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The shape of things

Words by Lottie Lewis

George Thomas, owner of Hawkers Surfboards, shapes wooden boards in his workshop on the north Cornish coast.

Clare Jame

He chooses the simple life; surfing, shaping and spending time in the garden of his Cornish cottage on the cliffs. I spoke to George about what surfing and sustainability means to him.

George Thomas

Can you tell me a little about your roots?

I was born in London but spent the majority of my childhood in Cornwall. Padstow has always been the centre-point of my life. I moved down for good when I finished school, getting on a train and never looking back. That summer I got a job in a beach café, making pizzas and shovelling sand for a few pounds an hour. I lived in an old caravan in a wild field, with no water or electric, surrounded by other seasonal workers. The first night I spent there I sat up all night listening to their stories of working and surfing around the world, telling tales of the golden years.

As the winter approached I moved into The Cottage in Crugmeer, nestled above Hawkers Cove, which has been in my family for almost 100 years. There was no heating and hardly any hot water, but it served as the perfect base to start shaping boards. My dreams started to evolve in the back garden!

Clare James

Each board is a unique work of art, Clare James

When did you make your first surfboard and what was it made of?

I made my first surfboard when I was in school. I was passionate about my project, although it was horrible to surf as it was made from ply, didn’t have any fins and looked like a coffin! I made my first real wooden board in Laax, Switzerland with Ben, a friend I’d met whilst living in the field. Ben lived up in the mountains shaping beautiful wooden boards and he taught me to do the same. We traveled together a lot and he really inspired me to start shaping more.

Idenna Creative

Shaping in the workshop, Idenna Creative

Tell us about where and how you make your boards...

I make my wooden boards in my workshop in a tiny hamlet on the outskirts of Padstow. The workshop developed as my shaping did; from a muddy floor and an old Aga for a workbench to the space it is today. The name, Hawkers Surfboards, comes from the beautiful bay that is only a stone’s throw from where I work.

Idenna Creative

Hawkers Surfboards are traditional wooden boards with a difference. I add my own unique spin on each design, introducing patterns on the deck created from the wood itself and create individual shapes, structures and styles. Plus, no piece of wood is ever the same, each grain is like an individual fingerprint, which makes every board special and unique.

Clare James

Clare James

Why make wooden surfboards over classic fibreglass and foam?

I’ve always worked with wood, even before I started surfing. When I fell in love with the sport it seemed like an entirely natural progression to begin shaping with it. I prefer using wood as it has a natural ability to endure the elements, promotes the growing of trees and is really versatile. I’ve made belly boards and hand planes, as well as surfboards that can be used as wall art, which are displayed in Jam Industries, Padstow.

I like to craft things in a more traditional way, creating something that lasts. The feeling of making something with your own hands is incredibly rewarding. Wood is also far more sustainable than epoxy and fibreglass, and it’s very important to me, as a lover of surfing and Cornwall, to protect our planet.

What does being eco-friendly and sustainable mean to you?

The very first surfboards were made from wood. These makers were resourceful and thoughtful, and their boards were created to be loved and enjoyed without environmental damage.

Nowadays most things in the surfing world have a shelf life, plus there is no real way of recycling epoxy or polyester. Most boards made out of these materials end up in landfill, in a particularly ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach, which destroys nature. Wooden boards can be used for a lifetime, and often outlast the original owner. If, however, the board breaks, it can be sanded back to bare wood and returned to its original element. I use paulownia wood, which is so much nicer to work with than epoxy and foam, which I found dirty and messy and bad for both my lungs and the planet. I hated cleaning up and throwing the offcuts in the bin as I felt like I was simply adding to the problem. Wood has definitely allowed me to feel like my craft is far more eco-friendly and sustainable.

How has surfing and traveling shaped your life?

I got into surfing as a teenager and from the first session was obsessed with the sport, the stories and the surf community. I loved listening to the tales of waves around the world. This drove me to head out and travel. Having severe dyslexia made it really difficult to read the airport signs but I learnt that nothing ventured, nothing gained! Surfing and travelling are my two greatest passions. Returning to Cornwall and getting back in my workshop I vowed that I would make wooden surfboards until my hands and legs succumb to arthritis, and then I will learn to shape them with my teeth!

What do you see for the future of your business?

I am continuing to learn and develop my methods so in the future I can teach others what I know. I want people to both use and make my boards so they can share the amazing experiences I’ve had through surfing and shaping and am excited to see the natural progression of Hawkers Surfboards.


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