At this time of year, when the sun rises so early, we sometimes (as often as humanly possible) manage to squeeze in a dip in the sea before heading up the hill to start work. Bodysurfing or bellyboarding is a great way to get the most out of these half hour or so "splash and dash" sessions, allowing us to get a load of waves, a bit of exercise from the swim, and to start work totally refreshed, wide awake, and with salt water dripping from our noses. It would be a crime not to, seeing as we have to walk or drive past the beach on the way to work anyway. Our friend Al joined us one morning to document how lucky we are.
The team from Otter Surfboards putting their wooden bodysurfing handplanes and bellyboards through their paces in the waves before work.
Mike and Peter travelled from Guernsey to join us at the workshop the week before last; it was the last week of Peter’s school Easter holidays, and Mike had taken a week off work to spend some quality time with his eldest son shaping a pair of boards and surfing or swimming in the sea.
“Over the years I have met many high flying businessmen and scholars who enjoy “making” in their spare time and use it as stress buster. I do not count myself amongst their number but have done that for years, getting lost in my shed once the boys are in bed. James’ course is so well designed that little prior skill is required to feel as though you might craft and ultimately have crafted a beautiful, functional, wave riding piece of art.”
For Peter, at just thirteen years old, spending five full working days on the tools was quite a big ask. To put it into perspective, if he chooses to study design and technology as a GCSE then the practical portion of his coursework will take around 45 hours spread over a school year, whereas last week he probably clocked around 38 hours on his feet here gluing, clamping, planing and sanding. He worked really hard, and with his Dad and James nearby to lend a hand or take over for a bit if his attention started to (understandably) drift off task a little, he finished the week with a wonderful 6’4” Woodburner fish on the trestles in front of him. We think he can just collect his A-grade for design and technology right now, before he’s even hit year 9.
“My Otter workshop experience was the best woodworking course I have ever done. I was taught how to use many tools including many different ways of using them. The techniques were very similar to the ones I had done in school in my woodwork lessons. I would definitely recommend doing it even if it is just a simple bodysurfing handplane it is still great fun. However I was taught many new tricks and tips to make my project turn out better. You don’t have to have great skills and your board still turns out looking amazing.”
Mike is a life-long surfer, and whilst he was very modest about his surfing life it became apparent over the course of our conversations with him that he has the sort of knowledge of Guernsey’s west coast reefs and north coast beaches that only come from many years commitment, and a pretty full tick-list of good surf spots around the world. At one stage, he sold and downgraded his car (the top speed limit on Guernsey is 35mph anyway) and set about sating his curiosity for surfboard design by building a shaping shed and making, buying, surfing and collecting different boards. He ended up naming the family dog after a Campbell Brothers’ Bonzer.
“Despite the slight distraction of having my son working alongside me, I spent much of the week making, thinking. There was not necessarily a conscious thought process; “making” allows me a different perspective, often removing the immediacy of other pressures which distract from the far more important, “big” questions in life. The different perspective was the objectivity to see what I want to look back and see from myself in 10 years time, when my boys will be 23 and 19.”
Mike shaped a 7’10” Clipper, so should he and Peter paddle out for a surf together on their wooden surfboards it is likely that one of them will be on an unsuitable shape, as they are both designed for conditions towards either end of the surfing spectrum. Perhaps the bigger problem they’ll encounter will be who gets to surf Mike’s Clipper when a decent swell lights up their local reefs?
“In terms of time with Peter, it was priceless. He is 13 and, as pointed out by my father and wife, how much longer is he going to want to do something like that with me? I had to seize the opportunity. The area is stunning and we had the luxury of time to walk, work doing something that we both enjoy, play and (to a limited extent because of the swell!) surf together.”
Whilst Mike and Peter share a love for surfing, we love the idea that they have just spent a week making memories together perhaps in a more lasting and tangible way than if they had simply gone off on a father and son surf trip together. Peter said he had chosen the Woodburner as he wants to enjoy it now, but be able to surf it later in life, when he hits the predicted 6’3” height forecast for him; a testament to the fact he expects to treasure it and surf it for decades to come. Through those decades they’ll have their wooden surfboards as a reminder of that time, so even when they are not paddling out together, their surfboards will provide a tangible reminder of a special shared surf, making and bonding experience.
The premise is simple: twenty slides, lasting approximately twenty seconds each, sharing the backstory of the speaker to uncover what makes them tick. As One talks is a wonderful, insightful and inspiring monthly series here in Cornwall, and James was honoured to be invited to share his story back in March and talk about how he got to where he is today and the special people who have helped him along the way.
Find out more about the As One Talks and other special events and services, take a look at the As One Site.