NAU Surfboards: bets on eco-friendly surfboards

A few weeks ago, we caught up with Simon, co-founder of NAU Surfboards, to talk and learn more about the making of his wooden surfboards. Simon is an architect specialised in urban development and strategic planning for humanitarian actions. Environmentally conscious, his goal is to make wooden surfboards as eco-friendly as possible. Each piece are handshaped with love that aim to last a lifetime.

First of all, could you tell us about the genesis of Nau Surfboards

Simon: The first time I thought about making my own surfboard was when I landed in Haiti after the earthquake of January 12th, 2010. During the humanitarian mission, I discovered this amazing island that abounds with surf spots. The only catch is that there weren’t any surf shops, so I’ve decided to jump into the shaping adventure. In that moment of my life, I had the need, the desire and the time to explore new things, and shaping a wooden surfboard seemed like the right thing to do. So, I began searching out how to make wooden surfboards on the Internet. After some digging, I came across Thomas Scott, a Brazilian shaper which has a very interesting approach, and he’s one of the first shapers using Agave wood. With his help, I built my first wooden surfboard; a midlength where I put a Gourde, the Haitian local currency, in the middle. It took me a few months to finally put her into the water and enjoy the small Haitian waves.

Why did you choose wood as the material to build your surfboards?

Simon: It was really by choice because I could have asked one of my colleagues working for an American NGO to send me a surfboard in Haiti. I always worked with wood and the main idea was to make surfboards that will last a lifetime. I could say that it was also about sustainability and how I could reduce my footprint on the environment. For me, it is very important to build a surfboard from A to Z by hands at most.

Could you tell us more about your first surfboard: why did you choose this model

Simon: For my first surfboard I wanted it to be with a lot of volume but not too long, easy to carry by car, and possible to make with the Agave wood piece I’ve found. Above all, I wanted to find a model easy to shape and not too specific. It took me almost six months because it has proved to be a long and meticulous process. First, I had to drain all the Agave trunks, to cut them into square-shaped sections, and finally assemble all the pieces together in order to make the wooden blank. Once the blank assembled, I was able to start shaping the rails and outline, installing the fin and fiberglassing the deck and bottom. Before that, I only repaired a few surfboards with my friends Augustin Voisin, a good surfer and shaper at Missy Fruit Surfboards based in the Basque Country.

When did you decide to turn your passion into a business?

Simon: Since I was little, I’ve always spent my holidays in Portugal, and for some time now, we were planning on moving to Lisbon. When we arrived, I reconnected with Raphael, an old friend I’ve met 13 years ago in Porto under the Erasmus programme. I told him that I’ve built a wooden surfboard in Haiti, and that I wanted to pursue this exploratory path here in Lisbon. As I expected, he was down for it. Simultaneously, I’ve checked what kind of wood I could found, and it turns out that Portugal is full of Agave wood! In brief, it was the perfect occasion to continue what I’ve started in Haiti and to develop a business shaping wooden surfboards.

What is the true meaning of NAU?

Simon: Super easy! Nau in Portuguese means ‘nave’. The name is Raphael’s idea. When we were thinking of a name, we were looking for a short and easy letter word to remember.

You told us you had a partner, Raphael, could you tell us more about how you work together

Simon: I would say that our two different worlds compliment one another. I have more an architecture approach in the sense that I draw and measure everything before building a surfboard. In short, I have a procedural approach. Raphael, however, has an artistic approach where he sculpted surfboards. In this way, it is really interesting to work together and to share viewpoints on our methods. As I enjoy more working with wood and Raphael with foam, we had the idea to combine the two materials for some of our surfboards.

How would you describe your shaping spirit and from who or what do you draw inspiration from?

Simon: We’re always been fascinated by the first wooden surfboards carved from the timber of sacred trees in Hawaii. What I love the most is their different shapes and the massive aspect due to the choice of light woods, like balsa. And, I have to say that the way to build those surfboards are super easy and their robustness are truly unmatched. So, I would say that my shaping spirit and my inspirations are drawn from the history of the first surfers and shapers. Today, I only make wooden surfboards using similar methods, and techniques used later in the fifties and sixties to built hollow and chambered surfboards. What we are trying to do is building surfboards that are short, with a lot of volume and aesthetically appealing because in our point of view the design of a surfboard is also very important. In terms of shapes, we particularly like making fish, twin, midlength and surfboards that got punch! Finally, what’s interesting in making wooden surfboards is how free you can be because, in contrast with foam surfboards, you have to draw the all surfboard before even starting. It allows you to be creative and not to be compelled by the shape of the blank.

We’re a bit curious about the material you’re using. What’s Agave wood?

Simon: The agave plant grow wildly along the coast and once the trees flower it’s simply falls away, so it’s super convenient for us. All we have to do is to collect them to people houses who just want to get ride of them. We really like using agave wood for our surfboards because we want to develop a smart green economy around NAU Surfboards. The idea is to reduce our footprint as far as possible. And, I truly believe that’s possible to develop such a vision within the surfing industry.

With the arrival of new surfboard shapes, are you interested in going in experimental, and is it possible with wooden surfboards

Simon: Yes absolutely! In a near future I would love to try new shapes, but at the moment, my skills need to be improved and I think I also have to make more surfboards before jumping into experimental design. Making more boards and try them will help me understand better how they work and how I could make them more effective. I think that atypical rails, shapes, channels etc. has a strong impact on the surfboard’s position in the water that is, its buoyancy and how the waves interact with the surfboard. In this context, there is a hug difference between how a foam and a wooden surfboard reacts. It’s harder to make performance wooden surfboards because it needs a lot of adjustments and precisions to get the same result. For instance, nose concaves are easy to make on wooden surfboards because its use and efficiency are recognised. I am not saying that it’s impossible to make channels on wooden surfboards but I think it needs time and to try and assess their effects. But, it’s totally possible and a path to explore!

Earlier, we saw that you have a new project underway. Could you tell us more about that new fish you’re making

Simon: The main goal for this new project is to make a 100% resin-free surfboard from locally sourced wood. It would be awesome to achieve this project because it means that it will limit even more the impact of the road/air transportation, of the material production and of the use of chemicals such as fiberglass and epoxy resin on the environment. For this one I’ll combine two different techniques; the chambered wooden surfboard method and the alaia method. The first consists of shaping a wood blank by gluing the chambered pieces of wood all together. Traditionally, chambered surfboards were made with balsa wood, but in this case we will use paulownia wood as used in the alaia method. Using both chambered and alaia method, we’ll be able to adjust the size, shape, strength and weight of the surfboard and also to use natural oils in order to make an almost 100% eco-friendly end result.

Do you have any new project or product you would like to develop?

Simon: I would love to make handplanes in the near future because I always been a huge bodyboard lover. Moreover, I have some scrap wood that could actually be recycled into handplanes. It’s not too complicated to make and it is super funny for the summer waves.

Simon, thank you so much for letting us discover your universe. We were more than amazed by your work and the story that led you where you are today: making such unique wooden surfboards in a sustainable way. For those who describe themselves as wooden surfboards lovers, check out NAU Surfboards ‘ creations! You won’t regret that extra click πŸ˜‰

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