I’m bombing down the A38 at 7am, not a car in sight and the hoards of grockle traffic heading our way probably delayed by the inevitable tailback around Brizzle.
It’s stupidly early and I am NOT a morning person.
But today I’m running on empty, fuelled by Mars bars and copious amounts of sugar, because the day ahead promises a shoot with surfboard shaper of the year (and Drift’s wooden wanderer) Mr Tom Wegener.
I’m genuinely stoked about meeting Tom; we’d spoken via email about a year back when I was planning some eco-based surf shoots, but due to his escalating status within the surf scene he was snowed under with film shoots and our schedules seemed to be ever conflicting.
I’m heading into Cornwall to the Revolver surf/tattoo emporium in Newquay, where Tom is holding some alaia shaping sessions as part of his European tour (keep up with his progress here). If you’re ever down in the ’quay I’d definitely pop round and say hi – the place is amazing, with pebbled floors and a Tiki garden complete with grass-roofed hut bar and decking. To quote the owner “It’s more like a surf club than a shop… I didn’t even know we sold stuff”. Genius!
It reminds me very much of Skip Fry’s set-up from the Dogtown and Z-boys era, and oozes the laid back vibes and charm that surfing is all about.
…but I digress!
Tom is an incredible person; from the word go you could tell he was genuinely stoked about the day. First lesson – picking the board shape and size. Tom has a range of alaias in his quiver which cater for a variety of sizes and styles, and from stand-up surfing to riding prone, each has their own place in Tom’s mind. And rightly so.
When everyone was prepped and sorted on how their chosen shapes would perform they were handed a semi-shaped blank, proudly stamped with the Wegener surfboards logo.
At this point I chuckled to myself as three grown men looked like kids in a sweet shop, holding onto their new prize stick and running their hands over the grain, no doubt silently praying that they wouldn’t cock it up!
Tom and Matt drew the outline and rails templates onto each blank – guides they would use to shape the rocker and to also tweak the rails, an incredibly important factor in alaia shaping because the rail is effectively the fin. Too tight and it will dig, too loose and it simply won’t perform.
The next two stages demonstrated the perfectly tuned working relationship that Tom and Matt have formed; Tom works the rocker and the base of the shape while Matt does the final tweaks and sands everything down… which is inevitably looked over again by Tom, whose attention to detail is admirable in an industry that seems to be dominated by money over quality.
Then it’s back to Tom for the rails. This man’s hands are some of the finest shaping tools I’ve witnessed at work – he’s constantly running them over the board after every stroke of the planing tools. The reason was perfectly demonstrated when he asked us all to look at the board he’d just shaped. To the eye it looked perfect. But after running our hands over the tail concave we could feel an oh-so-subtle slight rise in the grain. A simple oversight like this can severely affect the performance of an alaia, mainly because the board is a single entity – simple only works right if it’s shaped right!
After slowly guiding everyone through the final part of the shaping – which was taken ever so slowly because no-one wanted to end up with an expensive toothpick – four finely crafted Wegeners lay before us. Tom branded each one with the Wegener logo and signed them with a personal message for each of our super-stoked shapers.
The final stage was to treat the boards with a linseed oil and vinegar mix – this seals the wood and also creates a natural stickiness, reducing the need to wax. The seal also acts like a slight stain, drawing out the grain of the wood and giving it a gorgeous shine, no doubt something that will be gazed upon with a smile every time it’s paddled out.
It was at this point that we all realised the time… The tide was mid push and the swell had been pumping all day. John knew exactly where we were headed: Crantock rivermouth. We packed three cars full of amped surfers, wood, longboards and wetsuits, jumped the headland and parked up.
Everyone was suited and booted in record time, although Tom (obviously used to board shorts and warmer climates) needed a slight hand! Instead of paddling from the beach we opted for the more exciting approach, and weaving our way down the cliff we looked across the bay at the chunky lefts that were peeling into the rivermouth.
Jumping off the rocks, everyone headed straight across out back. The next few hours saw some serious nose time, massive grins, and slipping and sliding on newly crafted wood. Tom emerged more amped than ever, explaining that even if it was breaking you’d never paddle across a rivermouth in Oz to surf, simply because you’d get eaten!
God bless the English climate!
Heading back to Revolver for a beer and more banter, we proudly sat our boards against the wall.
Beautiful to watch. Beautiful to ride.
The future is definitely wood.