Attending a course to make a wooden surfboard is, for many of our customers, the culmination of many months or even years of day-dreaming and either saving up or waiting for a suitable bit of clear space in their diary. During that time some immerse themselves in the anticipation, and a few ask about the options available for customising their surfboard even further so that they end up with a unique surfboard, as well as having had a unique experience. Martin Spurway was one of those workshoppers; a graphic designer by trade, living and working in London, Martin had been looking forward to last August's workshop week for a long time and his wooden surfboard developed into a true passion project which we were honoured to be a part of. Martin approached his new wooden surfboard like a work project, creating a moodboard of inspiration, thoroughly researching all of his options, and then keeping both a written and photographic diary over the course of his week. Martin had designed a specific black paint job for his finished Island Hopper wooden surfboard, and we helped him in creating an inverted stencil of his own personal marque to complement the Otter Workshop logo. He also designed and commissioned a bespoke bag to perfectly fit and protect his new pride and joy from Whasup Custom Boardbags in Dorset. Martin collected his surfboard at our 2017 Annual Gathering of Makers, and a couple of months later the postman delivered a package to the workshop here. Inside was a beautifully designed book that Martin had had printed, documenting his experience from his initial inspiration and moodboards, through his design ideas and details of material sourcing, to a day-by-day account of his week with us and the AGM in September. It's visually stunning, and we really loved leafing through this very personal memento that Martin clearly poured so much time and passion in to.
If you're interested in exploring the various options available for creating a totally unique wooden surfboard and how we might be able to make your dreams and ideas come to life, call us at the workshop on 01209 700070 and speak to James.
New Year, New Model
Sometimes we set out to design and make a new wooden surfboard model, and sometimes one develops seemingly organically. The Barque is a new addition to the Otter Surfboards range and is one such shape; the quickest way to describe it would be to call it a smaller version of our ever-popular Island Hopper model, but that would be doing it a disservice.
Developed over several workshop courses as the result of a number of workshoppers enquiring after a smaller mid-length option, the Barque sits between the Jetty and the Island Hopper, right in the one-board-quiver sweet spot. It carries plenty of volume, so paddles well and catches waves easily. The Barque’s full nose makes it a stable surfboard, particularly in smaller and weaker waves, whilst it’s relatively straight rail line and pulled in tail make for a fast board down the line when the surf gets a bit bigger. When it’s small you can cruise on the it, but if the swell picks up then it’ll get into waves and flow nicely down the line when well overhead. Much like it’s older and younger siblings the Island Hopper and the Jetty, the Barque is a great all-rounder and could be the only surfboard you need – for any season, at home or abroad.
The word barque is thought to originate from Celtic languages, and mutated through Latin into French before being assimilated into the English language. In later centuries it came to refer to a sailing vessel with three or more masts (specifically, the front two of which are square-rigged and the aft-most mast being rigged fore-aft) and the English Navy used the term bark in the 18th century to categorise any vessel that didn’t fit within it’s standard nomenclature. Prior to that, and still in Spanish and Italian, the term barca refers or referred to a small boat rather than a full size ship. Besides the strong maritime reference though, we just really like the fact that one of the word’s alternative spellings, bark, has links to both trees and dogs - which sits well with us here at Otter Surfboards.
As one calendar year clicks over into the next, we like to take the opportunity to pause and reflect on the twelve months just passed so that we can celebrate our achievements, and carry lessons into the twelve to come.
In January we launched The Clipper, the latest model in our range and a surfboard designed for waves of consequence. The Clipper’s maiden voyage was at a left hand pointbreak away up the coast on a serious midwinter swell, with British big wave charger Jonny Leon taking on test pilot duties. What a way to announce a new surfboard!
In the spring, we received an e-mail from our friend Kerianne at Surf Simply in Costa Rica. We’d sent a pair of handplane blanks and accompanying shaping instructions out to her (whilst she was living in New York) to test the idea of selling kits, and were dazzled by the edit that she put together of the making process and of her subsequently bodysurfing in the tropical waves of Costa Rica.
Boards, Bangers & Beers is our annual open workshop evening, with this being the event’s third outing. This year we joined forces with our friend Alex, who runs the inspiring As One Talks series, to add an extra dimension to the evening. In the end, over 200 people joined us at our workshop at Mount Pleasant Eco Park to take a look at what we do here, enjoy a beer or two and hotdogs served up by the wonderful Ben from Woodfired Canteen, and listen to two incredible talks from surf adventurer and author Sam Bleakley and Chris Hines MBE (the founder of Surfers Against Sewage, former Eden Project Sustainability Director and former special advisor to the Secretary of State for the Environment who we interviewed earlier in the year). We’re not quite sure how we’re going to top that in 2018!
One of our major projects in 2017 didn’t involve surfboards; we built a mezzanine into our workshop so that James and Liz could move the office out of their spare room at home, and moving the kitchen up the new stairs to free up more space on the workshop floor. Constructed using traditional timber framing techniques, it required all hands on deck and we appreciated the help of many friends along the way.
The history of the fish surfboard design is rich and fascinating. In the summer Mat dug into this history to share on our journal, and he was put in touch with the first person to ever stand up surf on a fish (the design was developed by San Diego kneeboarder Steve Lis), Jeff Ching. Click here to check out The Fishtory.
Every year the list of invitees to our Annual Gathering of Makers grows a little longer, as our community of wooden surfboard makers gets a little bigger. In September the weekend of our 2017 AGM enjoyed fantastic waves, and on Saturday evening we convened at Dunkirk Farm to share stories, a few drinks, and a woodfired feast before being entertained by the excellent Jack Bessant and the fantastic Cheddar Experiment. Thanks to all of you who made it such a special weekend!
In the autumn, James was told that he was to be featured on San Miguel’s 2017 Rich List, a compilation of individuals who pursue lives rich in experience instead of financial wealth. It was a real honour to be recognised alongside some inspiring individuals for the life that we lead down here in Cornwall, blurring the lines between work and pleasure. As part of the process, YouTube vlogger Nicole Eddy visited the workshop to make this short film about what we do here.
The best moments of each year for us occur, without doubt, during the week-long "Make Your Own" wooden surfboard courses that we run. The people that we meet and the friendships that we make trump any events or exposure, and that’s why offering people the opportunity to make their own surfboard rather than buy one “off the rack” is such a huge focus for us. To all of you who joined us in 2017 thank you, and welcome to the club!
Father and son workshop weeks are always incredibly special and we enjoyed several this year, with one particularly poignant course taking place in December when James’ Dad spent a week with him in the workshop making a flat-water stand-up paddleboard as a “big birthday” present from his family. James made a wooden paddle to surprise him with at a family birthday celebration, and they spent the following week together on the tools. As a result, we’ve been exploring flat-water SUP shapes and refining the workshop week process with the aim being to offer dedicated Make Your Own SUP courses at some point in 2018. If you’d like to be the first to know about these, then you can sign up to receive advance notice here.
Rounding out our year was the amazing news that 2016 workshopper (and best-selling author) Dan Kieran has written a book drawing on his wooden surfboard experience. The Surfboard draws parallels between Dan’s experience making a surfboard (even though he doesn’t surf) and the process of building the publishing business Unbound (even though he never set out to be an entrepreneur). Unbound is a publishing company that crowdfunds its books, and Dan is going through his own platform’s process for the first time with The Surfboard. You can find out more, read an excerpt, and pledge to support the project (by buying a copy in advance) by clicking here.
2018 has got a lot to live up to! We can't wait.