Tucked away at the furthest point on an industrial estate by Bournemouth International Airport is a small unit that is towered over by aeroplanes parked in a nearby yard. It’s in this unit with its huge cutting table and a Mitsubishi sewing machine in the corner that Rik Garratt runs his board bag-making business, Whasup.
Rik started out in the business working for a friend who made boat covers and who was using up the leftover material from the covers to manufacture bags for surfboards. Rik eventually took over the surfboard bag side of the business, setting up Whasup in 2009, and has since sold every type of water-sports bag you can imagine – and probably a few you didn’t know existed – along with bags for skis, skateboards, Royal British Legion flags and even the more usual courier-style bags. He has a loyal following for his bespoke bags, with around 85% of his business coming from the sports industry. He sells mainly to end users such as British Paralympic paracanoeist Jeanette Chippington, although he is involved in wholesale as well. A stand-up paddle surfer himself, he says he’s the only person in the UK who makes bespoke paddle board bags: “They’re my biggest seller.”
While it may seem odd that people don’t turn to the board brands for the ideal bag, there is a simple explanation: it’s hard for board companies to create a range of bags that will result in a perfect fit for every board they make. Surfboards, for example, range in length from 5’ 11” to 14”, going up in 1” increments, while the width increases in increments of an eighth of an inch from 19” to 36”. And that’s not even taking into account the different styles of board. Rik comments: “I get main brands which, when people say they want a bag, say ‘Well, go and see Rik. He’ll make you one.’”
There’s also Rik’s attention to detail: he’s particular about the small things, such as zips, as he knows they affect the bag’s durability. “I use plastic YKK zips. Because they’re plastic and there’s no metal in them, salt water won’t destroy them.” He sews everything twice, and uses two layers of 5mm high-density foam for padding as this will protect the board while keeping the bag light.
He can make up to 10 bags a day, which given the scale of the bags and the bespoke nature of the majority of his orders, is a testament to the speed and skill he has built up over the years.
Rik prints the bags using vinyl – he tried screen printing them but wasn’t happy with the quality of the finish. The vinyl prints, on the other hand, are hard-wearing and come up really well, he says, adding: “I’ve seen bags that I made years and years ago, and they still look perfect.”
What he’s most excited about at the moment, however, is what he can achieve with his large format, 6-head Roland SC-540 printer. He bought the ten-year-old, secondhand machine when he moved into the new unit and plans to use it to offer bags embellished with full-colour images. “I’m thinking of sewing them completely differently. I would print the pattern of the bag, so I wouldn’t be wasting ink, then I’d just cut them all out and sew them together,” he explains.
Thanks to his in-depth industry knowledge Rik knows there’s a market for bespoke, personalised board bags with an all-over print, and he’s probably the only person in the UK who’ll be able to create them while still meeting the exacting standards his customers have come to expect. “I take pride in the fact they’re made in the UK and they’re all made by me,” he says. And so, clearly, do his customers.