Something joyfully analog
A brand new story in bluejuicesurf’s “The Shapers Series”. This episode an interview with Dutch surfboard craftsman Pete from Pete’s Surfboards whom we met up with in his workshop in Den Helder. A guy we got to know as a humble surfer with real in-depth knowledge of his products. Always welcoming and willing to help you out by sharing his stoke and knowhow. We talked about surfboards, surfing memories and entrepreneurial challenges. We had a coffee, we drank a beer and we did a surf. A pretty good afternoon.
What started your passion for surfing?
I think I was twelve years old when I went on this unforgettable camper trip with my dad through sunny California. One day, while exploring a coastal route along the Los Angeles area shore line we decided to enjoy our homemade lunch at the beach. It was a nice warm day with a soft cool ocean breeze. With a sandwich in my hand my gaze got lost over the view that unfolded before me. The motion of the water surface shimmering in the sunlight and a couple of surfers stylishly riding wave after wave. Now you can imagine how completely magical this moment would have felt for a twelve year old. From this time on I decided that I definitely wanted to try this out for myself. Years later when looking at the holiday snaps from that time I only realized this magical moment actually was at famous Malibu. It really couldn’t get more iconic than that.
Can you remember your first session?
Although I was instantly hooked from the first time I saw surfers riding waves it wasn’t until I was sixteen that I was able to buy myself my first surfboard. I stored it at my grandparents' house since they lived just 5 minutes away from the beach. Eager as I was I already read a book on how to surf before I even bought my first surfboard. So all I had to do was put the theory to the test. The first time I went surfing there was a big storm raging along the coast and there were more waves then I could handle. My grandfather got so worried he quickly drove up to the beach to keep an eye on me.
That first session was basically nothing more than one big struggle in huge white walls of foam that kept plowing me back to shore.
However, I did manage to stand up for the first time and sort of surf my first ever wave amidst this challenging chaos of white wash. I was so happy! My grandfather had seen it all happen as my sole witness and my personal life guard. He kept on guarding my surf sessions and it wasn’t until he felt I was capable enough to handle myself that he decided it was ok for him to stay home. A warming cup of coffee or tea and two sets of listening ears would be waiting for me when I got back at their place. My grandparents both passed away years ago but every time I go for a surf at the spot near their old house it really feels like my grandfather is still keeping an eye on me in the water. I was 16 at the time and 24 years later I am still completely stoked on surfing.
What does surfing mean to you?
The small fishing town I grew up in is almost completely surrounded by the sea. Living so close to it makes the sea inextricably linked with you. It is a feeling that for me makes surfing about the sharing of love for the ocean. The flow of riding waves also has a real calming effect on my brain and helps me reduce the restlessness and anxiety due to my attention disorder ADD. You could say that for me the spirit of surfing is somewhere in mind and heart.
Tell us something about the story behind Pete's Surfboards and what inspired you?
Since I can remember I have a deep interest in how things are made. So curious as I am I also wondered if I could make a surfboard myself. I started searching for books and tutorials on how to make my own and in 2004 I made my first one with the help of a book called: SURFBOARD DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION by: James F Kinstle.
It resulted in a surfable 7 foot yellow teardrop shaped single fin. That was about 17 years ago. In between boards I would make fins and experiment with all sorts of materials gathering knowledge and fine-tuning my building techniques. The only apprenticeship I had back then was at Arnaud Bezat. Every time I visited him I watched the master do his amazing work while eagerly asking him more than he could answer. It was a long drive to Scheveningen from Den Helder and back but I always went home having learnt so much.
I am forever grateful for his patience, kindness and the opportunity to learn from him. Most important lesson being “learning from your own mistakes”. Some mistakes cost you a blank some cost you time out of the workshop to correct the mistake; but every mistake is another experience that ultimately will bring your closer to perfection.
In 2006 while making a batch of retro fishes a friend of mine, Thijs Biersteker, who had just finished his media graphical design study, created this awesome logo for me and there it was, petessurfboards.nl was born. Becoming an independent surfboard craftsman was the best choice I could have made. I can really express myself in what I build and I feel I can let my creativity flow freely. I do see myself more as a surfboard builder though and not just a shaper. I do not only design and shape my boards but I also laminate and sand them myself rather than outsourcing this to a specialist glassing company. It is important to me that every step in the process is done with my own two hands. Besides there is nothing wrong with a bit of elbow grease.
Being a small full-time Surfboard builder and financially dependent on this seems challenging in The Netherlands.
Since I officially started a small company in board building my next challenge was and still is to try to make it my full-time job. Indeed the "market" is very small over here because of both “local” challenges as well as worldwide consumer trends. The need for instant gratification for instance which has seeped into every corner of society. Modern consumers have a desire to experience pleasure or fulfillment without delay or deferment. So as a consumer a lot of surfers nowadays prefer an easy to buy, easy to order ready made surfboard from a shop instead of going through that whole process of waiting and creating. Just pass over a credit card number and the board can be shipped wherever you want in a few days, without having to wait for the “6 to 12” weeks most local shapers usually quote. The sad thing about this is though when more and more surfers buy those main stream factory boards a lot of the small local shapers will simply go out of business. With the disappearance of the small local shapers, a large part of the surf culture that we all love and value so much will be lost too. This will of course also be visible in the surf shops that eventually will all look pretty much the same because they all have the same couple of mainstream brands in their board racks. With the surf culture in The Netherlands being so young most are already unfamiliar with local handmade surfboards and the only suppliers they do know are these kinds of standardized Surf Shops or supermarket style sports shops. Not judgmentally intended by the way. Yes of course there are good boards being made by some of those big brands. And yes there is this instant gratification.
But then there’s this: I personally know every customer of every single board I have built. I’ve surfed with some of them, shared beers with others, had late-night email conversations about fin set-ups and bottom shapes with the rest.
The boards I make are all specifically built for them, tweaked for the way they surf. Everything made by the same person who actually designed and finished the board for you all by himself. As cool and easy online board-ordering has become, walking into an authentic surf shop, grabbing a pen, filling out the paper order form and having an actual conversations about that new addition to your quiver is still way way cooler. Surfboard shopping is one of the last things not dominated by faster, better, more efficient technological innovations. Maybe the surfboard making and selling process doesn’t really need to be fast-tracked and improved.
There’s something joyfully analog about the process of buying a board the old-fashioned way. Just go and visit your local shaper, grab a coffee and enjoy the surf lifestyle moment. Luckily I do see more and more Dutch surfers finding their way to local builders and appreciating the whole classic surfboard ordering process.
Do you think local shapers should be more out there sharing knowledge for instance to grow their audience and customer base?
We are all eager in sharing our knowledge. I mean how cool is it if you can talk about your passion with other surfers. I have helped all levels. Not only in simply deciding what kind of board would suit them best but also in helping them understand the basic ins and outs of the boards they surf. As small builders we are all doing our best to get people more acquainted with our products. It's all about socials nowadays so the real challenge is getting the attention of your potential audience through instagram and such channels. That means there needs to be a constant buzz. Which is quite a difficult task in itself. Happy customers that become brand ambassadors by posting pictures of their new Pete's surfboard on socials and sharing their stoke with friends certainly helps. There are very cool initiatives like Dutch Shapers Guild on Instagram who have set goal to create a platform for small independent shapers like myself to highlight our work and to introduce it to a wider audience.
So why should we buy a board from a local shaper?
With buying a surfboard from a local shaper you can really stand out. It is a hand built quality product specially made for you, with your specifications and your favorite colors, artwork or message to the world. It’s something bespoke and personal. Now that is quite special in itself but there is one more and very important factor for buying a surfboard from your local shaper; sustainability.
We are all ocean lovers and something you love is surely worth protecting. This is why I recently became a certified Gold Level participant of the ECO Board Project a very cool program of sustainablesurf.org
Educating and engaging surfers about the environmental impact of their board riding lifestyles through the lens of their surfboard. Sustainability will probably not be on top of mind when talking about surfing. However like straws or single-use plastics, the current materials used in surfboard construction are just as polluting and will simply have to be said goodbye to. In the beginning surfboards were made out of simple wooden planks but from the 50's people started making surfboards out of PU and Polyester. Two components of a surfboard that are responsible for the largest contribution of carbon emissions in surfboard production. By introducing more environmental friendly materials as a substitute like Bio epoxy or PU made out of plant based oils we can reduce the carbon footprint of your surfboard by 33%. That is not even taken into account the fact that your locally produced board isn’t flown all over the world in order to reach you like their big brand counterparts. So buying from your local shaper does not only deliver you a unique handmade surfboard you will also help reduce the carbon footprint of your local surf tribe.
Which of your surfboard models work best for our North Sea waves and which ones do you use yourself ?
Depending on the surf conditions a wider flat bottomed and low rockered surfboard is the way to go in our Dutch waves. Fish, egg and longboard models do great in Dutch waves. The retro fish is currently my best selling model. It is possible to surf thinner and narrower high performance short boards but you have to be experienced, trained and surf quite often to effectively ride these boards well. Most of the surfers over here do not live near the sea or they have jobs that do not give them the opportunity to jump in the water every time the surf is up. Almost all surfers are restricted to weekend sessions or the occasional summer evening surf. If your time in the ocean is limited choosing a board that will give you pleasure by an increased wave count is key. Don’t ride what the pro surfer on the poster rides or something that merely looks good under your arm.
The boards in my personal quiver are a 7’0 Glide O’Matic egg and a 9’4 “The Legend” noserider. A new retro fish is planned for production. I surf my egg in more messy sloppy smaller waves or cleaner waves 1,5m+ and my classic nose rider on cleaner smaller or very clean medium days. The fish I'm working on is going to be my fun board for the cleaner smaller days when I don’t feel like longboarding or as my weapon of choice in the firing shore break at one of my local spots.
What music is playing in the background when your are building a new surfboard?
My favorite musician of all time has to be mister Johnny Cash. I love all of his work especially the songs from his earlier and more later days. I also love modern day singer song writer music but I don’t have a particular favorite one. A lot of people put on music in the background when they are working but when I am building someones surfboard I am kind of in my own hyperspace mode. Music will only distract me from my work so you won’t hear any in my workshop. But when I have finished my work and its time for a cold beer I’ll ask Johnny to sing me a song.
Have you got some advice for anyone that is interested in starting shaping themselves?
Go read a book on how it is done the right way and start. Go do it and take pride in your work. Have a beer with a local builder and ask for advice and tips. Get yourself some quality tools, clean out your shed and make magic. If the board isn’t what you expected it would be or need advice your local builder can fix it up and maybe help you laminate the board. At least I would help you out. Every board that’s locally made is one less pop out board being sold.
Ok there are some waves out there today and we know you are eager to go for a surf together so we will round things up by a couple of quick short questions
What is your favorite part in the shaping process?
The design stage and board pick up day. These are the parts I like the most of all.
Which shapers inspired you most?
There are so many board builders that make real gems but to name a few Arnaud Bezat*, Steve Lis, Plume d'Avion Surfboards, Danny Hess, Koz McRae Surfingboards, Almond surfboards and many many more. Go check some of them out
Your message to the world would be…
Make the most of your life, enjoy and live your life as good and responsible as you can. Take care about others. Be nice to elders.Try to give without expecting something in return. And most of all, wear sunscreen. (kidding). No, wearing sunscreen is indeed important.
If you are interested in one of Pete's hand built surfboards then simply check out our stock surfboards by clicking the button.
Written by Mike van den Berg