Laurie Towner's new job
“When I was a young surfer I got picked to do an apprenticeship because I knew surf culture, I had a creative mindset, and I was a problem solver. Laurie is exactly the same.”
I'm talking to needessentials founder Ryan Scanlon about his latest employee, Laurie Towner. That’s right, ‘employee’, not ‘brand ambassador’ or ‘sponsored surfer’. You see, Laurie is now a fully-fledged on-the-payroll worker at needessentials.
As a teenager, Laurie was the best big wave surfer of his generation, with images of him dropping into oversized Cloudbreak, Solander, and Shippies, making multiple covers and centrespreads. The kid from Yamba saw a long and illustrious career stretch out before him. However, just as he was hitting his stride, print media began to contract, so too did the surf industry and with it sponsorship dollars. In 2014 Laurie was dropped by his longtime sponsor and found himself in the surfing wilderness.
He tried other surf companies but when they wouldn’t return his calls the realisation dawned on him: at age 26, when he was ready to take the next leap into big wave maturity, his surfing career was over. At first he worked construction, labouring on job sites around Yamba, then focussed on something more permanent, starting a tilers’ apprenticeship.
In 2018, Laurie hooked up with needessentials founder Ryan Scanlon, who also lives in Yamba, to work as an aforementioned brand ambassador. Whenever possible - meaning between TAFE study, site work, and family duties - Laurie would chase swells which would be edited into popular clips. The lack of spotlight clearly hadn’t diminished Laurie’s appetite for thrills, as evidenced by trips to maxing Nias and Cloudbreak, the latter producing a Wave of the Year entry at the Big Wave Awards.
A year ago, Ryan approached Laurie with a proposition: come and work full time for needessentials. At first he hesitated. “I wanted to finish my tiling apprenticeship,” says Laurie, “because I was so close to the end and it’s always great to have a trade.”
With his apprenticeship ticked off, Laurie switched over and is now full time on the needessentials payroll. Essentially he’s doing a design apprenticeship under Ryan, but he’s also got one eye on the weather maps. Family duties notwithstanding, he’s free to chase waves whenever he pleases. To that end, he’s been kitted out with a caravan to doss in while on the road and a computer to work remotely.
Daily duties involve pattern designing across the whole company range, something that Ryan assures me is more work than it sounds. Designs and patterns don’t stand still. “We’re constantly refining and improving,” explains Ryan. “So basically every shape, every panel, every little piece of a wetsuit, needs to be adjusted for every size and for every material.”
The things you learn…
I put it to Ryan that with a small but growing list of employees the minimalist company he formed in 2013 may outstrip his own humble ambitions. “Well, I started making wetsuits as a one man band just because I wanted to make a good product without all the bullshit basically,” says Ryan, “and as more people liked what we were doing and bought our products it required hiring more people, so I just found people with the same sort of ideas that I have.”
"Philosophically, nothing has changed."
In Laurie, he’s found the ideal work mate: humble, diligent, and appreciative, and he surfs like a mofo of course. Speaking of, not long after they arranged the new working relationship, Laurie made a dash south to a deepwater bommie. There he scored a large mid-summer swell, and it was enough to draw him back to the same wave last weekend.
This time, however, he took a hit and aggravated an old injury. It’s nothing too bad but it means a few weeks out of the water. But don’t call it downtime, it just means the sponsored surfer will flip his job description and for the next few weeks be a full-time designer.
(Homepage photo of Laurie by Ted Grambeau)