Westcoast Stoneware combining work and surf

Getting the work/surf balance right is the driving force behind Raglan’s newest pottery enterprise Westcoast Stoneware.

The three friends and avid surfers, Beach Thurlow, Mikey Nation and Kyle Denton are the creative force behind the stunning handcrafted homeware items created in a carport transformed into a workshop.

“You get to work when you want and surf when you want. I can throw some pottery in the morning, go out for a surf and finish off in the evening,” Mikey says.

They began their potting journey in February this year; Beach set up the business and website and contracted Mikey as a potter and Kyle came on board as a volunteer helping hand for Mikey in the workshop.
They have skills that work well together in the business; Beach has a background in graphic design and marketing, Mikey worked as a production potter in the States, Australia and New Zealand and Kyle recently finished his ceramic arts degree at San Francisco State University.

Setting up the business has been an exercise in creativity in many ways; they travelled the country to pick up second-hand equipment and cobbled together a ‘studio’ with a 100kg prehistoric wheel, raku kiln, mis-matched shelves, a bench balancing on a broken pug machine, a pile of bricks and an old wardrobe minus the handle.
They’ve had to be creative about their finances as well, pursuing other sources of income while still trying to establish the business.

After producing their first range the money dried up and Beach headed to the States for three months to work as a surf instructor and Mikey contracted tree planting jobs around New Zealand.
When an order came through Beach – who maintains accounts and the online shop – contacted Mikey, who ditched the tree planting job to fill the order, then it was back to another tree planting job once the order was filled.

They look to each other for creative guidance in the stoneware they produce, and know they’ve got something right when they all like the end product.
The beauty of pottery is the craftsperson never really knows what the final product is going to look like, taking it from the greenware stage (stoneware has that not yet been bisque fired), to bisque firing, then glazing and a final firing is a magical process.

“Most potters will average around 80% (uniformity), that’s pretty much as good as you can get it,” Mikey says.

“We are sitting around 90%,” Beach says.

But there’s beauty in the seconds as well, “people have lots of cool uses for it and that’s fun to see,” Kyle says.
They do custom orders of plates, bowls, mugs, platters, ramekins, candles, planters, vase in any shape, size and glaze, applying a company logo mark by embossing or painting it.

Moving the business along required Beach to put on his salesman hat and hit the roads, from Wellington, Taranaki and on to Auckland, to show potential customers their wares, while Mikey and Kyle kept the workshop going.

“It’s better doing it in person and I like to meet with people as much as I can and give them the chance to physically hold a beautiful piece of pottery,” Beach says.

They’re now producing orders for Iko Iko in Wellington and Ripe Deli in Auckland.
The road trip also saw them change their focus to take-away coffee cups and they have a popular range of stunning glazes.

It fits with their ethos of trying to be a zero-waste business; they even reuse the plastic bags the clay comes to cover unfinished clay pieces and are working with their supplier to refill bags they return with clay.

“Most of our waste is the dried/broken clay which goes back into the earth,” Beach says.

“As surfers, the environment plays a huge part in our lives, we’re very conscious about it.  We want to stop the single-use and have fun surfing and working while we’re doing it,” Kyle says.

The work is full on at the moment with Christmas fast approaching and the three will have to balance the surf with the work but they’re all loving the lifestyle the business allows them.
There’s a local Christmas order of cups that will be seedling planters initially and transform back into drinking cups once the seedlings are ready to be planted outside.
With plans for expansion on the horizon and a potential move to a bigger workshop in Raglan, there’s also the realisation that they may need more workers.

“We would love get our friends on board to help – that’s how Mikey started,” Beach says.

“I want people to be their own independent pottery contractors and be able to surf and work like we do,” Mikey says.

Check out Westcoast Stoneware’s work at www.westcoaststoneware.com

J Jackson