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James Otter and his company Otter Surfboards craft hollow wooden surfboards – a beautiful, environmentally-friendly and long-lasting alternative to typical surfboards – and invite surfers down to their workshop in Cornwall, UK, to build their own wooden board on one of their workshop weeks.

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As a woodworker, I can trace where my wood comes from, I can find out exactly where the trees I’m using are grown, and for me that’s fundamental. Sure, you can get wood from a timber yard, but you don’t necessarily know where it’s come from. Alternatively, you can work with foresters who nurture the environment, not just monocrop woodlands to satisfy short-term goals but instead use forestry techniques that allow for long-term sustainability and the health of the environment. This is how I’ve ended up working with Nick Hoare, from whom we get all of our cedar. He’s got about 600 hectares of woodland in Wiltshire, and he uses a forestry management technique called “continuous cover”. What that means is when he harvests trees for commercial reasons, he extracts only the amount of wood needed, which protects the canopy and encourages natural regeneration.
The first surfboard I made came from “I love making things out of wood, I love surfing, and the surfboards I’ve got keep falling apart and I’m pretty sure I can make something out of wood that lasts longer.” So for a couple of years, I went through a process of figuring out the best way to make a surfboard from wood.
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When it came to education, I gravitated towards creative subjects that required the use of my hands. Through that, I explored my connection to wood more. I enjoy making things, full stop. But for me, there’s just something about wood that I love and works for me. I don’t know if it’s because each piece is different, so you react to it differently each time, or if it’s the challenges and problem-solving that comes with it, but I have always found wood a fascinating material.
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It’s crazy. I remember a couple of winters ago, in one of those ridiculously sunny periods, I was paddling out, and the way the sun was hitting the water showing all its colours and illuminating the cliffs, and then I had my wooden board in front of me, it felt like I was in a dream. And then suddenly a pod of dolphins popped up. It was awesome. And I can’t help but think that the element of laying on a wooden surfboard I’d made myself was a part of what made that experience so incredible.
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