Marco Ortiz, the founder of ATL, does his Part in Developing Mexico’s Growing Surf-Culture
For surfers, hyperbolic tales and urban legends are commonplace. The waves were always “way bigger yesterday” and most surfers “know a guy who knows a guy who can get us into a secret spot that no one knows about.” The Bay of Banderas (home to Puerto Vallarta and it’s surf-abundant neighbor, Punta Mita) has had its own urban legend floating around for the past few years that’s gone something like this: “My friend knows of a guy in Guadalajara who shapes killer boards and sells them for only three-hundred bucks.” Fortunate for all of us in the Bay, this one’s true.
Marco Ortiz grew up surfing the Riviera Nayarit, as several of his family members live in the Bucerias and La Penita in Nayarit. After studying reinforced plastics in Guadalajara, he began experimenting with ways to create foam “blanks,” the base product from which surfboards are shaped, in order to meet the board demands of the steadily increasing surf-culture in the city some nineteen years ago. Shortly after, his company ATL (which means “water” in the ancient Aztec language of Nahuatl was born.
Now almost two decades later, Ortiz and his wife/business partner Aimee have moved ATL’s operations to Bucerias, where the pair were happy to answer a few questions about their much sought-after business.
Mexico Today: What was it like building a surf brand in a big city like Guadalajara?
ATL: It was great! There are a lot of really good surfers who live in Guadalajara. Most of them head south to surf at spots like Ticla. We weren’t always just in Guadalajara, though. I lived in Los Angeles for about two years around 2002, where I worked with some people in the industry. When I got back from the US, I hooked up with Squalo (arguably the most famous Mexican surf brand) who are based in Guadalajara. I started shaping boards for them, which I still do today. Getting set up with Squalo was a big part of being able to make surfboards while living in the city.
Mexico Today: So when you decided to move your operations, why did you pick the Bay of Banderas and not somewhere further south where the waves are known to be better and more consistent?
ATL: [Marco] grew up surfing in the area and still has family here as well. We have had to alter some of our shapes to fit the mellower waves of the bay, but this is where we want to be.
Mexico Today: After 19 years of making surfboards, what are your biggest challenges?
ATL: Well we shape over 350 boards a year between what we sell and what we make for Squalo, so the biggest challenge is how to continually experiment with different shapes and different materials while maintaining a quality of the highest standard. Keeping things affordable has always been another goal of ours, which can be difficult, especially in a post Clark Foam world.
Mexico Today: That brings us to the big question: In a world where the average short-board costs $600+ USD, do your boards really only cost three hundred bucks?
ATL: Haha, well, obviously, our long-boards and some of our bigger shapes cost more, but, yeah, we try to keep our base models pretty close to that mark. Things like custom paint jobs and special glass jobs will raise the price, but we’re constantly looking for more efficient ways to do things so that we can keep the final costs down for our customers. Our base price is about $330 USD at the moment.
Mexico Today: So what does the future of ATL look like? How big do you want to be?
ATL: Good question. We actually downsized our operation when we made the move from Guadalajara to Bucerias, so it’s just three of us right now [Marco, Aimee, and Joel, a protégé of Marco’s] – well, four of us if you include Pancho [a giant American bulldog who roams the premises]. Every board we produce is hand-made, which is something we’re really proud of. We’ve looked into digitalizing the shapes and having a CNC machine shape them, which would enable us to mass-produce, but it’s just not something we’re interested in pursuing at this time. Right now, we’re just focused on building out our new showroom next to Buklaz Surf Shop with as many killer boards as we can. Taking custom orders from local surfers is also something we’ve always enjoyed, so we’re excited to continue to do that locally now so we can meet each person who orders a board in person!
Mexico Today: What’s the best way for people to get in contact with you?
ATL: Well we’re still working on our website, but you can join our mailing list on the site. You can find us in our showroom, which is located at Calle Cuauhtemoc 50 in Bucerias, Nayarit next to Buklaz Surf Shop, or you can email us at email@example.com.
Mexico Today: Best of luck and thanks for chatting with us!
ATL: Thank you – we’ll see you in the water!