Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Justin Potter of Float Captain
Urban Explorer Series: Interview with Justin Potter of Float Captain
“When you travel to a new place, you have to make that experience your own. Otherwise, you are just getting the guidebook experience.”
Co-Founder of Float Captain
Our Urban Explorer
Could you please introduce yourself to our guests?
My name is Justin Potter, and I am one of the three co-founders of Float Captain, together with my friends Bryant Vallejo and Jason K and we are a Hong Kong homegrown surf lifestyle brand. This is a passion project that we started in 2011 and it is still a passion project/side business of ours till this day. It was something we developed as a creative outlet that would allow us to interpret the surf lifestyle in our own way. Essentially, we wanted to create something for the surf community in Hong Kong that they will not expect to find anywhere else.
Where did your love for surfing come from?
It was in the early 2000’s when Jason (one of the brand’s co-founders) first introduced me to surfing. And surfing is one of these things where you are either instantly hooked or you really hate it. Once you are hooked, that’s it. When you are riding a wave, you are literally standing on a natural element. And that, to me is pretty incredible. Each board is different and unique in its own way, from the size and shape to the width and length. With so many variations of waves, there are so many unique experiences you can have when you are surfing. It is ever-changing, ever-evolving. The best part is when you get to share that experience with your friends, where you get to discover new places and new waves.
What inspired you to start Float Captain?
Back in the day, we spent a lot of time in Hawaii surfing and we started to see a lot of cool brands like Saturdays NYC popping up amidst the larger mass brands like Quicksilver and Billabong, so we had the idea of creating a boutique brand of our own. Working in the creative community, we had friends that worked in apparel manufacturing in China so they gave us some guidance on how to get started but it was definitely a learning curve for us at the time.
How do you think you fit into the term “Urban Explorer”?
An urban explorer is someone who enjoys a sense of discovery and often prefers to explore the unbeaten path rather than following what everyone else is doing. It’s like when I go somewhere new, I prefer to walk around and stumble upon a neighbourhood and just see how the locals do it. I can sit inside a coffee shop and watch what other people are doing, soaking in what it is like to live in that neighbourhood rather than mapping out all the tourist spots. This allows for an element of surprise. And besides, everyone’s interpretation of a city and what they want to explore in it is different. When you travel to a new place, you have to make that experience your own. Otherwise, you are just getting the guidebook experience.
Ahead of the Wave
How would you describe surfing in Hong Kong?
The surfing community in Hong Kong is definitely growing. There are a lot more younger surfers appearing in the water with their surfboards, just eager to learn. It’s interesting. I never thought it would take off the way it has.
To me, surfing are two things. It can be super hectic, especially in Hong Kong with so many people visiting the beaches all the time, but it can also be spiritual, depending on where you are surfing. On one hand, it is pretty amazing to share the waves with so many different types of people in the water with different nationalities, different jobs, different walks of life. But on the other hand, when it comes to sharing waves, there is only a finite amount of waves to share while you’re surfing, so many surfers tend to head out to more deserted islands and beaches away from the crowds to find some peace and tranquillity.
Are there any good places to ride the wave?
I need to be careful how I answer that question because there are a lot of surfers who prefer to keep their preferred places to surf hidden! That said, Sai Kung is a very good place to surf in Hong Kong. There are certain conditions in various places in the city which will generate epic waves, but they do not come often!
What other places in the world do you think has some of the best waves?
For my friends and I, we like to surf in Taiwan because it offers some pretty great waves.
We have done boat trips in the Maldives a couple of times where we are just surfing at different spots every day and the waves are really good. I grew up in Melbourne, Australia so I got to spend a bit of time down there and the waves are pretty cold but it is a great place to learn how to surf. Another great place to learn how to surf is in Hawaii. There are so many different waves there and it is very beginner friendly, so I would recommend Hawaii for those who are just starting out. There is so much surfing history in Hawaii as it is kind of where it all started, so it is almost like a rite of passage that you have to go!
The surf life is so chill and by no means is Hong Kong considered a chill city. Creating a brand like Float Captain in Hong Kong is a breath of fresh air, but do you find the city is sometimes a little too much for you?
But I think that is what’s cool about Hong Kong! It is small enough that you can escape from the city life and head outdoors. For example, you could finish a meeting in Central and then be out on the trails hiking within 15 minutes; in 20 minutes, you could be at a beach alone…sometimes! There are so many great access points in the city where you can just pull yourself out of the hustle and bustle to do what you need to do. I especially think that mental health is becoming more and more important nowadays so we need to be more mindful of how we take care of ourselves – physically, mentally and spiritually.
How do you get away from the hustle and bustle?
Aside from surfing, to get away from the hustle and bustle we come to the showroom. I do a lot of my work from home but I try to come out a few times here. Otherwise, I enjoy spending more time outdoors. I try to move when I can so I like to go for my daily runs in the morning.
Could you walk us through your creative process in designing your apparel?
It is pretty seamless, actually! The guys put a lot of faith in me to just drive the creative aspect, or at least the branding aspect, and the execution of the creative because that is where my experience is. So, I think that helped a lot and made things much easier. Once the collection is designed, we will discuss it together and see if there is a common theme that we can play with so the whole process is pretty organic and natural.
We love that you infuse some local elements into your design. What inspired you to do that?
Our brand is a reflection of the three of us and the Hong Kong culture is obviously a huge part of that. Hence, it seemed only natural that we would infuse these elements into the brand.
At some point during the pandemic, beaches were closed off. How do you think this has affected your everyday lifestyle? Did it also affect your brand in any way?
COVID has certainly affected different facets of our lives. One of the obvious things is that our store stay closed when restrictions were imposed on the city because we did not want to put ourselves out there for safety reasons. So not opening has probably hurt the sales front a bit but thankfully we still have our online presence and that has not stopped. In terms of the beaches being closed, it did affect the surf community for sure as many people could not surf, so it is good that things have finally opened up again here in Hong Kong.
Can you share any interesting stories about your experiences surfing in the city?
Hong Kong is not known as a place for surfing but every now and then comes that perfect world-class wave that can be comparable to the waters in Bali. That said, in Hong Kong there are certain conditions in various places which will generate epic waves, but they do not come often. When it does, you must take advantage of it!
How often do you travel? Do you travel more for work or pleasure?
Pre-COVID, I used to travel a lot for both work and pleasure. We work a lot in Japan so we tend to visit Tokyo quite often, and make some trips to Niseko for snowboarding while we are there. I also enjoy traveling around Asia for surfing and when you live in such a convenient place like Hong Kong, you are literally a few hours plane ride away from another country. My friends and I regularly visit Taiwan, Bali, and Hawaii for surfing.
During this time, everyone is having wanderlust and the itch to make a getaway. Where would you like to visit right now?
Lately, I have been craving Italian food and we all love drinking coffee here, so Italy (specifically Rome) would be at the top of my list. I also would love to travel to Japan again as we frequently used to visit pre-COVID.
What other destinations are on your bucket list?
For family travel, I’m looking to explore some of the Scandinavian countries. For surf travel, I would love to visit Costa Rica.
Given the current circumstances, how do you find other ways of exploring when you cannot physically travel outside of the city without quarantining for 14 days?
My wife and I recently had a baby last year so a lot of my exploration has been baby stuff and new play groups. So it is a different kind of exploration! For us, we explore stroller-friendly hikes or trails that don’t require two thousand steps.
As much as urban explorers enjoy visiting must-see tourist attractions, they also enjoy being enriched by the city’s authentic local culture and taste. If you could pick one place or district that embodies the essence of Hong Kong, where would it be?
I would say Causeway Bay because it is so dynamic, covering a lot of geography yet there are so many diverse pockets that co-exist together in one place. Architecturally, you will find huge office spaces like WeWork placed next to older buildings that have been around for a long time, or you’ll find a lush piece of greenery like Victoria Park situated right in the middle of this bustling neighbourhood. There is something for everyone so I think it represents Hong Kong very well.
In 3 words, how would you describe Hong Kong?
Hectic, Surprising, One-of-a-kind