As some of you may have heard on the grapevine, Mr. Tom Wegener is in Europe this summer spreading the word of the Alaia surfboard. I was lucky enough to spend the day with him shaping an Alaia and talking about slide.
Click on an image above to see an enlarged version.
We arrived at 10am to meet Tom, the first I saw of him was him he was walking down the street telling his wife to take deep breaths as there had been a mix up with the passports, which meant only Tom could fly over and his wife Margie and the kids were left back in Oz until the mix up could be sorted out. Five minutes later he was back and beaming at us like he had just seen some long lost friends, and we soon were onto the subject that was to be the central point of the whole day, the Alaia.
The shaping day was organised by Revolver surf shop in Newquay, who had managed to keep things intimate, and I was one of only 4 students for the day, 3 of us called Mark! Tom promptly labelled all the Marks by the colour of our t-shirts, for the day I was Mark grey.
Tom's apprentice Matt helped with all the backstage preparations such as cutting the blanks and finding tools for Tom when they were needed. Later, Tom told us why he had picked Matt from a group of would be Wegener apprentices, he said the first guy turned up and started telling Tom how to shape surfboards, so he was quickly shown the door. The second guy that turned up was Matt. Tom's first question was: "Do you like surfing?", his second question was: "Do you really like surfing?", both times Matt's response was a simple: "YES". Tom's third question was: "What do you do for a job at the moment?". Matt had been working at McDonald's for over a year, so Tom figured he would at least show up and be receptive to taking orders so Matt was hired, and so began his life as Tom's apprentice and test pilot.
Tom was full of little anecdotes, it seemed his way of getting information across to us, he is a natural teacher, I stood there listening to what he was saying, jumping in with a few questions, but almost the less we asked the more we learned. He was just so affected by what he does; work, life, surfboards, friends, just all blend into one thing centering around the Alaia, and what it means to really ride one.
Now a word of warning here, riding an Alaia is not easy, in fact it's not meant to be easy, its meant to be a journey into a different realm of riding. As a surfer I'm used to popping up and surfing, later in the day after we had made our boards we all rushed to the beach to try them out. The first thing you notice is that the board doesn't push up against you when you paddle so it's difficult to generate paddling speed and maintain direction, this makes catching waves difficult, in the head high waves which all the longboarders were making look very surf-able, I was struggling. I caught a few and Tom always spotted me and 'wooped' me on, but I felt like I wasn't impressing anyone, certainly not myself. I managed to catch a few waves where I hoped into a crouch and felt the board freely slide on the face of the wave. I had ridden and felt its magic potential, but far from mastered the elusive Alaia.
I really liked how Tom Wegener has gone and researched what the ancient Hawaiians used to surf and give real surfing credit to them and what they managed to achieve all those years ago. Riding these boards now is something very special, and as a wooden surfboard shaper myself I was particularly interested in how these ancient designs could be relevant to today's world of modern surfing. Watching Thomas Campbell's, "The Present", it was easy to see how the Alaia is relevant to today's modern surfing world, because just like surfing a challenging wave, to surf an Alaia is a challenge and sometimes the rewards are unexpected.
Tom Wegener's environmental philosophy is strong, and he is very proud of the fact that the only waste from his workshop are wood shavings that go back as mulch to fertilize the next generation of Alaias, or simply onto the pumpkin patch to feed his family.
The wood he uses to build the Alaias is a Chinese wood called Paulownia. It is from a fast growing tree and of relatively low density, but its real magic is that it is almost totally waterproof to sea water. After we shaped the boards we literally rubbed the board with a concoction that pretty much resembled vinaigrette and that was it, they were ready to surf.
Many thanks to Revolver surf shop for putting on the event and supplying us with as much tea as any surfboard builder can drink along with 'way too tempting' slices of homemade cake, and of course Tom and Matt for affecting us all with what it means to slide.
Written by Mark Roberts from Glass Tiger surfboards.
Toms site - www.tomwegenersurfboards.com