SURF LUXE; A term that is used to describe anything from a plan print cushion, to a white floorboared kitchen - But you know what is legitimately Surf Luxe? Hand crafted surfboard with imported hand printed batiks. Yep. Thats Surf Luxe. And surfer & designer, Jada McNeil hand crafts these from her home in coastal NSW. Jada grew up just a few kilometers down the road from me, and while we didn't know each other growing up, I am now one of her biggest fans. Now only does she create these incredibly beautiful pieces of useable art, but she does so in a industry that has been predominantly male focused, and does so while raising three small children. I asked Jada if we could possibly feature one of her boards in our new 'Amethyst Solstice' campaign, and to my absolute delight, she drove two down to Sydney at very late notice, for us to shoot. So whether you are a surfer, or an art lover, I have no doubt you will admire these beautiful boards - Here is Jada's story.... - SWx
NAME: Jada McNeil
COMPANY: Nusa Indah Surfboards/ Nusa Indah
How would you describe yourself in 5 words? Spontaneous, quirky, adventurous, creative, compassionate.
What is the long version of how you got to where you are today? I grew up in a surfing family and community, with my dad, 2 brothers and occasionally my sister all surfing together on weekends. I started riding the nose of dad's board at age 5 and we grew up participating in local board riders, and surf life saving clubs. I have deep family connections to the island of Nusa Lembongan, a small island off Bali; learning to surf at their local Shipwreck break taught me some invaluable skills early on. During my adolescent years, my parents co-owned a surf charter boat that operated throughout Lombok and Sumbawa, this saw me clock up some surfing mileage on reef breaks in the school holidays, making for easy times on our sand breaks back home. My first high school job was filming for Australian surfing coach, Martin Dunn, before going out on my own and starting the Saltwater Surf School when I was in year 12. I owned and operated the surf school throughout the next 5 years whilst studying Psychology at University.
Upon completing my degree I took some time off for travel, and only returned from a round the world trip after discovering I was 5-6 months pregnant with my first baby (yes, I am THAT lady!). Two more babies closely followed, and whilst raising the little people, I dabbled in creative industries, which have always been a passion of mine. I designed and imported quality home-wares, jewellery and fashion from my favourite island, and over time added new lines and collections to Nusa Indah- online lifestyle boutique and Showroom. I love learning new skills hands on, so really enjoyed being thrown in the deep end of this new industry, and through trial, error and supportive contacts I quickly learned the skills and process of importing, production, wholesale, etiquette etc, many that you can only learn on the job, with determination and persistence.
Surfboards were a natural addition to my collection, after a personal board I designed garnered public interest. They have given me the opportunity to combine my two loves: surfing and design. The boards have enabled me to play with colour and shape, collaborate with artists, network with people, market my product and stage some fun little photo shoots. I liaise with clients in designing the perfect board for them and their ability. We talk aesthetics as well as frequency of surfing, conditions and ability. I work with a team of Australian craftsmen who hand shape each board to design specifications; they have been selected on their ability to support my design aesthetic whilst having the skills to create a quality, high performance surfboard.
On the family front, my husband has a fluctuating health condition and when he became unwell and was hospitalised for an extended period, and I had three small children at home, I was forced to think about our future. I made the decision to pursue this avenue as a career, hoping it would provide both personal satisfaction and financial stability for my family.
I think it is really important people can explain their main message in a concise paragraph – if the above is the full version - What is your elevator pitch on what you do? I create bespoke surfboards designed to look, but more importantly, make the rider feel good! I aim to create a product both functional and aesthetically pleasing, focusing on the female surfer. They are designed to be a high quality piece of surf equipment that moonlights as a piece of interior art for the home between surf sessions.
Are you doing what you thought you would be doing 10 years ago? (If not, what did you think you would be doing?) 10 years ago I was flitting about the country side without a care in the world, but over time my focus shifted from my passion for travel, art and surfing to “getting a real job” through tertiary education, and then on to family as my life rapidly changed to accommodate the needs of three little people. It’s funny how life has come full circle and I am pursuing a career that I am truly passionate about. I don’t doubt life experience, hard work and lessons along the way have led me back to where I am now, chasing my childhood dreams.
What does ‘success’ mean to you, and do you consider yourself ‘successful’? Success to me is a journey towards an enriched life, both personally and professionally. Personal growth and happiness, family milestones, meaningful relationships, career or financial goals may be prioritised at different times on this journey. In many areas of my life I would consider myself successful, others I am still working on.
What do you still want to achieve (personally & / or professionally)? As my babies grow and become more independent, I am more able to focus on my career and personal goals, whilst attempting that ever-evasive work/life balance. Professionally: I’d love to expand the business to an international scale and have the boards accessible to persons worldwide, as well as reach a level of financial security and have the opportunity to give back. Personally: I am working on overcoming my feelings of fraudulency; owning my achievements, and accepting that my current position has more to do with hard work as opposed to luck.
Did you study anything specific for the career you are in? An understanding of human psychology no doubt helps with all aspects of work and life, and whilst owning/operating the surf school I did gain intimate knowledge of surfboard suitability and design. It is still quite a leap to the business I am pursuing now. On the job I am continually learning and soak up as much information as I can from highly skilled professionals who are kind enough and willing to share their expertise.
What have been the most rewarding things in your career to date? Seeing the boards I designed in the water, or on the walls, and the joy they bring to their owners is incredibly rewarding. Also riding one of my own boards, feeling the way that you feel in a fabulous new dress (or piece of jewellery!) and realising that yes, not only do the boards look great but they surf really well too. Meeting and working with creative persons I admire and those who are at top of their game is also really affirming. Since completing this interview, Nusa Indah Surfboards have been picked up by Bluestone Lane, to be retailed in their new store in Montauk, New York. Woohoo!- kicking goals personally and professionally and feeling very excited for the future as my brand becomes available to an international market.
Tell us about your workspace (Office / café / couch / aesthetic) what inspires you about your workspace? I have an office within my Showroom, where I am surrounded by beautiful products and cultural artifacts, and have a lovely garden outlook. I find the creativity and craftsmanship of the treasures around me inspiring. There is also a comfy lounge, cushions and and swing chair where I can entertain guests…(or just myself!) with coffee and champagne.
What are some frustrations you have experienced on your career journey? It is the challenges I have faced that have provided me the motivation and determination to keep going. Competition and dismissive opinions can been frustrating but they keep me on my toes, moving forward and ensuring my own work is of utmost quality. Being geographically located so far from the rest of the world can be both a blessing and a curse. Our little piece of paradise here in Australia is quiet, tranquil and inspiringly beautiful; however cracking into foreign markets is affected economically by distance. Being a woman in a typically male dominated industry, and shaking up the concept of surf culture for some, has also had its moments. But I am still here #girlpower! and I have a very supportive tribe around me.
When was the last time you where overwhelmed & cried from something provoked by work / work load? It is generally a combination of workload, sleep deprivation, spilt coffee and a lost teddy that tips me over. Though I have also been emotionally challenged by the choice to pursue a creative career as opposed to a ‘helping’ one. I believe in the benefit of products and places designed to make you feel good; colour, shape, spaces and objects that bring happiness and joy are essential in society for health and wellbeing, but accepting this as my journey has at times been difficult. Learning how to manage a team (and being a boss that is NOT an asshole!) is also one of my greatest challenges; I like my people to always feel autonomous, valued and happy.
Would you say you put pressure on yourself? Has this gotten more or less as you progress in your career? I am perfectionist and have always put immense pressure on myself. I find a certain amount of pressure healthy as it motivates me to work hard to create a great product and provide a great service, but too much can be overwhelming. As the brand is growing, I am prone to putting more pressure on myself to perfect all aspects of the business; not willing to sacrifice quality in any area I am stretching myself further to meet the demands. I need a PA!...preferably over the age of 5 please.
If you are a business owner – and you often can’t just check out / have a week off when you are dealing with personal things – how do you keep on keeping on with your business when things get tough? Add more coffee. And wine. Tap into the support system. A good dose of humour and sage advice from the girlfriends can be incredibly therapeutic. In all honesty, my family come first, so I will make it known that I will be unavailable for a couple of days if necessary. As long as people are aware of time frames I find them to be understanding. A tactic I have taken is to always over-estimate manufacture and delivery time frames to allow for life’s little hiccups and to avoid customer disappointment. When our boards are ready prior to the given due date I find clients to be grateful for the efficient service.
Has your career affected your personal life / relationships? If so how? Dedicating time to my work was at first challenging with children, however I have learned that I feel happier and more confident in my abilities as a worker/mother/wife/friend/human if I have the opportunity to use my brain and communicate with other adults at least once a day. Limited time and energy means that I am now more conscious of spending time with positive, mutually supportive friends and family whom I truly love.
Has your journey at times felt lonely? How? Being a sole operator, and burning the midnight hours, can at times feel as though I am out orbiting in my own cosmos. I am lucky to have a very supportive and tolerant partner, friends and family who I can bounce ideas off and share all the excitement, highs and lows; they keep me grounded. I am also now living in quite a creative community of artists and designers who all work independently, so on the rare occasions that we do get together it is stimulating and motivating to hear of their journey and shared experiences.
What causes you anxiety / sleepless nights? Sleep walking children! Deadlines, unanswered emails, unfinished jobs and the conflicting needs of work and family. I am slowly learning to deal with unresolved issues immediately and in a professional manner rather than taking them personally or worrying about them at night. Also, this is not a life or death industry, a dinged surfboard can be repaired or replaced.
If you had your time over again, from when you started your career to right now, would you do anything differently? I am happy with the way my business is growing organically, and am putting action plans and structure into place as I go; however, being more goal oriented and having a business plan or mentor from the beginning may have proved motivational during the times I felt a little lost, overwhelmed or unmotivated.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self? Your life is only just beginning – but is also about to change rapidly; enjoy your travels, believe in yourself, trust your instincts, dream big, maintain your integrity but relax and enjoy the journey. AND eat the cake!!
Who are some women in business you admire & why? There are so many- the innovators, creators, movers and shakers, philanthropists and women out there doing wonderful things in the world, paving the way for future generations of women to come.
I admire my mother- her dedication and unwavering support to her family, ability to raise 4 kids, laboriously work a farm and run the family business is nothing short of inspirational.
Layne Beachley- her strength in adversity, determination to succeed (7 times world champion, no less!), and her service to the community through charitable and mentorship programs.
Dr Cathy Foley- her intelligence and contribution to the scientific community (and world!) all whilst raising children and maintaining a sense of humour. Just WOW!
You Sam! - your creativity, drive and determination in business, as well as your empowerment and encouragement of other women in business. By sharing your journey it has empowered other women from rural communities to believe anything is possible.
What traits do you admire in people you surround yourself with? I love people with integrity, loyalty, honesty, humility, and those with a wicked sense of humour. I enjoy being around fun and adventurous, but most importantly, passionate people. You know, the kind whose eyes light up when they speak…their passions may be varied and diverse but I love the energy of people who are invested in pursuing their passions.
Work life balance… Does it exist (I don’t think it does!) and how to maintain it, or a sense of it? I am not convinced the work/life balance exists; there are always competing demands but I try to place value on both. I validate my work by giving myself the time and space required to run a business, and I make sure that I have some special uninterrupted time with the family each day. I also inject something that I love and keeps me functioning in a somewhat sane manner; I love to run and surf- my husband and I often have our important conversations during our lunch break beach run or surf sessions!
Have you ever thought about giving up / quitting? If so, does that feeling hit from the same triggers? Why haven’t you quit? The responsibility, workload and all the unknowns in getting my business to where I would like it to be, and balancing this with family life can at times be overwhelming. I haven’t quit because I love to have a project, and I still believe in my product, and that there is a place for it in this world...
What is the biggest misconception about what you do? I surf all day long (I wish!) and delegate all tasks to others. Delegation is an important skill, right?!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your industry?Within the creative industry, there are no rules and no guidelines. This means that you cannot fail- follow your dreams, be inspired by others, work hard, ask questions and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you consider to be above you or unapproachable. Everybody starts somewhere, generally from the ground up, and rarely at a time when they have abundant time and resources to create a business. It is amazing who will assist you on your journey if you have the courage to share your vision. Also, say YES! to every opportunity that comes your way, then work out logistics later. Be prepared to hustle and work hard to make it happen!
If you knew what you know now, about how much work was involved to get you to where you are now, would you do it again or do something different, if so, what? Absolutely. My hope is that my children grow up feeling loved, and are inspired by parents who worked hard, and pursued their passions, whilst raising a family, hands on. The struggle is for balance is real though!
I like the quote ‘Don’t just have a job, have a purpose’ - What do you want your legacy to be? If I can contribute to the health and happiness of an individual or a community, through a product I have created I will be satisfied. I’d love to be able to give back to the communities who have supported me: to women from rural communities, as well as to the community of Nusa Lembongan, who has provided so much nurturing, personal and professional inspiration and growth in myself. I would love to further utilise the skills of the islanders in my work and assist them in starting their own businesses to make these skills available to others.
The SAMANTHA WILLS FOUNDATION is about bringing women in business together – why do you think this is important / (why did you want to be involved in this interview)? Women in business, and life in general, have so much to offer one another…friendship, mentorship, encouragement, support, and empowerment through education and invaluable advice based on experience. There is also great joy in sharing and celebrating each other’s successes and achievements; I am delighted to be in the company of such inspiring women you have brought together through the Foundation.
What are some of your favorite quotes? Two poignant ones right now are:
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.” - Unknown
“Dream your biggest dreams, and chase them with integrity” - Samantha Wills