It seems obvious that Jeff Hammer’s life as a carefree windsurfer and entrepreneur is light-years away from his roots as a Jewish boy from Great Neck, NY. Yet, like his father, he has created a manufacturing company that fills a niche. His journey took him from New York to Jackson Hole, WY, where he spent twentysome years as a self-described “ski bum.” He spent part of the offseason windsurfing in Baja California, before he discovered the perfect winds of Hood River. “In Baja people told us about the Columbia Gorge where the ;winds blow 25 to 30 miles per hour every day,” says Jeff, who is still known to close up shop to catch that perfect wind. He relies in part on an app, Iwindsurf.com, to keep him up on local wind conditions.
He arrived in Hood River in the early 1980s to explore the windsurfing, and in 1985 he got involved in board-building on a small scale, though he still spent winters skiing in Jackson Hole. By 1989 he was living in Hood River full time and had built a commercial building with five tenants plus his own board manufacturing space and sporting goods shop. Originally his shop built only sailboards, but as =the windsurfing craze passed its peak in the 1990s, his North Pacific Surfboards (northpacificsurf.com) added surfboards and then kiteboards. He was joined by Art Colyer, a well-known surfboard maker who wanted to leave the California lifestyle. Jeff says his partner was already hand-crafting small surfboards custom built for small-framed Japanese surfers when a new market emerged.
“People wanted small surfboards to kite surf on the waves on the Columbia River,” says Jeff. “Everything we do is custom made; so we started making directional kiteboards. We fell into this new market.” For the past eight years, Jeff and his wife Gloria have divided their time between their homes in Portland and Hood River. About four to five years ago, North Pacific Surfboards also expanded into another craze – stand-up paddleboards. But North Pacific specializes in paddleboards for people who want to paddle out and surf.
“The boards we build are for paddle surfing in the waves,” says Jeff, noting surfers like the paddleboards because, “You can surf smaller waves on big paddleboards. Among the aging surfing population, some have switched to stand-up paddleboarding.” The bulk of the business is now surfboards, but every board is custom made. With the advances in wetsuit technology making cold water surfing more appealing, Oregon has become the latest surf destination. “We have a few models, but every board is built for height, weight, ability, where you surf and the time of year,” says Jeff. “Each board is still handmade in the U.S.A.”
So how does that bring him back to his roots? His dad, Robert Hammer, also found a niche market. Robert was transferred from Chicago to New York to run a 500-man manufacturing plant. But he saw a niche that wasn’t being met and opened New York Twist Drill to make specialty tools for making holes in the new “exotic” materials of the mid-20th century for the automotive, truck, aircraft, railroad, watch making and shipbuilding industries as well as for emerging industries such as aerospace and defense.