If you have ever gone surfing, you most likely owe thanks to John Dahl for helping keep your feet planted firmly on your board. For almost 40 years, John has been the man behind Wax Research and the Sticky Bumps brand of surf wax, which has grown into one of the most popular waxes in the world. Baja Bound caught up with John for a quick interview to find out how he got started in the wax business, how the industry has evolved over the years, and what he likes to do in Baja.
Baja Bound: What was your motivation for starting Wax Research back in 1972?
John Dahl: In 1968 I left a job as a lightweight concrete technician to join my long time friends Mike Doyle and Rusty Miller as General Manager of their company Surf Research. My monthly salary was a whopping $200. Quite a step down but enough to sustain a family with three kids. It was an opportunity for me to become a part of one of the first surf accessory companies as well as involved in the growth of the sport of surfing. By 1971 the principals in Surf Research had scattered all over the globe. At this time the company was sold and the new owner was moving it's headquarters to Denver. It became apparent that it was time for my exit. The production manager, Hylton Murphy and I decided to form a new wax company, Wax Research.
BB: When you started the business, surfing was a subculture and professional surfing was pretty much unheard of. Today surfing has become a billion dollar industry worldwide and you have kids getting paid six figure salaries to surf. Did you ever expect the surf industry to grow the way it has and have surf wax be such a viable niche market?
JD: I was raised in La Jolla, CA and first saw surfing at Windansea in 1954. I knew nothing about the sport except that I wanted to do it. An instant attraction. Surfing in those days was looked down upon and had the stigma of a renegade sport. Surfers tended to live in their cars and mooch what they needed. Safe to say no vision existed of the world wide legitimate sport surfing would become. In those early days a surfer purchased canning wax at the local market to wax their board at a price of $.25 for one pound of wax. When Surf Research offered a manufactured 5 oz. bar in the 1960's for $.25 it was not an instant acceptance. Slowly it became a staple of the surfing experience and today Wax Research produces 20,000 bars in an eight hour shift. In the 60's this reality was as remote in our thinking as a double back flip on a motorcycle.
BB: Aside from surf wax, Sticky Bumps also has board bags, leashes, traction pads and a clothing line. How much has product diversification added to the growth of the company?
JD: Our primary focus has been the manufacturing of our Sticky Bumps surf wax. However the brand extension into accessories has worked well and continues to grow the company exponentially.
BB: As a surfer myself, I have seen many brands of wax come and go over the years. You are only a few years away from celebrating the 40th anniversary of the company. To what do you attribute the success of Wax Research and Sticky Bumps?
JD: Hard work, open thinking, always improving relationships, communication and efficiency. In 1992 Wax Research developed an innovative surf wax formula in Sticky Bumps to which today all top selling surf wax manufacturers have copied in order to compete with us. Our unique production process sets Sticky Bumps apart from all others.
BB: How long have you been traveling to Baja?
JD: As a native to California, born in Hollywood, I traveled with my parents to Baja for the first time 62 years ago. Since that time I have made innumerable trips motorcycling and surfing.
BB: Do you have any favorite Baja experiences?
JD: One of my favorite surfing experiences was getting head high hurricane surf in the Sea of Cortez, out front of Hotel Punta Chivato. The rides went 300 yards to the boat ramp in glassy turquoise waters.
The other was a three day off-road motorcycle ride, off the beaten track to explore places that hadn't been seen by humans in many years. Our story about this ride was posted on ThumperTalk... "Five Bros and a Pro".