He's only 34, but Hayden Cox is already a veteran entrepreneur. The surfboard mogul launched his own company at the age of 15, and his FutureFlex board technology has become one of the most groundbreaking developments the surfing world has ever seen.
"When I innovated that concept, surfboards really hadn't changed since the late '60s, early '70s," he says after the glittering bash held in his honour at the recent Audi Hamilton Island Race Week.
Haydenshapes is now the world's number one selling surfboard, and Cox has operations in Australia, the USA and Thailand, employing over 300 people to get his boards in 72 countries.
He divides his time between Sydney and Los Angeles with wife Danielle, counts the Hemsworth brothers as big fans, and manages to remain one of the most down-to-earth blokes you'll ever meet.
Notes on success
Cox is known for his savvy collaborations with the likes of designer Alexander Wang and has been a 'friend of Audi' for the past four years.
What I wanted to communicate is that you've just got to start.Hayden Cox
The luxury car company recently hosted 120 movers and shakers for a glitzy dinner in the Long Pavilion at eco-resort qualia to launch Cox's latest ventures – a series of chrome surfboards and his first book, New Wave Vision.
"Writing a book is not something I've done before," says Cox. "I've been in business for 20 years next year and it's the only thing I've ever done. I've had to learn through experience, listening to others and just watching other brands [and] what I wanted to communicate is that you've just got to start."
Cox called on his most influential mentors to contribute to to the book, including skater Tony Hawk, Google Maps co-founder Noel Gordon, designer Karen Walker and Aesop founder Dennis Paphitis.
"They all started with a vision," Cox says. "In business, you're going to learn a lot of lessons, and there's a lot of challenges. I've experienced that myself, you know, being close to bankruptcy [in the past]. But for me it was like: why wait? Why wait until I'm 60 years old to start something that I'm really passionate about. I think that's the underlying message of the book, you just need to start."
Cox loves to "roll up his sleeves" and experiment with new projects, something seen in his collaboration with Australian style blogger Bill Tikos of The Cool Hunter. Tikos suggested that Cox try making mirrored chrome boards, and Cox began a lengthy period of research to build something that was functional as well as stylish.
"Haydenshapes are innovators in their industry and we worked on the concept for nearly a year to get it perfect," says Tikos. "I wanted surfboards to be sold as artworks and Hayden made them possible to also surf on them – though I'd hate to put wax all over those nice shiny boards."
The first buyer of the chrome range (priced at around $5000 a board) was pop star Miley Cyrus, who ordered one as a gift for her fiance, Liam Hemsworth.
"I've made a few boards for Chris and Liam, so I'm a little bit on the radar with those guys, and the grapevine gets talking and [Cyrus] reached out," he says discreetly.
Cox is far from being a celebrity name-dropper. "We don't necessarily try to look for those types of customers, we make surfboards for everyone and we get all walks of people – we have crew from Israel, Italy, all over the world. It's about the design and aesthetics and appreciation for performance."
Which is why his partnership with Audi makes so much sense. Both brands challenge the status quo when it comes to design, performance and innovation.
"It breaks down to the fundamentals around our businesses … the way that Audi approaches the design of their cars in all areas from interiors to exteriors and into the engine, is something I have affinity with as a surfboard designer," Cox says. "I aspire to push the boundaries in all areas."
Cox gets to drive a new Audi pretty much wherever he goes, and currently drives the A4 Avant or the Q7 on his regular surf trips between LA and Mexico or from Sydney to Ulladulla.
"The A4 Avant is a great combination of being able to fit all my surfboards in the back, easy to get around in the city, parking, long trips," Cox says. "The car pretty much drives itself with all the intuitive design that goes into the control."
So would the 15-year-old Hayden have ever imagined the scope of his success, launching new projects at luxury resorts and jetting around the world? Perhaps, admits Cox.
"I really did create this major dream in my head during my high school days, so I probably mapped it out then," he says, laughing. "But, you'd definitely say 'wow' to get to this point, to be able to communicate what I love to do to the type of people who may not know about it, so they can understand and appreciate the way I approach design. It's definitely pretty surreal."
New Wave Vision is released in October.
The writer was a guest of Audi Australia and Hamilton Island.