Awayco was launched last year and canvassed as the subscription platform that would spell an end to many of your surfboard-related woes. Providing an opportunity for surfers to travel light is a big part of the Awayco focus; the idea is that for a $60 US a month fee you can sign up and travel the world unencumbered by board coffins or slammed by baggage fees. Instead, much like a hire-car system, you collect your pre-booked board at your given destination, providing it hosts a shop that stocks a quiver of Awayco purchased boards. While the concept has faced some stiff opposition from major shapers, who, for a range of reasons, have been reluctant to make their boards available on the platform, there has been a spin-off effect at a local level that suggests the concept has merit for both board sales and surfers.

Rather than focus on the travel aspect of the platform many surfers have been paying a one-off $60 US a month fee and relishing the try before you buy benefits of the system. Essentially this means Awayco works like an ongoing test-ride service where you can head to a surf shop and ride an unlimited number of boards (from a range of shapers) in a month, for a one-off $60 US payment. Like tasting several wines at a vineyard before deciding which one to buy. At the end of the month you should theoretically be in a much better position to make a call on which board you really like and want to lay down a grand (give or take) for. You reach this point based on direct experience rather than via marketing strategies or your own, often flawed, surfboard knowledge. We all like to think of ourselves as board experts, but there is no denying that trying a board can eliminate some of the guess work associated with rocker, rails, plan shape and bottom curve.

Do some surfers exploit the system and never actually buy a board, continuing to pay 60 a month to flirt with every kind of shaping creation? Of course they do according some of the shop owners, but for many surfers the end goal will always be to find a board that works and own it.

According to Pat Cahill from Sunburnt Mess surf shop in Bondi, the Awayco system has helped his customers make better-informed choices about their board purchases.

“When a customer does buy it, it’s more of a considered purchase and they know that ‘yeah, I like that and it’s going to go well for me’… I think it’s a good idea to eliminate people buying boards and then hating them.”

Pat suggests that when too many surfers buy boards that don’t work for them it in fact has a negative impact on sales by flooding the market with cheap second-hand models. “If you don’t like it then you’ve got to sell it and it goes cheap on gum tree. And then there’s so many boards that are going around that are undervalued. So the price of a board is perceived to be much lower now.”

Pat, whose shop is stocked with brightly sprayed twin fins, bonzers and beautifully crafted logs amongst other designs, also believes that the platform provides an opportunity for surfers to experience a completely new surfing sensation. “It might expose someone to something they’ve never ridden before,” he enthuses.

One local surfer who frequents Sunburnt Mess suggested that the opportunity to try boards with distinctly different design features at his local break was the real incentive for him to sign on to Awayco. If anything he called for a vaster range of different shapes to explore and experiment with. He was also fairly adamant that if he hit upon something he liked he’d definitely buy it. In an era when more and more people are embracing the ride everything philosophy and realising that surfing has many more sensations to offer than ‘three to the beach’ on a thruster, it seems the Awayco model does provide the opportunity to satisfy your curiosity about that board you always wanted to try.    

Does Awayco help the surf shops or just turn their staff into proxy employees for a company that essentially doesn’t have to do anything besides monitor a website? “I definitely don’t think it’s a negative thing in terms of selling more boards,” suggests Pat, pointing out that 50 Awayco customers means 50 more people exposed to his quirky shop that might not otherwise have come through the door. “Even the Awayco users who don’t buy a board generally buy something,” indicates Pat.

Awayco pay most shops who have signed on to the platform a pick up fee for each board a customer uses; they also offer incentives to shop owners to sign up customers to the platform. However, in Pat’s case they lease space in the shop and according to Pat, Awayco are still tinkering with the model to arrive at the best working relationship with the surf shops.

Pat suggests that one way of incentivising board purchases for Awayco users is for shops to offer a discount if they commit to buying a board after a month of trials. “In my situation if someone signs up for Awayco, tries a bunch of boards and then buys one at the end of the month, I’d give them a $50 dollar discount off the board. They’ve already spent that sixty dollars US and they’ve committed to buying a board so why not?”

Will Awayco change the way we go about purchasing surfboards at a local level? Will we see shapers who are not electing to offer boards on the Awayco platform ramp up their own fleets of test-ride boards in response? Both scenarios are likely. I’ll admit to being initially sceptical about the Awayco platform, but perhaps surfers who get the opportunity to make better-informed choices and experience different kinds of craft will be the real winners. If some of the emphasis of the Awayco platform can be shifted towards actually ‘buying the right board’ as opposed to simply borrowing them then there is a good chance that shapers will benefit too. It’s important that we keep buying boards (as opposed to just borrowing them) as otherwise there is nothing to support shapers in their pursuit of design excellence. No dedicated shapers means no decent boards and we all lose. It’s that simple.

Much of how this plays out hinges on how the system works at the front-line of surf shops. Will surf shop staff just become default employees of Awayco, handing out boards like hire cars and seeing the whole thing as a hassle that just adds to their work-load with little return, or will they utilise the Awayco platform to convince someone who has tried a bunch of boards to actually buy one? It will also be interesting to see if Awayco (as opposed to the independent shops) introduce incentives for purchasing boards. Time will tell. If the Awayco platform isn’t helping to sell boards for the shapers who supply it, it’s likely they will cease providing the platform with boards, however if it does serve as a catalyst for board sales then it’s possible that everyone – shapers, surfers and shop owners – will win from the system.