Shaping up nicely

Hands-up, it’s a fair cop, Guv’. The laziest tailor in Leeds has been at it again.

With more holidays under my belt than Judith Chalmers, I’ve added further to my tally of surfing sojourns and last week headed to my spiritual home in North Devon, Croyde Bay.

This is the view from my balcony.

Croyde Bay

As many of you know, surfing is one of my true loves in life.

It was right here (with my friend “The Gibbon”) that I first squeezed into a rubber wetsuit and after much flapping and flailing about, scrambled to my feet and was finally thrust forward by the fizzing, foamy briny.

At that moment, time stood still, every neuron buzzing it’s little head off. As I crashed beneath the raging white-water, pure unbridled joy filled every fibre of my being. From that day on, I was hooked.

I bought my first board in Byron Bay – a second-hand 9’3″ Mc Tavish, which I christened “Bruce.”

We’ve shared many wonderful waves together over the last thirteen years, but I’d decided the time had come to treat myself to a new stick.

Commissioning a new board is very similar to having a bespoke suit made.

The starting point is a foam “blank” which is then shaped by hand using a power planer. Shaping a surf board is an art, and like cutting a bespoke suit, can only be learnt by doing, and watching those better than you work their magic.

The relationship you have with your shaper is unique and highly personal. What is produced, is determined by your size, weight, ability and what you actually want to do with it.

Like a bespoke suit there are all-rounder’s (the equivalent of your navy wool worsted three piece), which are suited to all manner of surf conditions, and then there are those crafted for a special occasion.

A big wave ‘gun’ is the equivalent of an uber-fitted, razor sharp, mohair bobby-dazzler with mother of pearl buttons. Perfect for that special day but spends most of its life tucked away in the wardrobe.

Once the board has been shaped, it’s time for the pimping to begin.

Here I am with Ellis ‘Elvis’ Beeton of Gulfstream surfboards in Braunton, their resident artist, whose job it is to make the boards look beautiful, once Jools (the shaper) has done the business.

Ellis

When it comes to working with a can of spray paint and some masking tape, he’s a veritable Renoir.

Like most tailors, he has his own house style, but when it comes to choosing base colours, textures, tones, highlights, this is the part where a customer’s own ideas, personality and flair really influence the design process, creating something totally unique and special.

Whilst my customers pick the cloth, lining and buttons, I’ll often make suggestions on using different contrasting fabrics and stitching. It takes team-work to come up with something fabulous and when you get on the right level with a customer, the results can be spectacular.

I ended up with a beautiful 7’6″ ‘ Magic Carpet.’ Like my tuxedo and morning suit, I decided on a “less is more” philosophy and kept things very simple in terms of colour (white), with the cheeky addition of a lime green centre fin. In short, I LOVE IT!

After a sun-soaked week of (for the most part) pumping surf, I returned to Leeds with a spring in my step.

Last Sunday afternmoon, I introduced ‘her’ (the new board’s a “she” and still to be named) to my local break on the East coast, Saltburn. It was 4 to 5 foot, gentle onshore winds and sunny. A truly special moment and just what was needed to wash away the post-holiday blues.

Owning something that has been lovingly crafted by another man’s hands is one of life’s great pleasures. Whether that’s a painting, a bespoke suit, or, a surfboard, is a moot point.

It’s about celebrating the artisan’s creativity, passion, dedication and enthusiasm; and the fact they’ve invested the most valuable commodity on earth in creating something that connects with you on a physical and emotional level. Their time.