9th Oct 2014 - Style
PEOPLE: JAMES OTTER - OF WOOD AND WAVES
PEOPLE : JAMES OTTER - OF WOOD AND WAVES
How long have you been running Otter Surfboards and why did you originally set it up?
I've been running Otter Surfboards for about 4 years now, though it was a couple of years before then that I made my first wooden surfboard. I was making wooden furniture and getting involved in some pretty exciting timber framing projects, but once I made that first board I knew that it would have to be a part of my life. That first board came out of my enjoyment of making things from wood and a desire to work out a way to make a stronger, longer lasting surfboard than the industry standard and do it by replacing as many of the chemicals as I could with natural materials.
Otter Surfboards then became a way for me to continue making and exploring wooden boards and has developed into a way for me to share that passion and excitement with others.
You've recently moved your workshop closer to the sea, that's pretty cool huh?
I began the company on a friends farm that had sea views straight out of the door and since moving away from the sea (only 4 miles) I really missed that connection. I live by the sea and to now be able to work just across the valley is a dream come true...I'm certainly logging more water time as a result!
What's the connection between Wood and the Ocean?
For me, the connection is simple. They are both 'of the earth', part of nature. I've always gravitated towards both, working with wood and playing in the ocean, the way you are always learning and responding to changing characteristics of both is fascinating to me.
How do you think people's perceptions have changd towards wooden surf craft and sustainable design since you started?
I definitely feel as though the idea of owning a wooden surfboard is not regarded as so alien any more. It used to just be something either for folks who were into the historical elements of surfing, or someone who hadn't quite caught onto the foam movement (I'm thinking the traditional style bellyboards), but now it is much more widely accepted. I'm not sure if I feel as though it is a result of, or a cause of some of the bigger surf craft producers pushing to use more timber, but consumers within the surf world certainly seem to be more switched on to the environmental elements of the products and companies they support.
I feel privileged to be in the position I am, of creating our own products. It means I get to decide at every point in the process what materials we use, where we get them from, who to work with, what way to process them, how to maximise the use of materials we get and how to minimise the waste then what we do with that waste. At every point, from raw material to finished product, regardless of the product, there are decisions to be made that can take you down a more sustainable route, or a less sustainable route. We do everything we can to stick to the former.
Can you talk us through your Workshop experiences ?
The excitement I felt when I made my first board was like nothing I'd done before, so once I'd got my head around the best process to use to build a wooden board from locally grown timbers, I felt I needed to share it and let other people get to share that experience.
I've now got our workshop set up so that we run five day courses for up to three people to come and join us, with everything we need to make it happen. Folk turn up nervously on the Monday morning, some with incredible amounts of woodwork and sculpting/shaping experience and others with none, but over a cup of tea they begin to settle into the scene here and it becomes apparent that regardless of experience, they all bring along an open mind and enthusiasm by the bucket loads.
We then spend three days together, gluing together all of the elements of your board, fixing the framework down, building up the rails and finally getting the deck skin glued down. Slowly but surely we get to a point where we have a wooden blank that is ready for shaping as long as we don't spend too long in the sea each day!
The week then changes into much more tool work as we begin to find the finished board within that blank, starting with a couple of different planes, works hint through some rasps and then finally Friday becomes a day of sanding sanding and more sanding. We hope to get most of the work done by around 3 on Fridays as we then focus on the signing off of the board and the crucial stamping. Once this is done, your board is complete and ready for finishing, which we trust to the best in the business. Bro and Paul from Diplock Phoenix surfboards.
So after a week of toiling and whittling in the workshop you have clothes full of sawdust, salt in your hair and a portrait of you with your handy work that we print on Fridays for you to take home...the only thing that is left is for you to come back in a few weeks and collect your board, hopefully tying it in with some nice looking surf conditions to take it for its first few waves.
You've often talked about the smiles on people's faces when they see their finished board.. Tell me more?
It's incredibly satisfying for me to be able to see and experience those emotions of building that first surfboard again with everyone who comes on our courses, but it really is that Friday afternoon when I feel it the most. Most of our makers have slowed up by then as they begin to get the Friday feeling and reflect on what they have managed to achieve within only five days, running their hands up and down the rails of their boards, looking at it from all angles and beginning to build a really strong relationship with it. It's one of the reasons that we love doing what we do, but also that helps our boards last so long...with a 'product' beginning its life with such sentimental value, the hope is that our surfboards get well used and well looked after to last a long, long time.
What's next for Otter?
We've got a few plans in the pipeline. I've always found that collaborative projects that reach beyond our little corner of the surf world are incredibly beneficial to me personally as they tend to challenge me in different ways, be it designing different boards, looking to use different timber or by opening me up to thrilling experiences, so I'm going to continue to pursue a few of those a year and see where they take me and otter surfboards. We've recently collaborated with SAS on a surfboard for Ben skinner to take into some pretty serious surf...we're hoping to get a trip over to Ireland in through the winter to share the making of the board with some exceptional surfers and then we're hoping to take the van on the road too with a Handplane building road trip...so watch this space.
Lots going on, but all with the focus of spreading what we do and reaching as many people as we can...simply to put smiles on faces!
Otter Surfboards: www.ottersurfboards.co.uk
Photography: Matt Arney www.matarney.com
James wears: Blighty short, Club Stripe Passion: Shop the shorts >