Welcome to the 5th episode of the second season of our podcast!
Today with us from Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia is Jake Mackenzie, founder and curator of Drifter, more than just a surf shop , a true destination for every surfer or visitor in the magic island of Bali.
With him we discussed about how Drifter has been created, surf, surfboards collection and much more!
You can listen to the podcast in all major platforms or just read the interview below! (please forgive us of spelling mistakes)
TTOS: Aloha, Jake, welcome to the show! where are you today?
I’m up in Uluwatu in Bali at my house, which is relatively near the temple of Uluwatu.
TTOS: Fantastic place. How is it going in Bali in this difficult time of corona virus? you guys see tourists?
Well, tourists, the traditional kind of definition of tourists, no.
You know, the families traveling from different parts of the world…are not here, but there are lots of local expats and people who live here….they’re around and we have little communities up here in Uluwatu and down in Changu you know what I mean?
TTOS: The good thing is that, there is more space for everybody in the lineup, right? It’s not going to be like in July and August.
Yes, but it is kind catch 22, right? As a business owner, obviously with Drifter it’s much slower than we would expect, but we’re doing okay…it’s ticking along and, under the flip side, the waves are a lot less crowded, you know? So that’sbalance, right?
TTOS: Yeah, exactly, we need to see the glass “half full” in every situation, right? It’s important to keep hope for the future.
Today we’re gonna talk about Drifter, of course, but also about you and your future projects….
The first question that I have for you is, in your opinion, what is the most important thing in surfing?
That’s a good question…. I would say in surfing as in life, we can probably do parallels and that’s being true to yourself.
You know, I think it’s an old cliche, but the best surfer in the water is one having the most fun, right?
So the traditional down the middle of the road, thrust competitive, everyone’s striving for that particular goal, that’s one avenue, but there are so many different avenues for people to enjoy ocean time, you know?
TTOS: Actually, it’s interesting….If you had the time to listen to the podcast, there are two kind of answers, the pro surfers never answered “have fun”, the other people , that are not that competitive said “the most important thing is to have fun”…..
I mean, sharing with friends, enjoying being in nature, being invigorated, exercise, all of those, I think it’s a bigger picture, you know?
TTOS: Definitely, I agree with you.
Do you remember the first time that you started to surf?
I was pretty young, we used to go to my father that lived in Hawaii on Oahu in the late sixties, so we used to go to Hawaii pretty much every Christmas for many, many years to visit friends.
And I remember surfing and body surfing more clearly at Sandy Beach and Mokapu, at that time I was pretty young. I was split between seven and like 13, I think, maybe even younger. I have to admit it, I jumped on a boogie board a couple of times and you know, pulled into barrels at Sandy’s or whatever as a young grommet, but graduating on surf boards… that was in Hawaii.
TTOS: And you remember your first surfboard?
Yeah, I had a blue Glenn Minami blue, Hawaii.
TTOS: You still have that one or, you know what?
I don’t…man….I was hitchhiking and I was hot up for money and I sold it in France in Biarritz many years ago
TTOS: You don’t want to get it back?
Hey man….I’m okay to let that one go,I have so many surfboards in my collection.
TTOS: How many do you have today?
Probably in my kind of quiver, around 30…
And then, under my house, people are always coming up here and left boards with me for the last 15 years.
I would say, probably, I have another 30 or 40 under my house, those, technically are mine…I claim them after two or three years…
TTOS: if they don’t come up and ask for them, then it’s yours by property, by salvage rights.
What is the most representative board of your collection? If you had to pick one, which one you would?
Well, that’s so hard, Alessandro, that’s a tough one, man!
I have right behind me, a balsa gun from Mitchell Ray and above me here, I have a Reno Abelira, Lightning Bolt and ,over there, I’ve got a Gerry Lopez and here I have a Dick Brewer….you know what I mean?
These are all magic sleds, but I haven’t actually ridden any of those yet….
In my quiver, I ride on a bigger day, I would say I have an eight/six Chapman Brewer that I ride when it’s big here at Uluwatu or in the outer islands, then I have a few Garret McNeill’s that I ride on smaller days, you know, the twin fin McNeil’s that I love…
Answering to this question is so hard! It’s like just different conditions, different feelings….what kind of vibe am I in that particular day or what the waves are doing? it’s a hard one, man!, I didn’t really answer that question. Did I?
TTOS: It’s okay! I guess that, for collectors, the surfboards are like their sons, you know, so you cannot choose one…
In the shops at Drifter (we have a couple of Drifter shops here in Bali one in Seminyak, the other one in Uluwatu) we have a beautiful collection of Terry Fitzgerald, Martin Woodington, Buttons…. just psychedelic murals that are magical, you know what I mean? Some of those are just like just “primo”.
Up here, in Uluwatu, we have some incredible handshaped boards, Jerry Clark foam, Al Chapmans, Rob Machado….
We got a beautiful selection of boards that, technically, are mine…. LOL
We have a funny thing going on with the crew involved in Drifter….we have a lot of boards that are not for sale, we just like them too much…. you know what I mean? But, for the right price, everything’s for sale, to be honest……
TTOS: Can you share with me the story of Drifter? How did it all started?
Drifter was in a sense, a need to fill in a part of the industry or the lifestyle, or a need to have an alternative venue for artists and left of center brands….
So it initially started down in Seminiak or Oberoi in 1978, because I was living down in that area and I couldn’t find any wax, you’d have to drive to Kuta or drive a distance to get wax.
So I thought: “Hey, it’s still some wax, you know what I mean? Let’s keep it simple…. let’s create a shop in this area that sells wax”…. that was the first thought.
And then, you know, close behind, there was definitely kind of a movement and a shift towards more alternative style stores…. I can name a few, you know, you’ve probably familiar with them, like Mollusks and the Dahlia streets and you know, shops like that around the different, different parts of the world.
It was like, I was living there and I was surfing at Uluwatu a lot.
I had a friend up here who also was in the industry, he was representing a few brands and I approached him one day and said: “Hey, man, how about opening a space? I’ve got this location on the street and Oberoi, do you want to put some of your brands in? “
I think he had like Obey and others at that time, he turned around on me and said, “how about we go in together? “
I thought about it, went away and came back and I was like, you know, “two brains are better than one”. He offeredsomething really important and backend and administrative and more logistical, you know, that area that I wasn’t so versed in and yeah, we teamed up and that’s how Drifter kicked off, down in Seminiyak and then, in no time, it got traction and people really dug it.
We had brands like Rhythm,Patagonia, Hippy Tree, our own brand, the Drifter vertical brand and a few other kind of minor ones… and people dug it and we had some cool boards and some funky artwork and it kind of morphed….next thing we knew, we took over the space next door, a little cafe and became more of a community hanging out like an old school surf shops a sofa and, you know, a couple of movies playing and good music, reggae and espressos, surfboards…
It was like a bit of a kind of happening, you know, a bit of a scene, people hanging out…old school.
The Seminiak store is now about 13 years old, unfortunately at this time, because of the coronavirus, that particular location is on hold…it’s on ice…it’s not open, there’s zero people down there, but it’s still there. And we were hoping to have it back open and who knows when, but sometime in the near future.
That’s how Drifter began, it created its own life and its own vibe.
I think, you know, being friends with Rob Machado and the movie “The Drifter” kind of tied in…we spoke to Rob about it, if he was cool with us using that name and he was totally cool with it, you know?
That of was kind of at the same time and the movie was released, so it was pretty appropriate and then Chris Del Moro is another good friend of ours, you may know Chris, American, Italian, super amazing surfer, a beautiful artist, just a good bro. And I mean, he was involved doing collaborations with us.
And then we started working with other artists and doing little colabs, you know, and like real kind of left of center art based, that’s kind of more or less, I would say the feeling and the dynamic of Drifter or that left of center art-based but maintaining a core surfing kind of line or perspective, you know, we still surf as much as possible…we’re staying salty., we represent the art, the music, the good coffee.
Now we have a restaurant up at Uluwatu so it’s more of a, kind of a holistic perspective of the lifestyle. That’s a long answer to your question…
TTOS: actually Drifter became almost an icon, when we think about Bali and the world of surfers gravitating around it, we think about think Drifter, as it is much more than a surf shop, as you said….
If you had to choose one secret of your success with Drifter, which one would it be?
That’s a really good question….I think, as I already said initially, “being true to yourself”, following your heart, doing what feels right and pursuing it.
I think that is a very important part of how Drifter has blossomed and maintained a focus on the brand identity.
That’s probably a more of a corporate way to say it,but staying true to who we are and staying true to what we represent, I think is a very important part of it. I think timing also is very important. We were pretty fortunate, I think for that period in time 12, 13 years ago, but I would have to say being true to our selves and our roots and who we are and our baseline and our like motivations, you know what I mean?
TTOS: Definitely…. what is your best memory of those these 12 or 13 years?
The moments that I will never forget are surfing with friends, doing Drifters trips with friends using our marketing budget to do surf trips…. it’s been great, we’ve had some great parties, we’ve had great events, we’ve done cool stuff with Andy Davis and Rob Machado and Chris Del Moro and Guy Hastings and all these cool artists, you know what I mean? Maddie Yates, Joel Fitzgerald, we’ve done all kinds of cool stuff in the event space, but I have to say a couple of trips we’ve done….we’ve done some really fun trips to Solomon Islands, to Simba, to Simbala, to the Methawais, you know….that has to be the pinnacle, you know, hanging out with friends, sharing, surfing….we could have donethat anyway without having Drifter.
You know what I mean? But it just happens to be,
It’s like we’ve created an extended family. So with our local staff, our local crew and then visitors and people who live here and then with the addition now of Uluwatu where we have a restaurant and an event space…it’s just more dimensional…there’s more dimensions to it, which was always our vision, having a space for the art gallery, a really cool place to sit and chill and eat and have healthy food … a place to gather, create more community and a very cool shop that you can browse and buy cool stuff that you feel comfortable, not pressured.
You’re in an environment that’s kind of like peaks your interest and kind of keeps you curious and as attention to detail, I think that’s one thing we’ve with Drifter that has to be said is that we pay attention to the small details. You know, it’s very important It’s music and flouro lights like reggae and self lighting.
TTOS: If you had to give a suggestion to a new surf shop owner that opens doors today, which one would you give him?
I suppose there was a few things like I’ve been saying, I think it’s really key to be true to yourself, is this really, what is driving you? What is the purpose you’re doing it? Is there something that you really love and you want to do your lifestyle? That’s obviously a good question to ask yourself and obviously, if you got to the point you’re opening a surf shop, then yes, obviously hard work is an important part.
I also think trading one-on-one, buy at one dollar, sell for two, if you want to make money and be successful.
Is cool to have an amazing vibe retail space and have an high end product or whatever you have, but if you don’t sell anything, then you’re not going to keep your doors open, so you gotta be also focused on the bottom line…obviously it’s a business, you’re not a charity
TTOS: What’s next for Drifter ? What are your future projects?
We’re looking at doing more of a global representation of our brand, we want to spread out but “slow burn”, It’s not like we’re going to do it next week or next year.
We’ve got a plan now to launch and slowly get traction in the overseas market, kind of like we’re born in Bali, you know what I mean?
We’re born and raised in Uluwatu, in Indonesia, that’s our fundamental. and from here, we want to expand out toAustralia more in America, more in Europe and Japan.
So yeah, I think that’s on our radar, we’ve got a great team,we’ve got some real creative people and some real savvy business people that I work with that work with me.
We’ve got a good team, but, obviously, with this current predicament and situation on the planet with COVID and the massive shutdown economically…..it’s hard times, like most business.
I’d say we’re just basically maintaining and just taking our time and stripping back the unnecessary, in a sense, thereare some positives in it, right? We’re looking at stripping back and cutting down and just getting more trim and more streamlined, probably a good word….
Then, getting back into our expansion plan, online is obviously key.
We’ve been working with some good crews doing more online strategy and a better website and having a better strategy to market using Instagram and other social marketing platforms, which is key.
You can see certain businesses in this time have really just kicked on as a result of online shopping habits.
TTOS: We’re going to finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind. Okay?
The best surfboard that you have ever ridden…
Gerry Lopez, six/six, handshaped
TTOS: Your favorite shaper.
TTOS: Your favorite song right now, Neil Young “Old Man”
There’s so many good songs out of there.
TTOS: Your favorite surf spot.
TTOS: Your favorite surfer
I’d have to say Rob Machado, he’s a goofy foot, actually, you know what? That’s a hard one because actually Rust is pretty good too. And he’s a regular foot. Can I split the peek between those two?
TTOS: the last question is a little bit unusual, we want to know your best relationship advice.
Wow. That’s a deep one. Again.
I like what it says above the Delfi man, know yourself. If you know that if you know yourself and you’re comfortable in your own skin and you can be much more present in any relationship.
Recorded in July 2020