We camp right next to Otter Surfboards in the Mount Pleasant Eco Park and, after a freshly-brewed coffee and bacon butty made on the single burner, we head over to meet James Otter.
The door to the double height workshop is open, but Buddy, the black Lab, blocks our path. He barks to say hello and alerts the guys busy working that we’ve arrived.
Otter Surfboards have been producing beautiful hollow, skin and frame wooden surfboards from their workshop in Cornwall since 2010. Barefoot, James greets us and invites us in. The methodical sound of hand saws echo around the workshop and the occasional whirr of the band sander ramps up as the team prepare for the following day’s open day and upcoming workshops. The space houses a number of gnarled worktop benches, perfectly hung tools and plenty of wooden surfboards. Some are racked up, leaning against each other while some are presented like works of art, resting proudly on wooden pegs fixed to the wall. There is a chalk board with the upcoming local wave information on and Buddy the Lab is ever-present.
James grew up near London, but would always holiday near the coast and got hooked on surfing from an early age. That love of the coast heavily influenced his decision for university, studying design and making at Plymouth. It was in his final year in Plymouth that his first wooden surfboard was produced. James carried on making the surfboards after university in his spare time, whilst working as a carpenter. Fifteen boards and a number of years later, James had a process he was happy with and decided to go full time, producing great boards that are as ethically and environmentally sound as possible. Asked why he concentrates on producing boards as opposed to other forms of carpentry he says, “I guess it harks back to what my father said to me… stick to what you enjoy and you’ll end up doing something you love.”
This very process is now available for anyone who wants to learn how to make a wooden board. James and the team deliver workshops which invite people to make surfboards with them and learn all the techniques as they produce their very own handmade surfboard. James says, “I love the workshops, they bring a new excitement and energy every time.” In the world of business, where people rarely truly share a process, this whole experience is certainly refreshing and the results are stunning boards, happy customers and shared great experiences.
As well as looking like pieces of art, the wood offers a natural connection to the environment that foam boards can’t. Whether it’s a workshop built board or hand made by James himself you can guarantee each has its own personality and uniqueness, brought about by the locally-sourced materials, hand-crafted process and the passion put into construction.