Saltrock Custom Surfboards | Interview with Surfboard Shaper Ben - Saltrock

Saltrock Custom Surfboards | Interview with Surfboard Shaper Ben

The opening of our new stores across the south-west meant our older stores deserve a little TLC. We got in touch with a local surfboard shaper to create some custom boards to use for display in our Exmouth, Bournemouth and Croyde stores. Ben from Remembrance Boards is a local surfboard shaper based in Croyde, Devon whose passion for producing boards shows in the intricate detail and durability of his work. Using traditional methods, he expertly crafts boards to order as his Instagram account (@remembranceboars) showcases.

Our in-house design team worked in collaboration with him on this project which turned out even better than we expected, as we couldn’t be more stoked with the outcome. I caught up with Ben to get to know a little more about the project:

Firstly, thanks for making the custom Saltrock boards – they look great in our stores! - Why the name Remembrance Boards?

“I find WWI really interesting, and it was the first documented war which included real life heroes as we know them today. If you look at the world in its current state with everything going on and compare it to the past and the mistakes that humanity made it seems to be repeating now. So, the name Remembrance boards is a nod to the past and from that comes lots of different cool names that I use for my boards: I will research either the customer or client, give them some background info on the name that I’ve given to the board and let them research it to find out why I made the connection. An example of this is a board that I made called ‘The Bully Beast’ which was a WWI breakfast meal which was made for my friend who is a chef – so it links in”

Did he catch that one or did he have to research it?

"I just told him about that one [laughs]. On a lighter note, the name also means ‘remember why you’re surfing’ as surfing is meant to be fun and positive."

How long have you been making boards for?

"I started repairing boards when I used to live in Australia in 2013. I dinged one of my boards and went into a surf shop out there and they wanted too much money for it, as when you’re backpacking you can’t really afford much. They then just said “no worries, we have a repair kit for $35… take this and if you do a crap job you can bring it in again and it won’t cost you anymore”. So, I did that, and the repair turned out pretty good so next thing I knew I had a load of mates asking if I could repair their boards for them, so I did a load of them and then did the same when I came back to England after moving back from Australia. I’ve always wanted to make boards… a friend brought me in a longboard which they hadn’t had repaired properly so the whole deck of it had delaminated. The only thing I ever worried about in terms of shaping was how good my glassing was gonna’ be. So, when I had to re-glass the entire top of a longboard and it came out pretty good, I was like “ok – I can do this.”. I then went to see a guy called Chris Hartop of Lovefoam and Bandwagon Surfboards and used to run surfboard shaping courses, so I thought as a little present to myself I’ll go and do one of these courses and then I did about 10/15 boards for friends, myself, partners etc. and just carried on from there really. I started selling boards about 2 years ago, so I’ve been making boards for 5 years now."

I did some research into surfboard shaping and found that surfboards are mostly shaped using machinery whereas they used to be made by hand – what’s you approach?

"Yeah, it varies. I do both, so for example the Saltrock boards I used a computer software called Aku shaper and then created a 3D file, the same sort of thing architects use but obviously for buildings whereas this is a specific surfboard one and then you create the file and send it off. I use a company called Seabase who are based down in Newquay, and they have a CNC machine, and it goes through that. If I’m doing a one-off board ill usually hand shape it or if it’s a stock template which I have my standard shortboard design, my twinnie design, all my different type of designs if they just want them tweaking slightly then I’ll get it computer shaped whereas if they want something a bit more out there of completely different then I’ll hand shape it. So, it depends."

How long does it take you to make each board?

"The shaping process takes me about 2.5 hours whereas if you get it machine cut it takes about 25 minutes so there’s obviously the perk of the time frame when you’re getting it machine cut but it’s a bit more limited with what you can do with it. Say for example you have a board with channels in (the grooves along the bottom) you can’t do that very easily with a machine so with certain aspects you’re gonna’ have to hand shape it."

Do you enjoy the whole board making process then?

"Yeah, I really enjoy it. I would like to do more of it! Unfortunately, though, or fortunately depending on how you look at it I’ve got that busy with boards now that I’m having to do more computer file shapes just because of time. And then also because I’ve already got all my pre-made shapes which are all tried and tested so I know they all work. And when you get it cut by a computer and by the CNC machine it removes a lot of human error, you see a lot of the top shapers in the world like Kazuma Surfboards who I always look up to and they’re so accurate with their shaping that you wouldn’t tell the difference between two boards. And they can do that quickly.

I think people think that there’s a lot of money to be made in the surfboard industry, and you can make money, but you can’t make decent money unless you do things in a certain way, so you just must be wary of that."

It would have to be quite a large-scale operation, then, to be making a lot of money.

"Exactly, yeah. To be a profitable business that works well you have to up your production by exclusively using the computer shapes."

I’d assume it’s pretty expensive?

"It’s not, actually. It can be, and if I was just getting 1 or 2 boards cut then it would be cheaper for me to hand shape. But when I do orders now I’m up in the 20-25 board per order region and it suddenly reduces the cost as you get a much better rate."

What’s the most difficult part of the board making process?

"That varies. It used to be the glassing which is where you wrap the board in fibreglass. But now it’s to do with doing a more complex board with something like channels in it… the sanding of those is the hardest part, but it’s just a case of taking your time, not rushing and just making sure to enjoy the whole process rather than thinking of it as a full-time job as it is a passion for me. It’s important to take your time and make sure what you’re creating is great."

It’s always best to make sure you’re proud of what you’ve made in the end. It always turns out the best that way.

Custom surf board maker process

What’s your favourite part of the board making process?

"That would be the hot coat/gloss coat. That’s because when you do that you get such a mirror like finish and something that looks so smooth. When Jack, your photographer came in, he was like “wow, that looks amazing when you do that” so that’s my favourite part."

You were recommended to us by our brand ambassador Cotty, how do you guys know each other?

"We go back quite a way. From when he used to be beach lifeguard at Croyde I used to be head coach of one of the surf schools, so I used to chat to him on the beach quite often and see him in the sea quite a lot. That ran on to me running one of the cocktail bars at his wedding, which was a fun event. I then moved away to Australia and didn’t keep in contact with him which is when his big wave career rocketed. Then I came back and during the early stages of the pandemic I got into road cycling and as you’ll know Cotty’s into his cycling, so I joined him for a couple of rides. A crowning moment of my cycling career was I beat him up one of the highest hills in North Devon, which I’m quite proud of. However, the next time we did it he absolutely smashed me on it, so I think the first time was just luck."

What are your thoughts on the North Devon surfing scene in 2021?

"I think overall I generally have a different opinion to a lot of the older surfing generation in that my business relies on tourism and new people getting into surfing. I think the surf industry is in a positive place now. I think the surf scene is also in a good place, we’re getting some fresh faces in the water however there are some draw back from that in that people don’t quite know the surf etiquette and such. But all it takes is someone to explain it and issues are easily resolved. North Devon is my favourite place in the South-West to surf and I’ve got good mates here so it’s always a positive happy vibe in the water."

Final question: do you have any upcoming projects that we should know about?

"Too many. I’m doing a few luxury high-end big wave boards for holiday homes in Croyde for display which is always a bit of a bittersweet moment."

I meant to ask whether you feel any bitterness towards creating boards just for display?

"Yes and no. Cash is king, as they always say so you have to take the opportunities when they come. Display boards are almost a harder board to do because the sole purpose for their existence is to look attractive which makes me feel more pressure regarding the outcome because they’re never gonna take any natural damage. You have to make sure those boards look absolutely pristine. I would always love my boards to be surfed but when it’s a display board it’s nice to know that potentially hundreds of thousands of people over their lifetime will see my boards whereas if I just do a custom for someone to surf it might only be 100-200 people seeing that board."

It’s more like you’re producing art rather than a tool at that point?

"Yeah, exactly. And having Jack come along to do the photography side of the whole process for the Saltrock boards was nice because a lot of people who don’t really know what goes in to making a surfboard will be a lot more appreciative."

 Come and check them out!

If you like the look of the boards, why not pop into one of our stores to check them out? As mentioned, the boards are displayed in Exmouth, Bournemouth and Croyde. 

Using our store finder you can find a store near you! Our staff are wonderful and will be delighted to see you! 

Ben can be found on instagram: @Remembranceboards