If you became a member of AwayCo, the new surfboard membership service, and you lived near one of their well-stocked retail spaces, you could ride dozens of brand new surfboards in a year for pretty much the same amount of money you'd pay to purchase just one top-of-the-line surfboard.
I'm not sure that was part of the company's plan when they built their pricing structure, but as of now, it's $60 per month to be a member or $720 per year–about the same amount of dough you'd drop for one new Channel Islands or ...Lost surfboard. At AwayCo, that $720 gets you unlimited use of their high-end boards, which you can keep, one board at a time, for five days. The San Francisco AwayCo HQ is stocked with a few dozen boards, so, in theory, you could pick up a shiny new sled every week, ride it for a couple days, then return it for a new one without worrying about wear-and-tear on your own precious quiver and getting the thrill of the new with each surf.
Do you typically buy one board per year? You could get by with never buying another board again as an AwayCo member. You'd be trading the security of ownership and the comforts of the familiar for exciting, fresh and new with every session. A fair trade? Depends on your particular brand of surfboard promiscuity.
I've been fascinated by the concept of a surfboard membership, or subscription service, or whatever you want to call it since I'd first learned about AwayCo. If you've heard of the company, you probably think of it as a kind of travel service, allowing a surfer to globetrot around to different exotic surf spots without having to lug boards around, provided there's an AwayCo location nearby of course.
Sure, that's a cool aspect, absolutely useful, and cheaper than carting boards onto planes, but I suspect, especially in urban areas, more surfers would use AwayCo as a board demo service than a travel service. More forward-thinking surfers, already accustomed to the sharing economy might even use AwayCo as their entire quiver.
As I just did, as a member for an entire month.
I surfed four boards exclusively over the past four weeks, all from AwayCo. A Haydenshapes Untitled, Channel Islands Bonzer Biscuit, Channel Islands Twin Fin, and the Panda Surfboards Astro Zombie. In San Francisco, AwayCo actually has two locations, their HQ crammed full of shred-ready shorties in both P/U construction and high-end carbon fiber-wrapped EPS, and The Avenues, a hipster-chic coffeehouse that also houses AwayCo's alternative-shape collection. I don't know the variety on offer at other AwayCo locations, but my board choice bases were plenty covered.
The selection and booking process is simple. Log-in to the website, pick the location, peruse a bunch of boards, lock in the dates when you find a model you like. Picking up the board is easy. The staff screws in fins, attaches a leash, and in one instance at least, waxed the board while we were chatting. It's not unlike buying a new board, really. Some idle banter about sandbars, imagining how the board will go, a little bit of stoke sharing as you leave. At the Avenues location, you can get yourself a top-shelf macchiato while you talk surf.
Returning a board is even more simple: walk in set it down, turn around and walk out. Bust it up a little? Not a problem–insurance is factored into the cost.
All the boards I surfed had been ridden before, but they were practically new. Plenty of boards hanging from the rafters were still unwaxed and unridden. Lots of fin choices were available too, in plenty of materials and sizes. If you geek out on fins, you'd be happy playing with the tons of fin combinations the company offers. Point is, you're not paying for the typical battered, waterlogged rental. These are new boards, full of life.
I don't ride a lot of modern, high-performance shapes these days, but being surrounded by all that new foam at AwayCo HQ, something came over me and I just couldn't help myself. I picked up the Haydenshapes Untitled (didn't like it: corky, wandered a bit on the open face) first, but then remembered why I don't ride boards like that, and went for the CI Bonzer Biscuit (super fun, versatile, really fast though odd on turns). The CI Twin Fin was a nice but confusing blend of high performance and retro-nodding (loved it backside, couldn't figure it out frontside) and the Astro Zombie was an absolute blast, easily my favorite of the quiver.
The point is, if I felt like riding a hi-fi carbon-wrap board, I could. Stubby twinnie? Sure, they've got those. If the swell had thumped and I wanted something a bit gunnier? They've got lots of step-ups. As the mood strikes, you can waltz in and indulge a different theory of board design–all for the same price as one regular surfboard per year.
For now, you can only take out a single board at a time, so there's that. But AwayCo's still in beta mode, so I'd bet they offer a different membership tier for surfers who want two or three boards at once.
Which makes me wonder: Is AwayCo one possible road to a future of surfboard subscriptions? A Zipcar for surfboards for surfers in urban areas? It makes some sense. A modern thruster is pretty beat-up after a year of regular use, why not just pay to ride different boards all the time? For a surfer like myself with a garage full of boards, I could easily imagine deciding not to buy a new board this year and just using AwayCo as my own personal quiver. Of course, there's always the chance you'd run through the entire selection, grow bored, and cancel the membership–though AwayCo plans to cycle through new board models quickly.
The appeal to the broad surfing public of AwayCo's model of an on-demand surfboard membership service remains to be seen, as does whether or not that will prove to be a profitable market. But it's easy to envision a future in which surf shops, already struggling to compete in an online shopping revolution, start offering a similar membership structure, then selling the boards as used when they've grown long in the tooth.
AwayCo is onto a fascinating idea. The pricing structure might change, but a service that lets you ride lots of different boards is addicting. The free month trial subscription I signed up for expired last week–but I'm still a member. Heading to HQ right after I write this, as a matter of fact.
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