If the Devil did shape his own surfboards, they would for sure look great and run as smooth as hell. But he doesn’t, or does he?…
In a sleepy corner of a Uruguayan village, just by the Rio de la Plata, we found shaper Ricardo Cirillo.
Since 1972 Ricardo has been handcrafting unique surfboards in a workshop at his father’s old car repair garage.
He named his brand Del Diablo, Devil’s, after one of the best surf spots in Uruguay called Punta del Diablo (Cape of the Devil), but Ricardo himself is far from a devil. He’s a nice fellow, genuinely kind, his smile is always there and life for him is a calm sea.
He embodies the aloha spirit, or what you would call a cool surf dude.
When I started to plan a trip to my home country Uruguay and to the beaches of my childhood around the resort of Atlántida, just about 40 kilometres from the capital city Montevideo, I of course googled surf in Atlántida and found the Escuela de Surf Atlántida and an email address that read [email protected]
Del Diablo Surfboards, hmmm, that made me very curious and a second later a mail was leaving my outbox to land on a dust covered PC on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Sorry, I forgot to mention that I have lived in Sweden since the early 80s and I’m one of the nutty Nordic surfers that enjoy taking a swim in 2 degrees’ cold water.
So, a couple of emails later, I had ordered a board from Ricardo. We had a nice chat where I explained how and where I surf, and shared with him some very specific ideas about the shape and design of my 9 foot longboard.
Also my friend and surf tutor Fredrik got exited and ordered a Mini Simmons inspired creation, as wide as my longboard but only 6,2 feet and with some very special features on it.
“No problems at all”, Ricardo told me, “but to find a bag that suits his board can be hard work”, he explained.
A month later, on the evening I arrive to Atlántida, I find myself knocking at a wooden garage door. The first thing that strikes me is the pungent odour of glue as the door slides open.
Then, there he is, all smiles, my shaper. As Robert ‘Wingnut’ Weaver put it in the movie the Art of Longboarding, one of the most essentials things you need to surf is a shaper.
And here I am, meeting my shaper. As we enter the temple of surf, Ricardo’s workshop, I’m very exited. I know my board is almost finished.
On a stand deep inside the main room, shiny in the dark and dusty ambience, is my white longboard with blue stripes and the Sun of May in the centre.
It’s my interpretation of the Uruguayan flag and has the nick name ‘La Yorugua’ which means Uruguayan girl in the local slang.
Ricardo is clearly proud of his work and tells me in detail why he chooses to work with Arctic Foam and the brand of the epoxy and sheets.
“I import all the materials from USA because you get the best quality that way. A board is never better than the stuff it’s made of”, Ricardo says.
He also shows me Fredrik’s board which is still a work in progress. It looks like a big white chunk of foam so far, but during the days I spent in Atlántida I watched the board grow into a real beauty.
One evening, sitting in the Indigo diner, which is literally built on the sand dunes, we started to chat about Ricardo’s path to becoming a surfer and shaper.
“It all started with my dad”, he explains, “an Italian immigrant who came to Uruguay in the early 1920s”.
Ricardo’s father was a fisherman in Italy but was really handy with vehicles. When he came to Uruguay he got a job as a bus driver. It was a good job, he drove the teachers to a rural school in the outskirts of Montevideo, a small village called Atlántida.
In the bus he also transported milk to the local shop and hotel. He spent the day fishing and then drove the teachers back to Montevideo. At that time, the teachers were young, nice ladies.
“My father fell in love with Atlántida, at that time it was no bigger than four blocks and a big hotel for rich people. He bought some land close to the beach and with a lot of effort he built a home and the workshop. He became the first car repair garage in Atlántida”, Ricardo tells.
So Ricardo was born and raised a stone throw from a magical spot where the River De La Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. The water here shifts between sea and river, some days brown, some days indigo blue. But at the age of 14 Ricardo’s life took a completely different direction.
“My gym teacher used to go surfing after school. He had a big long board, I mean big. One day, I ran into him after a surf session, he was tired and resting on the sand, it was then that he lent me his board. It was love at first sight. Since that day, my whole life has been about surf”, Ricardo tells.
That was back in 1972. The Uruguayan surf scene was a handful of guys and girls mainly surfing the waves of the crowded beaches of Montevideo, which didn’t give the surfers a good reputation among the non-surfing population – that means most of the people living in Uruguay.
In the 70s the Uruguayan surfer’s community started to grow. The few surfers that were around were in need of some handy ding repair guy and new boards. Ricardo was handy and had a workshop.
So he started to glue together pieces of broken boards. He learnt how from magazines such as Mecanica Popular, Surfer and El ABC de reparar tablas. He and his friends did some mind blowing experiments with carpentry glue, polyurethane, resin, foam and rubber.
“We didn’t have leashes and that was a problem, we had to chase boards all day. I got hold of a bunch of rubber catheter hoses and we used them as leashes. The boards bounced back to you as missiles, it was risky business but you didn’t loose your board”, Ricardo laughs.
Late in the 70s, when Ricardo was finally finished with high school he decided to dedicate his whole life to surf and shaping boards.
His dream was to have his own brand. “My father tried to talk me off that, you are going to starve, he told me. I wish he could see me now”, Ricardo says. So he moved to Brazil and enrolled in the growing board industry working with the legendary Homero in the town of Santos.
Homero is more known as the father of shaping in Brazil. “Working with Homero was a blessing, I learned a lot, had the chance to meet guys like Johnny Rice, and the surf in Brazil is a blast, those years were good” recalls Ricardo.
After some years in Brazil, Ricardo returned home and started a small board factory in his father’s garage. The old man had trouble with his back and swift from car repair to bike repair.
The new business required less space so Ricardo could share the room with his dad. El bicicletero, the bike repair man, at La Brava beach in Atlántida, was well known in the summer resorts along the coast, where I spent my summers.
We all knew about the bike repair guy, but nothing about a surf shop. We used to see these guys surfing at La brava, with sun bleached hair and white shirts, and we thought they were kind of weirdoes. I guess one of them was Ricardo.
Mid 80s and Ricardo’s shaping skills started to get recognition in the international surf scene, so he was offered a position in a windsurf board factory in Italy.
“Windsurf was big business in the 80s and it was a good experience to work there. We had a lot of fun riding in the lakes. But I longed to surf waves again. I also had Italian citizenship from my father, and when Italy called me to military service I returned home, to my waves, my sand and my old garage”, Ricardo says.
Now it was time to boost his factory for real and after surfing a lot at Punta Del Diablo he came up with the name.
At the same time, he started a career as surf competitions’ judge at the ISA (International Surfing Association), judging in Latin America and around the world, in California, Portugal, etc.
“In the 90s we had better access to good materials and it became easier to shape boards. The number of surfers in Uruguay was growing and the surf community became a very nice one here. I could expand the workshop to have a surf school and a shop with some accessories like pads, leashes and wax”, Ricardo explains.
We finish our beers and the food lands on our table. It’s a massive plate of fried sea food. From the balcony of Indigo we can see the waves constantly washing the shore in the moonlight, the summer breeze is gentle and we are having a good time.
Ricardo is still working in the same house, in the same garage. He still surfs as often as he can and still judges national competitions in Uruguay. Life is good in the sleepy town of Atlántida.
During the days I spent there, Ricardo and I became good friends. He finished Fredrik’s and my board and I brought them to Sweden.
La Yorugua runs smooth as hell no matter how small the Swedish waves are, like the Devil himself had shaped it. And each time I paddle out in the cold waters of the Nordic sea staring at the Sun of May at my board, I think of Ricardo’s kind eyes and smile and how he lives for surf. And it feels good.
Images by Emil Susena, words by Alvaro Susena