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Otter Surfboards

The wooden surfboard gurus turning customers into makers

As a rule, it's good to found conversations on common ground. Our catch up with James Otter, the guy with his name above the door of Otter Surfboards, got off to a shaky start however, as we apologised for the inevitable stupid questions, given a lack of surf prowess...

James breathed in deeply, exhaling in mock exasperation. Thankfully things took a positive turn, as he relished telling the history of the wooden board to fresh ears. The conversation drew out the innate teacher in James, and we enjoyed learning something new. 

It was James tutoring abilities that led us to seek him out. We're blown away by the idea that he will teach you to make a board with your own hands, for the same price as a custom made one direct from the Otter Surfboards workshop. The backstory is great.

I'd been making custom boards part time for a couple of years, growing my customers gradually. At one point, as I reviewed a spec with a client he said 'This is all great. I want to build it'.

James admits to being apprehensive about sharing valuable skills and insights with someone who could even set up as a competitior. But he relished watching someone make a board for the first time.

It was like experiencing it again myself”

These vicarious thrills, plus the buzz of having different people sharing the workshop convinced James that running courses alongside his custom shop added a great social aspect. It was more than some extra income, it was a way to socialise and connect with people, whilst doing something everyone loved.

James has built the business since completing a degree in Designing and Making at Plymouth University. Like so many of our favourite makers, he was lured South West by the salty wilds and lodged there, building a sustainable business in every sense. In the early years he supplemented income from making boards by making timber building frames. You can tell that he has a passion for wood, credentials furthered by spending time as a chippie before going to Uni.

That he would end up running a wooden surfboard workshop was inevitable in hindsight. A guy with a love of the sea and a passion wood. What else was he going to do?! With an approach so ingrained in the local fabric, James is proud of the lengths he goes to to source his raw materials.

I started by seeing what was available locally, rather than just seeking out the perfect wood. That would probably be imported from somewhere."

"The dark wood strips are off cuts from the local kitchen cabinet makers. The Western Red Cedar comes direct from an estate we found that do their own milling. It means everything to us to know where our materials come from, and minimise our impact however we can, like using 

bio-epoxy resin for finishing.”

Here James is doing the classic maker thing: following a passion for material and making that work beautifully, by really understanding how to worth with the grain. Its a true craftspersons characteristic, a deep love and kinship with their material, which in this instance is paired with a modern eye for sustainability.

We talk about the aesthetics and durability of wooden boards compared to foam boards, but James agrues there is much more to their attraction that than:

People are more inquisitive of how products are made. They want to get hands on and understand an object inside out. You can do that with all our boards, their construction is plain to see. But when you make your own you have a different understanding”

This year Otter are taking their workshops on the road to Surf Snowdonia and have a regular programme out of their workshop in Cornwall. As well as their 5 day surfboard courses, they offer day courses making handplanes and bellyboards.

So lets just recap. Great people. Having a good time making great kit. That you then take outdoors and have more goood times with. Attending one of their workshops is like stepping on board a Perpetual Joy Machine. We look forward to gathering with them over the coming years and spreading a little bit of that Joy.

For more good stuff from the Otter workshop, check out their website.

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