hang on the wall rather than something you would ride on in the water and risk taking chunks out of it,” Langston said. “Most people are going for the lesser expensive stuff in this bad economy.”
Two years in the making, Jett Fin Co. made its debut at the Sacred Craft Expo in March when Jett arrived with business cards and a briefcase of 10-inch wooden longboard fins to pitch his prototypes. Jett couldn’t afford his own booth. He managed to get some fins into stores. Priced at $120, they compete with a market filled with plain fiberglass fins selling for less than half the price.
“You can sell them, De Witt said. “It’s like Jaguars; there aren’t a lot of people buying, but they do sell. And, if you don’t have them, people want them always.”
Jett, who once owned a green house, a retail business and an eBay-based firm selling Japanese maples, said he is slowly filling online and store orders as they come in. Most recently he announced his first international distributor, a surf shop in Australia. He hopes to branch out into clothing and other surf culture items.
“Let’s just say there are lot of people who really like the fins and think it’s a great idea, but making sales is getting more difficult as we go along,” he said. “Everybody’s had to economize on everything across the board.”
The surfboard fin market, which is predominantly made up of small manufacturers and just a few large players, is valued at about $10 million, according to Jett. That leaves “plenty of room for others to be involved. If I can hang on and come out the other side of this, I’ll do all right.”
ABOUT THE COMPANY
Jett Fin Co.
WHAT: A startup that designs and produces high-end wooden longboard fins with intricate inlays made of local, sustainable woods. Fins are 10-inch longboard style with a base that fits a standard 9-inch or 10-inch fin box.
DISTRIBUTORS: Surf shops throughout California and Australia
HEADQUARTERS: 270 Lake Drive, Boulder Creek
BACKGROUND: Founded in March 2011
LEADERSHIP: Jerry Jett, owner
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