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The call has been made and Clare Howdle is winging her way to Wadebridge. The Vanity Project is over. It’s collection time.

Just before Christmas I was a bag nerves. My heart was beating fast as I drove the now familiar ‘Atlantic Highway’, and it was nothing to do with the icy conditions. I’d had the call. It was VP day; the day I would be taking my Vanity Project home.

Thanks to the snow I couldn’t make it up for the pin lining or final glassing, but Mikey from Seed had kept me in the loop about how my board was shaping up. And now I could see it in all its glory. Which is why I was worried. What if it wasn’t glorious at all?

What if what I thought would look beautiful was actually going to be garish, bright and all together tasteless?

This was the bitter side of bespoke board making. Before now I hadn’t experienced the worry that can come with custom orders. I trusted Mikey to do a great job, and he seemed happy with how it was shaping up;  the look and feel of the board wasn’t keeping him awake at night. Or maybe that’s what he tells all his customers – even if their decisions are way, way off.

As I passed the Wild West Theme Park, the turnings for Padstow and St Merryn, my concerns about how the board might look took a swerve towards panic. Panic that I’d never be able to ride it.

Mikey and I talked a lot when we started this; about how long I’ve been surfing, what sort of waves I like to ride, my paddling strength, my ability. He responded with a shape that he said would satisfy and challenge me, but what if it wouldn’t? What if he misunderstood? Thought I was more capable than I am? Created something that would be great for someone a little bit quicker, faster, stronger – but out of my league.

I could hardly breathe as I pulled into the industrial estate and switched off the engine under the Seed shop sign.

This was it.

The shop was quiet. I called out. Mikey’s grinning face peered out from the office.

‘Want to see it?’

I didn’t say anything. I wasn’t sure. Half of me just wanted to leave, so I could preserve the perfect image in my head of how my board would look; would ride. But before I could say anything he was off. Bolting up to the shaping room to bring it down.  There was no escape now. I would just have to go through with it.

It came through the back, tail first.

Rails pulled in to a point; it’s muted brown and orange stripes gleamed in the bright winter sunshine. The smooth rocker planed off to a wide nose which begged for a cheeky five to hang over the edge. As Mikey flipped it over, I saw the striking patterned inlay; its quirky ’60s screen printed pattern framed by precision pin lining; a gentle curve separating the colours from the creamy white panel up front. It was beautiful. Thank God.

Mikey’s grin was still there; he liked it too. It was all alright. No need for the panic, worry or wheel skids as my mind had been wandering on the way up. I loved it.

As I stroked the rails, felt the weight, held it under my arm, we talked again. This time about the fin set up, what would work best, when I would get the chance to get her in the water. I was getting excited.

And now I am here. Still excited two weeks later. Out of the water a third time after its first few sessions.

Blue sky, cold air, punchy waves; perfect board. Mikey was right – he’s made something that fits me perfectly. Pushes me but responds to me. Something I find easy to paddle, take off and turn. But something that I know will make me a better surfer too.

As I stand here with my brand new board under my arm I think back to why I started this in the first place. To have something I was proud of, something that made me feel great in the water. Something that looked beautiful; to me.

I know that custom made boards are all about personal taste and that one board isn’t going to look and feel right for everyone. But stood here right now, on the shoreline, after a great surf, I have to say the taste of my own little Vanity Project is pretty sweet.

Find out how I got here with The Vanity Project part I, II, III and IV.

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