On October 3, I went to Le Salon de Glisseurs, in Seignosse. Not really my thing, but I wasn’t there for the trade show. I was meeting Neal and the UWL crew, Renaud Cardinal and Jean Benoit. Neal’s trip was the result of a collaboration between me and UWL where he was going to shape for the next two weeks.
After a long day at the trade show, it was time to drive north to La Rochelle, to the home of UWL.
The next morning, I was finally in front of the UWL factory. I had seen many photos and read so much about it, but wasn’t prepared to what I was about to see.
The factory is huge, holding two large shaping bays, one of them big enough to park a car inside, two sanding rooms, one polish room, a glassing room, a packing room, blanks storage, a couple of airbrush rooms, a surf shop and showroom, a communication agency and even a kitchen! And it’s not only the space that’s impressive, the organization and perfect workflow are something you don’t expect to find in a surfboards factory. The air is clean, the floor isn’t full of foam dust and everybody is busy doing their share to make this the best factory in Europe.
The factory tour was over so time to work. Neal started by looking at the available blanks and choosing the best ones for each model. The right choices will save time and make for better boards, which Neal takes very seriously.
After setting up all of the tools and blanks, it was time to shape the first board. It was the first time Neal was shaping out of Australia so what better to start with than one for himself? It’s a busy trip, not much time to surf, waves he doesn’t know and so he went for an easy and relaxed 6’6 with a 2+1 fin set up. A classic NPJ board.
It was a real pleasure to watch him shape. He barely takes any measurements, he does it all by eye and shapes soft and continuous curves, with nothing out of place. Neal is an old school shaper, he doesn’t use the planner too much, doing more with the Surform and sanding papers. It may take a little more time but the result is a more accurate and sensitive shape.
That first day ended Renaud Cardinal cooking an amazing meal to the sound of Neal playing guitar in the living room. Neal rocks on the guitar. I ‘ve heard him on Andrew Kidman projects, like the Brown Birds from Windy Hill, but live, right there in front of me, just for a crowd of 3… It was of those moments I won’t ever forget.
Next day started early with a lot of boards to make. Neal did some final touches on his board that he named The French Virgin. Perfect fit!
The second blank on the stands was for me. Between all his models I decided to run with his suggestion and go for one of his famous 2+1 set ups. Neal knows his boards, he knows how they work and most important, knows how to adapt them to the customer’s needs. Every board is unique and fully customized.
While we shaped, we listed to The Haldane’s Daughters, which rounded off the session perfectly. The result exceeded all of my expectations and I can’t wait to ride it.
Every day, after shaping, glassing and organising his work, Renaud cooks meals for the factory crew. It’s a moment to relax, talk and eat but mostly to bring the people together and preserve the team spirit.
In the end, the trip was too short and the people too kind. The UWL crew is amazing, they are great people, and dedicated professionals. Renaud and his family were extremely generous and made me feel at home. As for Neal… well, he is a super-cool guy – easy-going, talented, always in a good mood and very honest and humble about his work. It was an honour to meet him and I can’t wait for next year to come around.