GUEST POST: Surf Neutral by founder Lesley Zonnekein

Feel Good
Share this article:

The beginning

My wife and I share a passion for travelling and surfing. Between the two of us, we’ve found a way to work hard, play hard and lead a life centered around the ocean where we can meet like-minded people.

About four years ago, my dad died at the age of 61. Not long after, something happened that shook me to my core and made me reevaluate my priorities. One day, one of my two daughters told me: “Don’t touch me daddy, I never see you and you’re always at work!”.

That day made me realise that we needed to reshuffle our cards. I needed to escape my stressful daily routine of commuting for 1.5 hours a day, eating a sandwich at my desk, rushing from meeting to meeting, running the operations of a company where there was no more future and managing QA in a further company. I’m grateful for those 9 years of startup experience but it was time to turn the page and leave behind the 9-to-5 life.

I told my boss about my plans to move to Australia for a year to feel it out. That was the start of the final chapter of my life at the office. We set a date and started making plans for the trip of a lifetime. When my boss called to tell me that there was an option to work in South Africa, I jumped at the opportunity. That was it: we would be off to Cape Town where I would start a business for him.

Eco Rob Machado Woolight Surfboard

Still thinking about
joining the revolution?

Eco Rob Machado Woolight Surfboard

Every revolutionist gets entered
into a raffle
for an Eco Rob
Machado Woolight Surfboard

It takes 1 to start a revolution, the rest will follow!

A Passion For Surfing

Surfing has been one of my passions for over twenty years, so I couldn’t go to Cape Town without paying a visit to Africa’s surf capital Durban and the famous little surf town, Jeffreys Bay. The plan was to travel this coastal route by car, but two weeks before our departure I was hit by a major burn out that left me hospitalised. Our trip was delayed by a month and I was man down for three weeks, during which I slept a lot and took time to think about our purpose. It was in this time that I had the revelation that we only have one life, one body and one family, all of which need to be treasured and nurtured.

With this experience in the back of our heads, we eventually booked our tickets from Belgium to Durban and started our journey. On our way, we stopped in Margate and visited Ocean Sport, a small but legendary surf store. We asked the owner Loui for some local advice on boards, shapers and interesting places to visit. Loui gave us some valuable advice and told us about a well-known South African shaper Hugh Thompson, suggesting that he should make me a board once we arrived in Jeffreys Bay.

Jeffreys Bay

Two weeks later it was D-day. We saw the “Welcome to Jeffreys Bay” sign, checked into an apartment and without even looking went straight to the beach to find perfect right-handers peeling down the line. This was my kind of heaven! Surfing, hanging out on the beach with the kids and enjoying a healthy meal afterwards.

That night we discovered that we had booked the worst place you could imagine. As a family, we were used to staying in some less than fancy places but we had never encountered blood on cushions and hair in a “freshly” made bed for new guests. We didn’t even unpack, checked out at first light and went to the beach to do a surf check. Arriving at Point, we found two older men sitting on a bench watching the waves and talking shit. We decided to introduce ourselves to them and ask if they had information on decent accommodation and where to get a board from Hugh Thompson.

To our amazement it turned out that one of those two men was Hugh himself: a friendly die-hard surfer and shaper. We told Hugh of our bad experience with accommodation the previous night and he went on to connect us with one of his best mates Gary and his wife Bev. We stayed with this lovely couple for two weeks before it was time to move on to Cape Town to start this new business. But one meeting in Cape Town made it clear that this was no longer my path. I wanted to build on and share my knowledge in the surf industry. Before long we made a U-turn and went back to our magical haven called Jeffreys Bay, where the inspiration to start building Surf Neutral came to me.

I had never met anyone before that took as much pride in their craft as Hugh. He handled surfboard building with so much precision.

It was eye-opening and extremely fascinating to see that there was more than just one shaper hand-crafting surfboards in this little town. After several months, we had met most of them in the area, which made it even harder to choose the craftsmen for my next board.
Chatting with different shapers, we found that they all had a few things in common:
Then, of course, most of them are surfers, including a part of our team.

So, what do most of the shapers have in common?

  • They love the ocean

  • They love what they do

  • They all want a digital presence in this modern world, like a website or a social media presence but find it hard to maintain (and in some cases very expensive)

  • They want a simple order process

  • They don’t want to have additional costs

  • They see their craft as a piece of art

  • They are all very, very busy

  • They want to produce greener board

Then, of course, most of them are surfers, including a part of our team.

So, what do most of the surfers have in common?

  • They want to meet like-minded people in real life

  • The want to chat to the guy that makes their next piece of water fun

  • They want to try as many surfboards as possible

  • Share the stoke of this session where he got pitted twice

  • They want to travel without boards and be able to surf or easily order a new or nearly new locally-made board

  • We all want to keep our planet clean for generations to come

Those are the ingredients we started to work with at Surf Neutral.

We slowly started reflecting on our experiences in the past months and years on the work floor. We started brainstorming ideas on how we could make the circle round and be innovative in our own way, using the skills we’d gained from shaping software over the last two decades.

Shaper → Surfer → Environment → Shaper → Surfer → Environment → Shaper → ...

Scanning the QR code on each board brings up its unique story

How can we be innovative for the surf community while being environmentally neutral?

A Microchip? Hmm, nice and very interesting but too advanced and maybe too expensive to start off with for most of us.

A QR code in a decal form factor? What? Yes, a quick response code that is unique and scannable by nearly any device. Nowadays you don’t even need an additional app on your device. Scanning the QR code on the board would pull up the unique story of each board, thereby also preserving its history.

If it wasn’t for shapers we wouldn’t be surfing, so this is where we thought we should start our efforts. In February 2018, Surf Neutral was born in Jeffreys Bay South Africa. We have to admit there are worse places to start a business. We teamed up with Klaas from Belgium, a former colleague, as our backend wizard and Craig from South Africa who is our UI guy.

Because most shapers don’t have a website or have one that is never updated, we decided to make a simple blueprint that helps them to create a clean page that is visible on the surfer’s side of the platform. Their page gets automatically updated every time they add a new board.

Each shaper has his free, private workspace where he can:

  • Add Brand information
  • Add Shaper information, including shaping location

  • Easily create or change surfboard models

  • Easily add boards to his virtual factory and download personalised order forms

  • View his QR balance

  • Register his surfboards and QRs

  • Transfer his registered boards to the surfer riding it, while revealing the area where the board is surfed if the surfer chooses to do so

So what about the surfer?

Well, we still believe that every board needs a surfer so we made it possible for surfers to build their virtual quivers using the boards uploaded by shapers. Soonish surfers will be able to check each other’s quiver online and connect with like-minded people. For now, they can use Surf Neutral to view the boards uploaded by shapers, find the shaping location and chat with the shapers directly.

Okay, great, so how are we protecting the ocean?

We have three main flows to protect the environment.

Number 1:

We are committed to monetising the platform in 2020 and provide even more additional value to shapers and surfers, while giving back to our planet. To walk our talk, we made agreements with 1% for the planet in August 2019.

1% for the Planet is an international organisation whose members contribute at least one per cent of their annual sales to environmental causes. This means that any shaper or surfer signing up to our platform becomes a part of the movement.

Number 2:

We want shapers to use as many eco-friendly materials as possible. We’re determined to introduce them to the configurations that are the most eco-friendly and will encourage them to use those products. We’re currently investigating partnerships in order to define those materials and hope to get this rolled out asap.

Number three:

This doesn’t have to do with surfing on waves but it has to do with surfing on the platform. We use the latest green edge technology to run our servers physically, which basically means that due to server virtualisation we use 5 to 10x less power than conventional providers. Fewer physical servers are needed to run the application, which means less cooling is needed for those servers, which in turn means that there is less energy usage. All those efforts lead to lower CO2 emissions to run Surf Neutral, which equals a positive impact on our environment.

We believe that as a community we can make a positive impact on the planet and provide additional value to surfers and shapers alike, while supporting the ocean.

If you like our idea, get in touch, Sign up or just send us a message on

Moving fast.


Want to do
more to help?

For the price of an
artisan cup of coffee,
you can!

find out more
cup of coffee
Share this article: