Meet Alexandre Lobstein; architect, surfer and shaper. 39 years old, originally from Paris and now living in Bordeaux. Husband, father of two, winner of the 2009 Irish Fish Fry and… Monsieur Barrel Surfboards.
What’s your story as a shaper?
I’m from Paris and I lived there for the first 30 years of my life. I surfed for the very first time in Anglet when I was 16 or 17. I shaped my first board when I was 15 or 16: a friend of mine had bought the materials at Hawaii Surf (a famous Parisian surfshop) and we tried to make one in a cellar.
When I was 30 I settled down in Bordeaux, and soon after I decided to start shaping more seriously. I signed in at a French amateur online shaping forum Shaperoom, where I learned a lot. I was taught how to shape my first real surfboard; I’ve learned the rest by myself. Every time I have the opportunity I visit other shaping rooms where I’ve also picked up a lot by watching others.
Today it’s three of us in business: Jérome Barbe (Eclipse Surfboards), Gerard Depeyris (owner of a KMS pre-shaping machine) and me in our facilities in Grand Crohot. Up to 95% of all my boards are from orders I get through my website and/or my blog. I have a very good relationship with Escape Surfshop (Bordeaux) as the owner is a very good friend who has had faith in me since my early days.
How many boards have you shaped?
Currently around 350 boards. I hope the numbers will start building up quite fast…
Favourite board to shape? A fish?
Sure, I love them. But I also like shaping mini-guns or Mark Richards’ type of twin fins. And big classic nose riders too.
Favourite type of surfing?
My favourite surfer has always been Tom Curren for many reasons: the way he reads the wave, his flow… I love long turns …but not so much tricks and airs, even if they are amazing to watch. As far as I am concerned I’m extremely happy when I’m on a log and I can walk all the way to the nose and back.
Any links between your surfing and your shaping?
Sure. I started shaping boards that I couldn’t find anywhere and that didn’t interest the average surfer. And I find that what I shape changes my approach to surfing… and the way I surf makes me make subtle changes in my shaping; there’s a direct link.
Can one make a living from shaping far from the Basque Country-Landes area in France?
I don’t think so. As far as I know in Gironde (Bordeaux region) only two or three people manage to live off shaping… barely. Even further down south, where the surf industry is much bigger, I’m not sure many succeed.
As a matter of fact I keep working as an architect for many reasons: because I love it and I need the intellectual challenge; but also because I need to pay the bills.
As an European shaper, what do you think of the attention some overseas shapers get from European surfers when they visit the old world on a shaping trip?
In Europe we don’t have the tradition, nor the number of surfers, nor the same level of surfing that can be found in other parts of the world (Australia or California). It is understandable, then, that we admire what comes from these Meccas. And it is true that certain boards, or designs from certain shapers, have become “classics”; so I can understand that some surfers want to have one of those shapes when the shapers come to town. But there’s also the quality. Are their boards really so much better? For every type of board from a renowned foreign shaper I can tell you of, at least, one European shaper that can produce boards of that level. But it is true that we lack the image.
Do you think there’s an excess of snobbery when you see the price some surfers pay for some boards that come from famous overseas shapers?
I think it’s more about the opportunity of owning a piece of your dream. Seriously, some of the boards I see on the net – or at some shops – make me want to surf so much!! I’ve got to be honest: a nice board is a nice board. Some shapers have a unique savoir faire and deserve all the attention they get. On the other hand I admit that it is somewhat frustrating to see the price certain boards fetch and to know that if I tried to sell one of my boards at that price they would call it daylight robbery.
(End of Part I)