A Two Way Street Of Learning: Robbie, Matt and Mark’s Wooden Surfboard Workshop Experience

31 . 03 . 18

We’ve written before at the close of a workshop week about how, over the course of these five-days, the learning flows both ways. It’s rare that this isn’t the case; almost without fail the people who join us to spend a week learning to make a wooden surfboard have knowledge and skills that they share with us in return. There’s a lovely balance to the exchange of information here.

Last week we were joined by Robbie, who travelled down from Edinburgh, and Matt and Mark who are two friends and work associates from just outside London (Matt runs Locker 27, a very successful gym, and Mark is a physiotherapist who used to work with Chelsea FC but now has a clinic at Matt’s gym). At the end of the week we asked them what they would be taking away from the week (apart from a wooden surfboard and clothes covered in sawdust), and we’re going to balance those by sharing what we learnt from them.


“When things didn’t always exactly go to plan, I learnt to accept that I’m working with wood; it’s never the same and it’s infinitely fallible due to its organic nature. Whenever I thought something had gone wrong, James assured me that we’d find a way around it. So I learned a lot about acceptance this week.”

On the Thursday, over a cup of coffee, Robbie told Mat about his lifelong journey in learning. He’s a successful orthodontist, and as well as being a partner in a practice he also delivers lectures to recently qualified dentists who are looking to specialise into orthodontics. At one of these lectures he asked the attendees to rate how satisfied they were with their career choice and current professional situation out of ten with a show of hands, and was shocked at how low they scored their level of enjoyment in their work. “I told them that I enjoy my work – some days I may say that I’m a seven, and on others as high as a nine – and that’s because I strive to learn something every day. That may be a new technique or a way to improve a technique that I already use, so professional development in my clinical practice, or it may be that I learn a new way to deal with an administrative or interpersonal situation. Learning something everyday keeps me engaged, sharp, and excited for the next day.” It was this conversation that led to this article, and reminded us of the amazing opportunities for learning and development that are open to all of us during a workshop week when surrounded by such a range of interesting human beings.

With their workshop week taking place just two weeks before James tackles three marathons in three days along the Dorset coast-path (also being referred to here as “Jimmy’s Jurassic Marathon of Pain”), Matt and Mark were both very helpful in helping him to fine tune the final stages of his training.


“I talked with James about lower back pain, which can be a common complaint amongst regular surfers. It’s called hyper-lordosis, and it is basically where the back is in an extended position for a prolonged period – in the case of surfing caused by paddling. The muscles on either side of the spine get very developed and hold the back into this position, which is seen as an increased inwards curve from a side-on view. Most surfers tend to struggle with flexion – bending forwards in the lower back – as a result and they often experience pain or tightness.”

James happened to injure his back during the workshop week and was lucky enough to get some great advice (as well as a couple of small treatments) from Mark. “It was incredible to see the level of understanding that Mark had in the human anatomy and the way he was able to manipulate my spine to free it from pain over the course of two or three days. Absolutely key for my run preparation. But the biggest take-away was probably the stretches to help release the stiffness in my lower back caused by surfing. When we first tested it, even as I tried to hunch my back into a smooth curve, it still arched outwards at the bottom, giving an ‘S’ shape from side-on. So this is something I’m really keen to work on to decrease my risk of future injuries.”


“This last year or so for me has been a dedicated period devoted to formal “learning”. I have done my MSc in Sport Psychology, a bushcraft week, and finally this workshop. My dissertation was on effective coaching behaviours of elite experienced Strength & Conditioning Coaches. One of the reflections of the week was James’s natural ability to teach/coach. He created an autonomous and supportive environment for us to work in which led to a relaxed, enjoyable and creative setting to produce something amazing. Many of the attributes displayed by elite coaches are mirrored by James, for example passion, an ability to build relationships, and trust and credibility to name a few.

The major epiphany for me was that I had a finished piece of work in front of me; a tangible, beautiful, piece of functional art. This does not happen in my line of work and was another reason why this was such a special week. As a coach, we are constantly looking to develop and improve performance in people and therefore the final aim can be seemingly unattainable. In swapping information with James, he was able to pass on tangible skills that had immediate and obvious impact – but when reciprocating the coaching advice for James’ preparations for the Jurassic Marathon, I felt at best fraudulent!

Overall I can’t recommend this week enough to anyone, be they an experienced surfer or a beginner like myself. For me this week was not about surfing; it was about the process, about community, about the environment and about good people who are passionate about what they do.”

James spent half the week bending Matt’s ear about his run preparation. “Having a strength coach who used to work for the national cricket team, before setting up his own successful coaching facility gave me such a great opportunity to really understand how important strength training is for any physical endeavour, especially running. The typical running guides simply say that distance running is about getting ‘miles in your legs’, but then after four or five years of serious running, most people are bags of skin and bone and fraught with injury after injury. Luckily, the view on this is changing and more focused skills work paired with strength training is understood to get your body a long way towards being able to run marathon distances without actually having to run them. Matt took a look at my strength training plans and although they weren’t strictly ‘strength training’ because I only had my body weight to play with, he seemed happy that I was doing the right things; working on my core, back and legs. To have such a high level coach reassure me, when I was only a couple of weeks away from the start line was brilliant. Even if the gain was only psychological, it all helps!”

We love how the learning truly ran both ways this week and we don’t think James could quite believe his luck on the timing of it all either.

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