In this episode, Corey and Sean welcome their first guest on the show, as they join forces with their legendary pal Pete Buzelli (or “Simple Pete” as Sean calls him) to talk about one of BOTE’s most iconic differentiators: the BOTE DarkRoom. More than just a space to make paddle boards, the DarkRoom quickly became a project with a purpose; a safe space to fail fast and fail often, yet also make a lot of magic happen; a place to churn out cutting edge paddle board technology on their own terms; and a beacon for the local paddle board community of South Walton, Florida, to come together, sip on some brews, and see how paddle boards get made.
If, when you picture the DarkRoom, you’re envisioning a laboratory-like lair of giant shipping containers filled with 3D printers and ballistics-grade composites and sheets of advanced plastics, topped with a couple of mad boat scientists conducting a bunch of crazy paddle board experiments, well then… yeah, that’s pretty much exactly what it is.
In this episode, the guys talk about the origins of the DarkRoom and how it came to be. They also provide a rundown of some of their favorite BOTE board models & technologies—some of which are still around & kickin’ to this day—that were created in the DarkRoom. And—as always—they shoot the shit for half an hour until you’re left bummed that it had to end. So sit back and enjoy.
COMING AT YOU DIRECT, FROM THE MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, TO THE CENTER OF EVERYWHERE.
Who's In The Episode
Lead Designer, Co-Founder, and CEO at BOTE, Corey Cooper is a licensed engineer hailing from Auburn University. Corey is the pioneer of the DarkRoom, assisting with the design of the machinery, concepting the layout and ultimately developing the workflow used in DarkRoom production. Corey’s passion for this project is so strong that on any given day, regardless of how busy things are at BOTE, you will often find Corey working in the DarkRoom.
Sean Murphy is the Director of Photography at BOTE and a world-renowned photographer based in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. After spending most of his career based in Los Angeles, shooting for brands like Adidas, Red Bull, and Toyota, just to name a few, Sean moved back to the Redneck Riviera. You can find Sean capturing gritty America and spontaneous moments that translate into visually stunning photography.
Pete Buzzelli joined the BOTE team after 40 years in the boat building industry. His eccentric and innovative personality is why he was selected to direct and manage the DarkRoom, an area at BOTE dedicated to complete control and infinite manipulation. When he’s not working with Corey and the crew to bring their mad scientist ideas to life, you’ll find him driving eclectic motorcycles off and on the road or SUP racing along Northwest Florida waterways.
“I remember I was gone for a couple weeks, and I came back and you guys had put in like three shipping containers with shaping rooms, sanding rooms, plexiglass walls. I mean the concept was insane. And Pete and his guys would be out literally making custom boards. You could come into the shop and see these guys making the magic happen in front of people.” - Sean Murphy, BOTE Director of Photography
“The idea really started with this giant machine that I designed that was 20 feet long, 6 feet wide, 6 feet tall. It started there. I remember making this thing going, ‘okay this is gonna be a project just to design it. We’re gonna have to put it somewhere. It’s gonna be really cool to look at so we want to showcase it so that people can see it.” – Corey Cooper, CEO and Co-Founder at BOTE
There’s not too many mistakes we’ve made that we haven’t been able to utilize down the road for future projects. - Pete “Simple Pete” Buzzelli / Darkroom Wizard
Welcome to another lovely, wonderful episode of BOTE’s Beneath the Surface podcast.
00:01:00 Meet Pete
Boat expert for over 40 years, obsessive competitor (especially in SUP and motorcycle racing), and Director of the DarkRoom, Pete Buzelli is the man of the [half] hour in this episode.
00:01:58 Today’s Subject
...is, drumroll, the DarkRoom. The DarkRoom is basically a conceptual lab where, inside the BOTE business, Corey & co. were able to construct and create all their fantastic products over the years. Named after a photographer’s darkroom studio, where “you’re creating the image” as Sean the photographer puts it, that’s exactly what the DarkRoom became for BOTE—a place to shape the future image of many of their best products.
00:03:15 Setting the Stage
Darkroom really started out because of Corey’s need for an industrialized way to develop these products.
00:04:20 The CNC Machine
The what, you ask? Basically, it’s a giant manufacturing tool.
“The CNC machine is made to take computer design, 3D solid models on a computer, then takes large chunks of foam—you know 14 feet wide long, 3 feet wide, 4 feet tall—and it would have this little cutter head on it that would cut whatever you want out of the foam. Obviously in our case it would be boards, rovers, kayaks, canoes. I remember making this thing going, ‘okay this is gonna be a project just to design it. We’re gonna have to put it somewhere. It’s gonna be really cool to look at so we want to showcase it so that people can see it.’” – Corey Cooper, CEO and Co-Founder at BOTE
00:06:43 Pete’s Side of the Story
Corey needed a guy. Pete, with 40 years of boat experience and a technical guru, was the obvious pick. But at first he was skeptical. He was 54 years old at the time, envisioned it being quite a bit of work that we wasn’t sure he wanted to take on, and—truth be told—thought on first meeting Corey, at a SUP race at the Running of the Gorge, that he was a bit of a “knucklehead.” (Said endearingly, of course.) Eventually, Corey’s salesmanship—”the best sales guy BOTE has” according to Pete—got the better of Pete and he came to check out the DarkRoom.
00:08:40 Picture It
A giant warehouse. Four shipping containers. Each of these were lit up and had ventilation. And the CNC machine was enclosed in a plexiglass enclosure so that people visiting could see how it worked.
00:12:53 Man Vs. The Machine
Pete admits the CNC machine was a minor bane of his existence. Coming from the old school, where anything even remotely technological needs to have a big red button in order to know how to turn it on, Pete fought with this machine for a solid seven years. A love-hate relationship doesn’t even begin to describe it.
00:13:48 Building Community
One of the best aspects of the DarkRoom, for Pete and Corey, was the way in which it activated young folks in the local community.
“That was the coolest part for me, watching the younger guys get jazzed up about it.” – Corey Cooper, CEO and Co-Founder at BOTE
“It was good to see those kids—high school kids, some of them—and they’d come in just wanting something to do and then they’d get suckered into it. Like you did, like I did.” – Pete Buzelli, DarkRoom Director at BOTE
00:15:15 The Vibe
Because the DarkRoom had an optical element to it, where retail customers were able to come in and see how these paddle boards were being made, it ended up cultivating a pretty incredible communal aspect in addition to the innovation and design. With beer at the counter, and boats for sale in the front, it became nearly impossible for customers to simply get in and get out. Visiting the BOTE store became a full-on experience unto itself.
00:17:45 What Was Actually Made
After a few minutes of memory lane banter, the guys reel it back in to talk about the technologies & boards that were actually created in the DarkRoom. Afterall, the whole reason they’re in this business is to make stuff. Cool stuff.
00:19:35 The Traveler, The Grambler, The Rover & More
The first board made in the DarkRoom was The Traveller—a touring board made for the Everglades. Next up was the Grambler, a 10-foot board great for surfing. Then it was the first Rover, not a motorized board, but the first standup paddle wake surf board.
“At this point, we were going through new material supplies like they were candy.” – Corey Cooper, CEO and Co-Founder at BOTE
00:22:02 Out of the Ashes, A Phoenix Rises
In order to break down barriers and make innovative stuff, you’ve got to fail first. Simple as that. The DarkRoom was a place where they failed time and again. But at the end of the day a huge amount of BOTE’s product construction was based on learnings from the things they did in the DarkRoom.
00:22:35 The Gatorshell
To one up the competition, they decided they needed to develop a new technology for making boards. And thus, the Gatorshell was born.
“The Gatorshell is a thermoform plastic fiberglass composition that is the strongest, most impact-resistant, coolest product for rigid boards on the market. And we developed that entire idea in the DarkRoom.” – Corey Cooper, CEO and Co-Founder at BOTE
00:26:55 Testing, Testing, Is This Thing Strong?
The testing on the Gatorproof technology went on for a long time, with all sorts of wild contraptions devised to do so: giant sledgehammers on a pendulum, throwing boards off a forklift, and all sorts of “googly engineer smart stuff”—to put it in Sean’s words.
Thanks to Pete for the walk down memory lane. Thanks for tuning in. See you next time!