The relationship between CJ Nelson and Yu Sumitomo goes back to their childhoods. Yu was an aspiring pro surfer living with family and friends in Santa Cruz in the early 90s. CJ was a young grom with similar goals. Their paths first crossed while surfing the Hook at the end of 41st Ave. CJ remarked on the radness of Yu's beautiful Japanese wetsuit. Although they couldn't really communicate because of the language barrier, a friendship was sparked.
Yu kicked around Santa Cruz for a number of years becoming friends with all the Pleasure point crew. CJ and Yu ended up sharing tons of sessions developing a great respect for one another. Professional surfing in Santa Cruz is an uphill battle so Yu ended up relocating back to Japan and his family's board building business.
At the time Yu's father Stomatsu Sumitomo was building some of the most cutting edge sail boards in the world. He was also working on a new technology that would cut down the chatter at high speeds. Working on flex and control using a plethora of materials. Yu emersed himself in his father's business learning everything he could about board building and his father's new technology. Yu has worked in surfboard factories before and knew his way around a shaping room. He quickly started working on applying his father's sailboard technology to his personal surfboards. This was the first conceptualization of what we know today as thunderbolt technology.
Yu was working with some of his friends on Maui like Matt Meola and Albee Layer trying to get his new technology right on short boards. Yu was passing around a few prototypes to Rob Machado, Flynn Novak, and a few other Hawaiian chargers. Everyone was blown away by the responsiveness of Yu's new direction on board building. Word got back to the good folks at Channel Islands and a contract was put in place. Yu was working with the best short board shaper in the world building Channel Islands in his technology.
Yu didn't stop there, he sought out all his heroes to show them what he was doing. Carl Ekstrom, Neal Purchase, Neal Purchase Jr, Sean Agness just to mention a few. Yu set projects in place building his boards for all of them. This wasn't a new way to build an indestructible epoxy production board but a way of building a high performance flex machine that felt like nothing before it. A labor of love that took 50 more steps in the building process than a normal poly surfboard. 100% by hand, one at a time.
Yu's family buzzed thinking about how this technology could be applied to other types of surfboards. Yu remembered his old friend and now professional longboard surfer CJ and hit him up. At the time CJ was regrouping from the loss of his father and freshly sober. Yu packed up and flew to Santa Cruz for a long overdue reunion. CJ was already into alternative technology making carbon boards with his buddy John at Aviso Surfboards. His mind was open and the timing was perfect. Yu brought one of Matt Meola's Boards to show CJ. Yu twisted it and jumped on it showing its uncanny flex characteristics. CJ was all in.
To get going, Yu ended up building CJ 12 boards with 12 different flex patterns. Yu built them all white numbering them one through 12 (pic) CJ flew to Japan to do a 2-week tour to test them out. CJ has ridden traditional Volan/poly builds for the majority of his life so he had no idea what Yu's technology would feel like in a noserider.
After two weeks of surfing and experimentation, CJ ended up choosing board number two as his favorite. It felt like a rocket ship. Yu quickly put a business plan in place to bring Thunderbolt Technologies to the world. This wasn't just a new way to build boards, these were the best-performing longboards that had ever been made. Now their goal was to share this with the world. The path was clear.
Sharing this new technology with the world is no easy task. Yu San had worked with multiple distributors globally and hundreds of shops. Thunderbolt's defining moment was meeting Mark Nelson with Carve sports. Mark had run many companies and was an avid surfer. He saw the genius in Yu's technology and quickly jumped on board. Without his business acumen and his work ethic, this simply wouldn't have happened. Carve sports grew the Thunderbolt brands and made a good push in the marketplace. The team at Carve sports put Thunderbolt on the map but simply didn't have the manpower to Yu San and his technology on the platform it deserved.
Yu was now working with CJ, Ben Skinner, Harley Ingleby, and Kai Sallas. The crew met in Hawaii to strategize their next move. After a few days of brainstorming lots of ideas were put on the floor. They kept coming back to FireWire. Unarguably the top sales force in the hardgoods period. He decided to reach out on a return to the mainland and was warmly welcomed. After a solid year of discussion, we came to an agreement making FireWire the global distributor for Thunderbolt Technologies.
Yu San's goal has always been to make the best riding surfboards in the world which I feel like he has achieved. Now his focus is to get them in the most amount of hands as possible so people can enjoy them. With his new distribution family at FireWire, the sky is the limit.