The wood­worker craft­ing surf­boards in Corn­wall

Turn­ing a pas­sion for surf­ing into a thriv­ing busi­ness

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - NEWS - In­ter­view by Jes­sica Carpani. Pho­to­graphs by Harry Lawlor ot­ter­surf­

AS A TEENAGER James Ot­ter spent his week­ends trav­el­ling from his home in Buck­ing­hamshire to Corn­wall to go surf­ing with his friends, and in 2009, af­ter grad­u­at­ing from univer­sity, he moved there with his now wife, Liz. ‘We spent vir­tu­ally ev­ery week­end there any way and de cide d to fol­low our hearts,’ says Ot­ter, now 30.

He had planned to start a fur­ni­ture busi­ness, but af­ter read­ing an ar­ti­cle in a surf mag­a­zine, he hit upon a new idea – mak­ing wooden surf­boards. ‘It was a bit of a light­bulb mo­ment and I thought, “I need to give this a go,”’ he re­calls.

Com­pared to their foam equiv­a­lents, wooden surf­boards are 30 per cent heav­ier and will take a bit more pad­dling to get them mov­ing, but Ot­ter in­sists that once up and rid­ing, they have more mo­men­tum and glide – and cru­cially, they are more durable.

‘ Pro­fes­sional surfers tend to like more light­weight boards, but they’ll get through roughly 200 of them a year,’ ex­plains Ot­ter. ‘ We want ours to be passed down through the gen­er­a­tions.’

His in­spi­ra­tion was his two grand­fa­thers – one a wood­worker and the other a farmer. ‘Grandad re­ally cared about the land, so I make sure I know where the wood I use is com­ing from and that the forests are sus­tain­ably man­aged.’

To­day, with help from three wood­work­ers, Ot­ter makes up to 30 surf­boards a year, each tak­ing 80 hours to com­plete. Each b oard com­prises a frame made of ply­wood, the bot­tom and top of which is cov­ered with a ‘skin’ made of ei­ther cedar or po­plar from Wilt­shire. The bot­tom skin is 4mm whereas the top one is a lit­tle thicker, 6mm – ‘ be­cause it ’s go­ing to take the im­pact of peo­ple jump­ing up and down on it’, says Ot­ter.

To make the board, Ot­ter cuts a frame out of strips of ply­wood and glues it to the bot­tom skin. Thin strips of po­plar are then glued along the edge of the frame to form the rails. Next, the top skin, or deck, is glued on top, then cut and filed into the cor­rect shape us­ing saws, rasps and sand­pa­per. Fi­nally, to pro­tect it from wa­ter dam­age, the surf­board is coated with bio epoxy resin and fi­bre­glass.

Ot­ter has started teach­ing oth­ers to build wooden boards at classes at his work­shop. ‘It ’s so re­ward­ing,’ he says. ‘You give the surfers con­fi­dence in their own abil­i­ties and you also know they’ll re­ally care for their surf­boards.’

Clock­wise from top right James Ot­ter with one of his boards; shap­ing the edge of a board; Ot­ter in his work­shop in Corn­wall.

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