When the Scarborough swell is flat, Michael and his crew get their kicks longboarding the Yorkshire hills. With salt water coursing through his veins, Michael is intimately at one with nature. Growing frustrated with the impossibility of sourcing a sustainably made classic pintail board, he hooked up with a forester from nearby Ladybower reservoir and Bower Boards was born.
As with all our March Makers, Michael's business grew from a passion for making a great product with more to it than a cookie-cut production line import. The common thread is a desire to do the right thing. Not necessarily the easy thing. Bower has been an endless quest to find the perfect timber for the perfect board. The original Derbyshire woodlands provided Larch. But once shaped, Michael was having to add a glass fibre coating to get a durable product.
“One day I was like 'What am I doing?!”
His search for the perfect source continued, eventually bringing him even closer to his Sheffield home, when his contacts pointed him towards artisan tree surgeon Matt and his mobile sawmill. You read that right folks, mobile sawmill!
“Working with Matt was perfect. He could select the perfect timber, right from the felled tree. Wood that as otherwise going to be cut and split into logs for the fire. In Matt I also found the perfect partner to help with the making of large orders.”
The wood Bower use is sycamore. Sycamore is really strong, the grain pattern is close knit and it meanders like a map contour. This makes it a more difficult wood to work with, but the resulting board is really strong and looks equally strong.
"We wanted our boards to be time pieces. As sycamore ages it subtly changes colour, becoming gradually more silver. This gives our boards an extra depth that you just don’t find in factory boards. The factory process takes nature out of the equation as much as possible, we wanted it to be the opposite, embracing and celebrating the board as it ages and changes."
We're not sure if there is such a thing as Tree Miles, but if you can have Food Miles and Beer Miles, we don't see why not. Bower's line is a boutique offering, of two perfect products: a Pintail and a Cruiser, what else do you need?
Whilst the surfing inclination leans towards the longboards, Michael found he needed something smaller for his global travels. This included his honeymoon to Iceland, which saw Michael and his newly betrothed camping in the back of a Renault Kangoo van in sub zero conditions whilst seeking out remote deserted tarmac.
“Iceland doesn't have many cars. But it has some amazingly smooth roads, that put ours to shame.”
It turns out that Iceland, as well as having a great response to the global economic crisis, have a great approach to roads. Their B Roads have a solid core, but as they are subject to so much frost heave, they are left as really good gravel tracks. This leaves the road maintenance budget for maintaining the A Roads, which are super smooth as a result.
Here's a guy who searches out the perfect road the way most surfers chase the perfect wave! A quest that will next see him and his Crew head to Norway. Though as we discussed, there are plenty road-rash inducing thrills to be had closer to home:
“When the Tour de France came through, they spent millions upgrading the roads. So we love heading out to the quieter spots in the Peaks around Bradfield, and cruising the tarmac which is still in great condition. Though there are some steep stretches I've still not had the bottle to face. I'd also love to tackle the iconic Winnats Pass sometime.”
This is why we love the Makers we have featured. They are visionaries who aren't just aping the Stateside scene. They aren’t content with an off the shelf board or backpack. They want to make something that speaks of their situation, and that helps their life resonate with genuine passion for where they are and what they believe.
In this age of the global nomad, Michael could have packed up and shipped down South coast or foreign shores, but Yorkshire folk have proud roots and don't let go easily. Instead, he chose to make his own way, crafting the perfect vehicle to enable his journey.
All these Makers moulding their own lives, driven by a passion for hands on experience rooted in the nature around them reminds us of the proverb:
“Don't do what the Masters did. Seek what they sought.”
As mantras go, it's a good 'un.
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