Skip to content


Music, Surf and Startups: A Brilliant Interview with James Watkins of

An old friend, former employee, second Haydenshapes customer-ever and now CEO of the groundbreaking new music licensing platform for creatives, Gnarles, meet James Watkins. In a recent and interview with us, James tells us what gnarles is about and what’s fuelled his creative drive over the years.




Haydenshapes: So James, in your own words, what is gnarles and how is it useful?

James WatkinsGnarles is a music licensing platform that allows filmmakers and content creators unlimited use of a curated music catalogue for all of their projects. It is kind of like a “Spotify for Filmmakers” and we generally focus on emerging artists with fresh/trending music. We also offer a range of services for our artists and have just started to run live music events showcasing the artists on our platform.


Epic! Do you have to be a “creative” to use gnarles?

Yes. We actually have an application process to ensure that there are only professional creatives using our service.


What was your path toward and in the music industry, or how’d you come to figure out a need for gnarles?

I started producing music with a friend as a hobby, just for fun, making some pretty cheesy electronic beats. One day a filmmaker friend asked us to make some music for a short film and we got paid for it. It was not my intention to enter the music industry like I have but am very happy I did!

I suppose the idea for gnarles was spawned when I worked for Haydenshapes years ago. I used to listen to all the surf filmmakers complain about finding music for their films.  I remember Ando (Craig Anderson) talking about his film that Dane Reynolds was making and the pains they went through to find music they liked and get approved for their film. I knew this was a major pain-point for all filmmakers and promised myself I would find a way to fix this. Once I started making music for filmmakers I started to understand these pain-points and went on the quest to establish


Nice. Who are you top 5-ish bands/artists?

Well, this is a hard one as we have only just launched. I can tell you that so far the top bands we use for films are:

Ten Ten Collective

Mister T


Rico Casazza

David Virgin


But we have an eclectic range of artists and it will be interesting to see what filmmakers like using.


You and Hayden go way back and apparently you are were his second ever Haydenshapes customer?

I used to surf this reef break in front of my Dad’s house called Winki Pop (Winki) at Manly Beach in Sydney. I surfed there religiously before and after school. It was mainly a boogie boarder wave as it is pretty sketchy and the only other (standup) surfer to come out regularly was Hayden. We didn’t actually realize that we went to the same school for quite a while cause we were always skipping school when the surf was on! [laughs] But I used to break a ton of boards at Winki and when he told me he was learning how to shape I naturally jumped at the chance to get some cost price boards and be the guinea pig! I actually received the second ever board he shaped for someone, it cost $200AUD and it surfed really well!

Fastforward 10 years and 50 more Haydenshapes, and Hayden employed me to be his salesman and I worked for him for 5 years, preaching the good word of HS and FutureFlex to surf stores around the world. I was really lucky to have access to so many boards and I learned a lot about manufacturing and board design. When I started working for him we were selling boards in only two stores. I used to be the only one with an HS board in the water and I don’t think that will ever happen again!


Do you see a lot of connections between music and surfing?

I believe music is the most important aspect of a surf film. Some of my favorite bands and songs came about from watching surf movies by Taylor Steele, Kai Neville and even older ones by Jack McCoy. I feel that these surf films shaped my musical preferences and I know that is true for many surfers. You can’t watch a surf film without music. There are also many professional surfers who make music and some have even been quite successful from it (Jack Johnson and Donavon Frankenreiter). Still waiting for Kelly Slater to come out with a platinum record but I suppose he can’t be a freak at everything!



Hayden tells me he already uses gnarles. That so?

Yes Haydenshapes is creating a few videos this year for the team and they will be using the gnarles library so listen (and watch) out! I look forward to seeing Ando (my favorite surfer) styling his way to one of our songs!


Unreal. So who have been your own inspirations (artistically/creatively) along the way?

Music Producers: Hanz Zimmerman for epic cinematic sounds.  Deadmau5: his music production tutorials are the best and I love his trash talking on Twitter.

Filmmaker: Taylor Steele, Geez where do I start……in my teen years there was not a day that went by without me watching one of Taylor Steele’s films.

Entrepreneurs: Elon Musk, Mark Cuban; They’re crazy visionaries that don’t take “No” for an answer and send cars into space!


Where are you based and where are your favorite places to surf and why?

I am now landlocked in Berlin, Germany. Currently waiting for Kelly to bring his wave pool to town! Luckily I head to Australia a few months a year but when I am in Europe my fave destination for surfing and snowboarding is France. The waves at Hossegor remind me of Australian beach breaks and the mountains are amazing! 


What have you been riding lately, too.

Well there are sometimes 8 months between surfs so the Hypto Kypto remains my staple board until I build up the muscles to ride something else! I always like riding fun boards like the Psychedelic Germ. As a step-up Hayden has been shaping me — a Shred Sled King (5’11 19 1/2 2 3/4) — can actually handle some really solid surf! Hayden shapes a mean single fin, too, which I always have in my quiver called “The Canon”. I make sure I have lots of foam in the middle with some refined rails and less volume out the tail. I never ride any board over 6’0” in length unless we are talking waves over 15 foot…But we don’t get many of those in Berlin though.



Surf Photography – Joel Coleman