The sound of leather on willow and the smell of linseed oil are part of summer, at least for cricket fans. But for me, the smell of linseed oil now has a new association – surfing. As rain clouds roll in during the height of our so-called barbecue summer, rather than grabbing my surfboard and paddling out into the waves, I head for the workshop to make my own board, to a design that replicates the traditional Alaia boards of the South Pacific. After sawing, planing and sanding it into shape, I lovingly wipe the Alaia board with layers of linseed oil, giving it a shimmer and that evocative smell of summer.
The Alaia shaping course at Loose Fit surf shop in Braunton, North Devon, is led by “Bro” Diplock, one of Cornwall’s top board-shapers. The board templates – 7ft strips of paulownia wood glued together – are made by Roy Stewart and imported from New Zealand. The student shapers on the course are all keen surfers and come from as far afield as Germany. They give surfing heritage and the attraction of making a board from natural materials as their reasons for doing the course.
Bro guides us through the shaping process – I square off the back of my board and taper the edges towards a gently curved tip before sanding a concave strip down the base of the board to give it a better grip on the wave.
The finished Alaia board looks, feels and smells amazing, but it won’t be replacing my fibreglass surfboard – it is just too difficult to master on the water. But for little more than the cost of the blank piece of wood, the course is a great way to spend a day by the sea while the rain clouds roll in. Oh, and the barbecue lunch tastes fantastic.
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