In Conversation With… Otter Surfboards
Otter have been handcrafting sustainable wooden surfboards in Cornwall since 2008. Like Flexi-Hex, they are passionate about keeping our oceans free from plastic waste. We sat down with the Founder James to find out more about the business and their amazing efforts to reuse, repurpose and recycle.
What inspired you to start making wooden surfboards? where does the wood come from?
I started making wooden surfboards whilst studying a degree in furniture designing and makings. I was always naturally drawn to making things out of wood and I was a little fed up with how the foam surfboards that I was riding would lose their life after only a couple of years. As a result, I turned to trying to make a surfboard for myself that would feel similar in the water to the boards I was used to, but outlast them and be made from a far more sustainable material.
For our wood, we use Western Red Cedar and Poplar, both from the south west of the UK. The cedar is from Stourhead Western Estate in Wiltshire, a regenerative privately managed woodland; and the poplar is from a sawmill just outside of Salisbury, who source their timber from sustainably managed local woodlands.
Please tell us more about your workshops?
We run 1 day workshops for people to join us to make their own bellyboards or bodysurfing handplanes and we run 5 day courses for people to join us to make their own surfboards and paddleboards. The one day courses are really fun and a great way for people to reconnect with their hands in making something. The 5 day courses are a much more submersive experience, learning how to make a wooden surfboard from scratch, with our expert guidance. We absolutely love these weeks - they're our favourite weeks of the year! We’ll encourage you to reconnect with your own two hands, find flow in the art of making and play in the outdoors with a sense of wonder and awe. So far, we’ve helped over 200 people make their own wooden surfboard; find skills they didn’t know they had; experience a different kind of focus; push comfort zones; laugh lots (cry too!); build new friendships, and transform. The days are challenging, but the rewards are worth it.
"First and foremost, it protects our boards really well."
Why choose Flexi-Hex for your packaging?
We choose to use Flexi-Hex for packaging our surfboards and bellyboards because of its sustainability credentials and it's innovative and functional use. First and foremost, it protects our boards really well. Honestly, we couldn't find anything on the market that protects in the way that bubble wrap can AND biodegrades.
How else do you try to reduce your environmental impact, as a business and personally?
As a business we consider every element of the design process in our products with regards to its environmental impact. Ultimately, bringing a more sustainable surfboard as an option for surfers was the sole reason I started the company, so it's thinking of the environment is the overarching influence of all our decisions. We do our best to make use of all of the timber from the whole of each tree that is felled. The timber that doesn't make it into surfboards goes into bellyboards and handplanes, then small offcuts are used as kindling. Our woodshavings are used onsite at the Eco Park where we are based, for compost toilets and mulch around young trees. Our wood dust is used in compost or turned into fire briquettes by a local company near Falmouth.
At home, my wife took away our 'rubbish' bin about 4 years ago, so we're really hot on avoiding single use plastics and making sure anything that comes across the threshold of our front door can be reused, repurposed, composted or recycled. Getting rid of your general waste bin really makes you think about purchases and how to minimise your impact. We also generate and store our own energy with solar panels and large batteries, and our house only uses electricity on a green tariff, so no reliance on burning fossil fuels for energy.
What’s the story behind your book Do Make?
With Do Make, I hope to inspire others to get making, to reconnect with their hands and enjoy the headspace and freedom that comes with getting creative with the physical world. After ten years of running our workshops, I've been up close and personal with many people who have walked away with far more than a beautiful wooden surfboard they made with their own hands. They have a physical representation of what they are capable of in just five days, and it can be so powerful to spread that belief and confidence throughout the rest of their life. I hoped to capture some of this in the book and give people my own account of what my life of making has meant and what it can do for them.
Any other books about sustainability you’d like to share?
Haha, where to begin! I probably read more widely on this subject when I was younger actually, with books like Victor Papanek's The Green Imperative and Cradle to Cradle from McDonough & Braungart, but more recently Greta Thunberg's book No One is Too Small to Make a Difference is a wonderfully real and optimistic take on things from a more current perspective. I think I connect more personally to writers who celebrate a connection back to the planet though, because I believe that's where the idea of a sustainable future begins. Writers like Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane for example hit me on an awe inspiring and emotional level that inspires a care for each other and our planet - this, I feel, is a conversation all of its own, haha!