One Love: Luca’s Wooden Surfboard Workshop Experience
22 . 01 . 20
Luca is a close friend and, as we believe that friends are the family you choose, we consider him one of the family. We first met whilst in Sri Lanka six years ago, surfing the warm waters of the South West and sharing some waves with no-one else around. It was special, and as a result, so was the friendship that blossomed.
The next summer, Luca came to visit us in Cornwall and fell in love with our special part of the world. He extended his trip to make a board with us and challenged us in ways we didn’t know he could. He asked for a custom 6’7″ shape, with a custom wood layup, which he helped us design and create, but then towards the end of the week, he confessed that he really wanted to burn his surfboard. In a slight mix up of language and communication, we thought he was literally going to turn his surfboard to ashes as soon as he’d made it, but he actually wanted to char the rails to turn them black, using the Shou-sugi ban technique of burning the wood.
He was the first of our customers to do this, so we kept a close eye on Luca as he stood outside the workshop with a blowtorch in one hand and a cigarette in the other. We stood back and nervously chewed our fingernails. It brought about a fresh perspective and understanding that the surfboards that are made on our workshop courses are very much our customers, not ours, and the customer(friend) is free to do with them as they please….even if it involves a blowtorch!
Fast forward a few years and with multiple visits to Cornwall, including joining us for our wedding, Luca is one of our favourite people in the world and is loved by our friends and family too.
This year, he joined us in November after coming through a couple of challenging personal years, with starting a business (running the pool, Rhybadi, on the river in Schaffhausen, Switzerland) and losing his father after a long term sickness. He came to spend some time with his friends, enjoy the ocean and slow down a little, but after a couple of days, our conversations kept coming back to surfboards.
He asked us if we would be happy for him to extend his stay so we could make another board together. Naturally, we were delighted by the thought, and felt a little bit of history repeating itself as Luca started voicing all of his ideas and thoughts for what we could do with his next board.
Firstly, the design. He wanted a board with plenty of volume for paddling and catching waves, and was keen to go shorter than his current 6’7 and at the same time, he wanted to increase maneuverability to take his surfing to the next level. We started by looking at our two fish shapes, the 6’4 Woodburner and the 5’10 Fetch, but neither seemed to quite fit the brief, so we started thinking about what kind of board it was that Luca really wanted.
Having recently made a board with Alan Stokes, that was all about fun, adaptability and performance, we thought that looking into the world of hybrids would be a good starting point. Most of our designs come from fairly classic, tried and tested shapes, but all of us in the workshop began to get really excited by the thought of a board that starts to push our performance boundaries. Keeping the volume up, we’d be able to ensure good paddling speed and easy wave catching abilities. Rounding out the template a little more than our fish shapes would help increase the maneuverability of the board and keeping the rocker line a little more progressive would keep the board well balanced. Then with the rails slightly more pinched, we’d make sure the board was easier to control at speed when it was going through turns.
We ended up with a 6’2 swallow tail that looks and feels like a really exciting board. Once we’ve made our own “workshop” board, we’re going to be putting it through some vigorous R&D this winter and we’ll keep you all posted on the feedback.
Secondly, the wood. Luca asked if we could shuffle through all of the planks in the workshop to pick out his preferred pieces for his board. He had a few sketches and photographs that he wanted to explore for the timber layups and we ended up inverting the colours on one of them and then trying to capture that in the tones of wood we had available. Luckily, we found one plank of American Western Red Cedar that has been in the workshop for about 7 years, that had some incredibly striking dark grain on it and it just so happened to be 6’4 in length and thick enough to cut pieces for the deck and bottom skin….just! The rest of the skins would be made up of our English grown cedar and poplar and we’d keep the rails poplar too so that the colours would wrap around the board seamlessly.
Lastly, the finish. Luca started asking about what natural stains we’d used before in colouring wood and what we could do on the cedar and poplar. Then he started talking about creating Lichtenberg figures on a surfboard, where you send a huge voltage along the surface of pieces of wood to create burns in fractal patterns, that end up looking like leafless trees, or river basins. Needless to say, Luca is never short of ideas.
Early in the week, we started looking into different staining options and tested a number of them on an offcut that we had from the skins, including coffee, blackberries and steel soaked in vinegar and then started looking into DIY Lichtenburg techniques. After letting them soak for a couple of hours, and watching the colours develop, we decided to get the board finished first and then make the decision of whether we felt it needed any further mark-making. As it was, the wood was pretty stunning in its own right, so we thought we’d leave the staining until next time.
We’ve certainly got some ideas for some experiments in the future, though we’ll probably start testing them with a handplane rather than a full surfboard!
As the week progressed and the board grew in front of us, Luca was reminded of the processes and tools used in the making of a wooden surfboard and the familiarity seemed to help calm his brain. We caught ourselves being silent for long stretches of time simply being together, making a surfboard together. As close friends, these quiet times were often interrupted with deep, soulful conversations and fits of laughter and we both seemed to benefit from an opportunity of reflection and a reminder of how fun and enjoyable the process of making a surfboard truly is.
For us, it’s these connections with the people around us that inspire us. We could all do with a little more love, care and compassion in our lives and we are so thankful that our workshop seems to be a wonderful space for this to happen.
If you’d like to join us in this space, you can join us for one day to make a bellyboard or handplane, or longer to make a surfboard or paddleboard. Head to our workshops page to see if one suits you.