THE STYROTECH STORY

Styrotech has a long and intriguing history as one of New Zealand’s oldest manufacturers of windsurfing equipment. Originally founded in 1984 as a partnership between Kevin Trotter and Russell Carlyon, with no goal other than making 'killer fast' windsurfing boards, Styrotech originally started out making boards in a shed, and grew to the point of not only dominating the New Zealand windsurfing market, but ultimately becoming one of the finest producers of custom windsurfing boards in the world. In it's heyday, Styrotech supplied equipment to windsurfing professionals worldwide, won international events, and in the process of doing so ranked alongside side in terms of quality - such famous international brands as Drops, F2, Mistral, RRD & AHD.

EARLY DAYS

Although Styrotech was officially founded in 1984, it was not the start of the story. Both Kevin Trotter & Russell Carlyon (above, centre right) served their windsurfing design and construction ‘apprenticeships’ at Newmarket Wind’n’Surf (now long gone) from 1980 - 1984. It was here that some 44 years combined experience began to amass - Kevin shaped his first 1000 boards here - and Russell built them, hence laying the foundation for the beginning of a new, standalone business. However, it was not until a trip to Maui, Hawaii that plans for the new business were solidified, and Styrotech was born.

Almost immediately Styrotech was in the public eye. In 1985 Kevin Trotter (above, left side images), on a Styrotech, broke the New Zealand open speed record by scorching down the Glenorchy (near Queenstown) speed course at an average speed of 33.2 knots. Although this was significant in itself, the best was yet to come, for this result encouraged the likes of Pascal Maka (then reigning world speed record holder) to attend an international speed trial the following year in 1986. Although the record was not broken, the international speed trial and the huge publicity & media attention that it garnered placed Styrotech firmly on the windsurfing map. From that day on, competition performance has always remained a driving focus for Styrotech, which was reflected in the brand - "Performance Racing Equipment". This desire to succeed was amply rewarded, with competition highlights including:

- 8 times NZ National Champion (1988-1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1998-1999)
- 1st PBA Brighton World Cup (1994)
- 1st PBA Noumea Dream Cup (1994)

1985 saw Styrotech manufacture over 300 boards for the first time. Prior to this, most boards had been built in Kevin’s Orakei basement. So, in 1988 and in order to increase capacity, and meet ever increasing demand, Styrotech relocated to a large, purpose built factory & showroom in Glen Innes, Auckland. The benefits of more space and strengthening public profile encouraged Styrotech to increase production to a hitherto unheard of numbers of hulls – in 1990 Styrotech manufactured over 350 hulls in one year – that’s nearly one board going out the door every day! From 1985 – 92, Styrotech made, on average, 300+ boards per year, and employed, at its peak, 18 people!

SOLAR POWERED RACING CARS

At the same time Styrotech was developing its reputation for internationally recognised windsurf boards, shaper and designer Kevin Trotter became involved with the New Zealand attempt at the World Solar Challenge (WSC). The WSC is a 3000km race from Darwin to Adelaide in Australia, and the only source of power that can be used must be derived from the sun. With the cars body designed by Michael Coote and shaped by Trotter, NZ's first entry, pioneered by Suzanne and Stewart Lister raced in 1990, and placed 24th overall and second in the private car class. This was an encouraging result that prompted a second challenge in the 1993 event.

The original Kiwi FM sponsored solar powered car that competed in the 1990 World Solar Challenge, placing 24th overall and second in the private entries class. ,Article from AA Directions Magazine, late 1993.Article from Sunday Star, September 1993.The finished entry in the 1993 World Solar Challege, which placed 1st in the private entries class.

With private fundraising and sponsorship by Philips NZ Ltd., the cars torpedo shaped body was  designed and shaped by Trotter and built by the team at Styrotech. Many of the methods and techniques used in the construction of the car were the same as those used in the construction of windsurf boards, resulting in a lightweight yet strong body that was able to support the weight of the engine, instrumentation, solar panel and driver.  Weighing in at 155kg and with a top speed of 110km/h, the solar powered car ran well.

Despite some challenges along the way, the car won the class it was entered in (for private owners) - a significant achievement for the owners and Styrotech.Ultimately, the open class of the race was won by the Honda entry.

Interestingly, when the World Solar Challenge began (1987), the winner’s average speed was 67km/h. In 2007, the winner’s average speed was 91km/h.

INTERNATIONAL PROFILE

As the business grew, so did its profile – especially overseas. Strong competition results from Styrotech team sailors Russell Carlyon (above left), Hamish Bayly (right) & Scott Fenton in international events encouraged the first of many overseas orders. In the era of professional windsurfing and the Professional Boardsailors Association (PBA), Styrotech quickly realised that there was a significant market for high performance custom boards overseas. Indeed there was, and Styrotech began to not only market and sell the Styrotech brand overseas, but also make “white” boards (ie. Styrotech designed & manufactured hulls ‘dressed’ as another manufacturers brand) for some of the worlds best sailors, including Patrice Belbeoch, Jamie Hawkins, Svein Rasmussen (Starboard founder) and women’s world champion Jutta Mueller and New Zealands Barbara Kendall. Furthermore, Styrotech also secured its first full time PBA sailor through the signing of Scott Fenton in 1994, Scott remaining with Styrotech until 1996.

However, the market soon became so good that in 1992 over three quarters of all Styrotech boards were going overseas (on the left can be seen part of the Styrotech display at a German marine expo in 1996), and it was decided that Styrotech no longer needed a high profile presence in Auckland. As such the Glen Innes Factory was closed. From then on, Styrotech boards would be designed and shaped in Auckland and finished in Paihia before being sent to the customer.

TECHNOLOGY AND SOFTWARE

From the outset, a high emphasis was placed on design, technology and creativity. Accuracy and consistency was always paramount. As such, Styrotech was the first windsurfing board manufacturer in the world, as well as the first in New Zealand to use computer aided design (CAD) technology as an integral part of the design process. In particular, Styrotech used, and continues to use to this day - in combination with a range of software and equipment packages - MaxSurf – the same design program used extensively in the design of New Zealand’s America’s Cup winning yachts. This software and technology allowed board designs to feature not only advanced concepts, but demonstrate fastidiously accurate rockers and symmetrical outlines resulting in boards that met the original design intent - they were just plain fast.

After adopting CAD technology, Styrotechs’ next step would be the purchase of a CNC Router (you can see designer Kevin Trotter with the original SCM R2 CNC shaping machine in the gallery below, right) and CAM (Computer Aided Manufacture) Software. Opening for business in 1994, Styrotech CNC was born – the combination of CAD and CAM resulting in Styrotech CNC becoming the first organisation in NZ to offer end-to-end 3D design, shaping and machining services.

And, as the windsurfing industry developed, and the prominence of Formula Windsurfing increased, Styrotech put to good use the technology it now had available - namely CAD design and CNC machining; and so thus CAM (Compter Aided Manufacture) manufacturing - and became involved with the design of initially course racing boards, and subsequently full on and Formula race boards at 1.0m wide. These designs lent themselves to the levels of accuracy made possible with CNC machining and, though never produced in volume, these boards were a match for any other Production Formula board manufacturers' were making at the time.

Inevitably, as kiteboarding became more popular, Styrotech introduced a kiteboard range, and these were sold both throughout New Zealand and the pacific.

Circa late 1990's to early 2000's, demand for CNC technology was very strong, and production by necessity, both in terms of the size of the windsurfing market, which was declining, and the windsurf manufacturing capacity available to Styrotech CNC eventually pushed Styrotech towards even more diversification away from the original windsurf boards. Production now included windsurf and kitesurf fins, kiteboards, many different types of moulds, both for the marine and construction industries, production prototypes and patterns for boat building, the marine, aviation and automotive industries, foundries, as well as a wide range of designers and manufacturers.

 STYROTECH CNC TODAY

As the industry continues to evolve, Styrotech CNC’s services and industry connections expand at the same pace. With instant access to 3D scanning and imaging, 3D Printing and other specialist CNC organisations, Styrotech CNC continue to offer the same commitment, skill and expertise needed to undertake and complete to the highest standard any machining project.

 

Lastly, here are a few more images from the heyday of Styrotech windsurfing. Enjoy the memories.

 

Styrotech have been CNC cutting our PVC foam centerboard blanks for over 6 years now. The resources Styrotech bring to the job make it a seamless process giving us the best results.

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Dave Mackay - MacKay Boats

Auckland, NZ

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