In "The Shapers Series" this time a meet and greet with the man behind Gliding Dutchman Surfboards. From a really young age he was drawing surfers on waves, wore clothes from the big surf brands and had his blond hair backwards. Well ofcourse with these ingredients absolutely nothing could keep him from becoming a surfer in the future.
What does surfing mean to you and can you remember that very first session?
My first session ever was at Manly Beach, Sydney Australia. Before that I was already wave sailing for a small decade. So the board feeling was kinda already there and it didn’t took that many waves to stand up. Loved it from the very first wave I caught! Surfing has always given me a lot. It's kind of rebooting my system and almost littarly washing away those intens work weeks. it’s about having fun with your friends and meeting new people. And when conditions become a bit more critical it will also give me my dose of adrenaline ;) Any which way surfing makes me happy and gives me a powerful boost of renewed energy. But ofcourse for me it is also about selling surfboards. I literally have a batch of Gliding Dutchman business cards in my car.
How were you inspired to start shaping surfboards and what did you do before that?
I was a marine biology student on the Dutch Island of Texel. Seeing those nice peeling waves next to the small piers all along the island made me really want to have a longboard. However, poor as a student can be, I couldn’t actually buy one. I decided to raise my student loan by another 200 euros and went to the nearest building supply store to buy some eps isolation material. I shaped an awesome and probably assymetric longboard out of 6 isolation sheets glued together. The board surfed absolutely magical, I still take it out sometimes: its like a yellow sun-kissed golf-ball now but its great! From this board on I started shaping surfboards out of real blanks.
What does it mean to you to be a surfboard shaper?
Connecting the right shape to the level of the surfer and the conditions the surfer is planning to surf the board with. Its quite a magical thing to see a customer fall in love with the board you shaped and get super stoked by surfing it. And yes I am also a bit of a showman because I will always try to finish my boards in such a way that they will turn heads everywhere; from the beach, parking lots as well as in the line-up.
How many years have you been shaping?
I have been shaping since 4 years now. Of which two years for myself and friends. Like most shapers you start with your friends. Since two years I have been shaping boards professionally through Gliding Dutchman.
Looking from a supply and demand point of view shaping boards in The Netherlands is quite another thing than let's say shaping in California. How is the market for shaping over here?
Yeah obviously we have different conditions in our North Sea: a bit more foam under the chest is a more than welcoming factor ;). Although we are all clear on the type of waves we have to deal with overhere, the ‘Californian Market’ still influences Dutch surf culture a lot. You only have to look around you on a typical Dutch knee high surf day to see a line up filled with shortboards. Dutch Surfers see pictures and movies from perfect US/Australian surf conditions ideal for smaller boards and fall in love with them. But on average, our North Sea is windy with fat brown-greenish choppy waves. Far from ideal for those snappy Californian shortboards or even a real classic noserider for that matter. As a Dutch surfer you will have to adapt on those conditions by choosing the right board.
Californian surfing might have initiated surfing in the Netherlands at first, but Dutch surf culture is beginning to get its very own unique culture. Dutch surfers are proud of their North Sea and surf it in cold water temperatures and stormy conditions. They arrive at the beach with a board in their cargo bike, old Volvo stationwagon or even public transport. You don’t see that stuff in California. I think Dutch surf culture will grow more and more in the coming years, which in its’ turn will create a larger demand for Dutch handshaped surfboards.
So a bright future for board shaping in The Netherlands?
As surfing grows, I think the niche of handcrafted surfboards will grow too. Shaping boards professionally in the Netherlands is still a relatively undeveloped area, this means there is still plenty of space to make it grow.
The surfing community in The Netherlands is quite young. Most dutch surfers "grow up" with big brand asian factory made surfboards and seem to have the idea that custom handmade boards are very expensive and only meant for very good surfers. Do you think there is a responsibility for Dutch shapers in educating by sharing knowledge?
I am not the guy who actively tells everybody that the big brand Asian made factory boards are worse than local handshaped boards. I’d like to think the boards I create in themselves share that knowledge by the beauty and quality they show. I have experienced that a beautiful surfboard, in shape/design/colour is an item that often starts conversations about this topic. Like when I get stopped by another surfer asking me about the handshaped board under my arm. I don’t start with telling them I make Gliding Dutchmans’ surfboards. I just tell the surfer in an objective way about the qualities of the board. The surfboard kinda does its’ job in educating people to buy handcrafted surfboards from me. Of course after a few minutes into the conversation I’ll more than proudly let them know that I am the guy behind the board haha.
But also platforms like Dutch Shapers Guild can help shapers in reaching a larger audience. Key is to show the benefits of the Dutch handcrafted surfboard industry to a wider audience. You can go completely out of the box to fulfill your surfer needs and have it look exactly the way you want it. Most big batch factory boards are main stream and created to sell to as many people as possible. They all look pretty much the same because the big surf factories are not interested in adding that extra personalized detail as that’s just not available in their standarized production line. Handcrafted surfboards simply offer higher quality and more attention to detail. But they can give buyers some surprising side benefits as well. Handcrafted boards are green. Work done by hand takes less energy than a mass production assembly line, which makes it more environmentally sustainable option. It also isn't flown over half the world in order to get it to you. By buying from your local shaper you will also support your professional local surf community. Bottom line: production of local handshaped custom boards involves way more emotion than buying a factory surfboard off the racks. Benefits like these can be used to reach larger audiences and make Dutch surfers more aware of Dutch custom handcrafted surfboards.
French shaper Guilhem Rainfray whom we interviewed some time ago really struggled with surfers coming into his workshop with a factory made big brand board under the arm asking him to reproduce it at half the cost. As a craftsman with an intense love for his products this made his heart bleed. Do you share these experiences and what is your take on this?
Yes I had this a few times happen to me also. I don’t like it either but I just tell them that it’s not possible and laugh it off inside my head. But ofcourse Guilhem has been in the game for such a long time so he will definitely have been asked this question a zillion times more. I can imagine how he feels. You deliver handmade quality and stand behind every unique product you create. The last thing you would want to hear is someone asking you to copy the work of someone else for half the price.
Did you apprentice under any shapers? ( how did you learn the trade? )
As the Dutch surf production scene is so small I did not have the opportunity to start cleaning shaping bays at the local surfboard factory as a teenager, so my mentor was “YouTube tutorials”. Of course these tutorials don’t tell you all the tricks of the trade so I did a lot of trial and error in the beginning as part of the learning process.
How did that first board come out?
A nice (uneven railed) potato 9’5’’ longboard. Brought it to Portugal and surfed barrels with it. I don’t think I understood the concept of rocker while shaping my first board: its totally flat. I still got it, and I surf it too. She still does turn heads of surfers, Although that is probably not because of its aesthetics.
Could you tell us something about the style of your shapes? Are you more classic orientated or modern?
I like the classic stuff as most of these models come with a lot of volume. Furthermore, I am always super hyped to add beautiful retro tints. No resin swirls for me.
Is there a shape that in your opinion works best in our North Sea waves?
I tend to shape a lot of midlengths ranging from 6’8’’ till 7’8’’: North Sea Eggs I have named them. In my opinion they are the most fun in the North Sea. These midlengths let you catch the wave earlier and allow you to stay on the wave in sections where the wave loses its power, eg between sand banks. Needless to say it is our most popular model.
What advice would you give to someone that is interested in starting shaping themselves
Use quality products, don’t try to cut on cheaper tape, glass fiber, blanks etc. products of lower quality will cause more mistakes. One step forward two steps back, you will end up spending a lot more money and time to fix those mistakes.
Don’t try crazy stuff with your first board because it will come back at you. No beautiful colours because you saw it on social media. Just start simple with a white/clear board.
What is your favorite part in the shaping process
There are sooo many fun steps to do. You could say that this is why I started to be a shaper in the first place. That whole process of creating something with your own hands. But to name a few. Blending the rails with the whole board for example. This really lets the board emerge by just one step. Or the day after glassing a cool board. Then I will be literally racing to my workspace to check out the outcome of the colours of my glass job. Or take the glosscoat for example, before: the board is all messy and mat, by just a small coating the board really pops out. Awesome!
What inspires you?
I like to see the lifestyle behind the bigger shapers. I also love to see shapers who have been shaping boards since the 70s and are still doing it today.
Do you have a shaping philosophy?
Firstly take the key elements/rules of the model you want to make, there is so much knowledge out there about the different shapes of boards. After the basic elements are put in the board, let your eyes and hands do the rest to make it as you want it. Really feel the flow of the board. In the beginning I used to stick to the rules and measure everything on beforehand. Now I’m shaping the board that I have in my head first and check everything afterwards on measurements/symmetry.
What are some of your favorite current designs?
I like the variety of different board designs. I can easily shape 5 of the same designs in a row, however after some time it starts to itch and I'll get keen on trying different models. Lately I had the feeling I didn’t shape a fish for a long time. So I just started building one and it feels so good! That rocket shape, wow!
All of the boards you make are 100% handmade. Do you think there still is a role for handmade products in this fast paces consumer world?
For sure! Would you get more satisfaction by looking at a real painting or a copy of that same painting? I believe handcrafted surfboards are in a different niche than cnc-shaped boards. With handcrafted boards the consumer buys more than just a surfboard. What you are also buying is the feeling, love and effort the shaper/builder has put in your product.
Do you find it possible to apply any modern board knowledge to classical shapes?
Certainly, that’s how surfboard models evolve.
What model do you use yourself?
I surf everything except shortboards. I surf fishes, eggs and longboards. My quiver is always being refreshed. I used to lend out my own boards to surfers interested in buying a custom Gliding Dutchman. Most of the times the potential customer was that stoked surfing it that they wanted to buy the loaner. Which is fine with me because that gives me a good reason to try out new board models again.
Who’s your favorite artist (music) while shaping.
That’s a hard question, I listen to everything, except when I'm cutting cutlaps, than I’ll go all noise free haha.
Your message to the world would be…
As a Dutch surfer, make sure you work flexible hours. Best sessions happen on Mondays between 9 and 17. Just so you know.
Where can we find you
Written by : Mike van den Berg