Surfboard shaping in the French Basque Country has a long tradition. It started back in the 50s when legends Jacky Rott and Michel Barland created their first French surf brand. Since then, a lot of well known shapers and surf brands have popped up in the area.
Having a locally-shaped surfboard is something I have been dreaming about ever since I moved to Biarritz. One sees so many nice surfboards in the water, strapped to scooters or the roofs of cars. During the last three and a half years in Biarritz, I’ve had a lot of surfs in waves small and large (for me) with boards of all shapes and sizes. I’m always looking for the board that suits me best. But, a custom board isn’t just something that you can buy at the drop of a hat. You need to know what kind of board you want, and the size and type of waves you will be surfing with it.
So for my 30th birthday, I decided that it’s time for my first custom surfboard by a local shaper. I already knew the shaper I wanted to make my surfboard. Awhile ago, I saw a friend’s longboard and I have had the shape in my mind ever since. Finally, at the end of October, I had the chance to meet Julian, founder of BELLON Surfboards at his place in Saint-Pee-sur-Nivelle. We had a long talk about the kind of surfboard I was thinking about. He then took into account my height and weight, the waves and spots I like, and my overall level as a surfer. He also checked out the board I was currently riding. After describing to him some of my sessions, with their highs and lows, we more or less agreed on the shape and length of the surfboard. I was sure that I’d chosen the right person the moment he said ‘Do you trust me? I already see the board I will make you in my mind.’.
From the beginning, I was curious about meeting a shaper and getting more background information about the job, culture and reasons why you would start shaping surfboards for a living. His story is inspiring, impressive and eye-opening. If you are interested in shaping your own surfboards and doing it as a full-time job, you need to be driven and enthusiastic. It takes time to get to know what you are doing, acquire clients and let the word get out. At first, it is preferable to keep a job on the side for regular income. Like with all crafts, you need to be patient because shaping surfboards is not something you can learn overnight. You are better off starting with someone with a lot of experience. You might start with learning basics such as ding repair. Go see them and ask about how you might be able to help shaping surfboards.
Julien grew up in the ‘Landes’ area where he started surfing as a child. After moving to the Basque Country at the age of 17, he discovered the beauty of the local surf spots where he could surf all year long in all conditions. His zeal resulted in many broken boards so he started repairing them, as well as his friends’ boards. With this experience, he bought his first blank and shaped his first surfboard in the back of a barn, a 6’0 twin-fin. After some uninspiring jobs, he quickly realised that he wanted to work for himself. Three years ago, he took the risk of starting his own business and gained all his know-how in a garage by himself. He is passionate about his hand-crafted work and loves his job – especially with the little perk he has : trying out the boards.
I think Julien’s story is quiet impressive and made me take a step back and evaluate my own life. We are taught that we should follow our dreams, do more what makes up happy and not waste the time we have on this planet. Lessons in the form of inspirational quotes that I see almost daily on my social media feeds, or see hung up on the walls of living rooms. But let’s be honest : do they really reflect your reality? Do you think about it from time to time ? Do you follow your dreams? Are you doing what makes you happy? Or, is more the thought that you could do it (if you wanted to) that is enough for you? I am not saying that any of it is easy, but sometimes we need to be bold and see what life has prepared for us. Even if it scares you to fail. There is no way you can fail a life lesson if you consider it experience that prepares you for the rest of your journey. Be aware of what you are capable of. Trust you can do way more than you think. Do it, just like Julien did.
Contact Facebook Bellon Surfboards / Tel. : 07 81 55 32 87