Surfing Advice

I’ve never been surfing, so the title above offering surfing advice may be confusing if you expect it to come from me.  Rather it is businessman Yvon Chouinard’s advice on how to run a business – of course he likes to surf as well!

When starting a new enterprise, one encounters all kinds of statements, such as “Never do ‘X’ when starting out” or “Always do ‘Y’ in this situation” or “Do ‘Z’ when swimming with the sharks”. Taking a fresh approach to the practice of architecture was what I thought was needed when I started WAO.




Yvon Chouinard had similar thoughts decades ago when he founded Patagonia, the outdoor gear company.  His book, “let my people go surfing” describes how he differentiates his company not just by good design, good products, and good service, but by doing good by considering our impact on the environment in our business activity.

Some of Chouinard’s business philosophies fit my own thoughts on architecture and design. Here’s a a few that work well across platforms:

Design philosophy

  • Is it functional?
  • Is it multifunctional?
  • Is it durable?
  • Does it fit our customer?
  • Is it as simple as possible?
  • Is it an innovation or invention?
  • Is it a global design?
  • Is it easy to care for and clean?
  • Does it have any added value?
  • Is it authentic?
  • Is it art?
  • Are we just chasing fashion?
  • Are we designing for our core customer?
  • Have we done our homework?
  • Is it timely?
  • Does it cause any unnecessary harm?

Production philosophy

  • Involve the Designer with the Producer
  • Develop Long-term Relationships with Suppliers and Contractors
  • Weigh quality first, against on-time delivery and low cost
  • Go for it, but do your Homework
  • Measure twice, cut once
  • Borrow ideas from other disciplines (much as I am doing here)

Patagonia has retail stores, so I probably shouldn’t be surprised, but I didn’t expect Yvon to have an architectural policy as well, but he does…

Philosophy of architecture

  • Build new only if you can’t buy used
  • Try to save old or historic buildings
  • If you build new, build quality
  • Use recycled and recyclable materials
  • Buildings should be repairable and easily maintained
  • Build to last, even if it means a higher initial price
  • The history and natural features of each area should be reflected and honored

As an architect who has worked on many historic preservation projects, I can agree with this approach to architecture!

And did you catch the sub-title in the image above “the education of a reluctant businessman”. Yvon would rather be surfing. He notes he could have sold his company to fund endless amounts of surfing and mountain climbing, but he wanted to keep the culture of Patagonia going so that it would be a model for other reluctant and not-so-reluctant business men and women. I am glad that Yvon kept at it, because I would identify myself as an architect first and a businessman second.

When Patagonia employees see that the surf is up, they take advantage of it and go surfing. They will get the work done and do it well, beforehand and afterwards, and possibly even better due to the refreshing break outdoors. This appeals to the Minnesotan in me as well –  whether in the sun or in the snow, you better get out and play now, because you know the weather will be changing soon!