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Bermuda Innovators: Cullen O’Hara Brings Surf Culture to Bermuda

What do you do when you're an avid surfer living on an island with no surfboard equipment? You innovate starting your own company complete with custom surfboards, lessons and a clothing line, of course. 

Credit: John Manderson

Bermuda’s beaches are legendary. The island’s surfing scene? Not so much. Cullen O’Hara is changing that. 

O’Hara’s Isolated Surfboards launched in 2010 has rapidly become Bermuda’s go-to resource for everything surfing, from boards and SUPs to ding repair, lessons and accessories. With a retail space set up, it looks like the surf’s up in Bermuda for the foreseeable future. We talked to O'Hara about his surf shop and his insights into surfing in Bermuda.

What was the impetus behind founding Isolated Surfboards?

Cullen O'Hara, owner of Isolated Surfboards

Pure necessity. I had been living in California, where I earned my university degree, and had come home with my healthy quiver of boards. But it wasn't long before I had gone through all of my boards and was in a bit of a jam with no access to equipment. 

I had been doing fiberglass work for a long time at this point, so I decided to try to build a few boards of my own. They ended up working pretty well. I had the opportunity to travel and try them out in a diverse range of conditions and I was quite happy.

I made a few boards for friends and the next thing you know, I started to get some real demand. With every board built, I learned something new, so it's been a great experience.

We have a new textile studio for all of our custom merchandise, a skateboard halfpipe, live surf contests on the projector and live music to keep ya movin'!

What can surfers expect from Isolated?

Isolated's retail space consists of a wide range of boards, skateboards and Isolated gear, all made in-house. We have a new textile studio for all of our custom merchandise, a skateboard halfpipe, live surf contests on the projector and live music to keep ya movin'! 

What is it about Bermuda that sparks your creativity & innovation?

Cullen O'Hara, owner of Isolated Surfboards

Often times, for me at least, we'll have a mental road block, whether it be creating a new design concept or trying to streamline methods of production. And the best thing for me to do is to get away from my desk and hang out at the beach or in the ocean – quiet time to really focus on what's going on.

Fortunately, it's pretty easy to sneak out to the beach, even in the middle of the day. Also, in terms in innovation, it helps that the island community is so small. You are able to make contacts and get answers to crucial questions almost immediately, which I feel is much trickier in larger cities and countries.

What do you get out of Bermuda that you can’t find anywhere else?

You'd be hard-pressed to find somewhere that allows you to take a lunch break from your office in the city centre, pick up some quality food, have time to eat it – and still have some quality time on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. And if you know where to go, you may be the only one on the beach! That still blows me away. It's that sort of access to the most amazing ocean resources that is hard to match.

Where are the best surfing spots in Bermuda?

There are plenty of places to surf on the island, and each has its own merits.

There are the odd reefs around and many of the South Shore beaches – Horseshoe Bay, Southlands, the Tucker’s Town beaches, to name a few – can all produce some quality waves. The hardest part about scoring a good session is timing and understanding the conditions. This spot works on high tide, that spot works on low tide, etc. And that's just the beginning.

Horseshoe Bay, Southlands, the Tucker’s Town beaches, to name a few – can all produce some quality waves

The good news is that it's a pretty fun journey, getting everything dialled. And just when you think you have it figured out, you'll check somewhere that you expect to be crap, and it's pumping. Go figure!