Saturday, January 19, 2008
From the Franco-files...
I’m from San Diego and a sucker for clean lines. It should come as no surprise, then, that the fine craft of Barrel Surfboards caught my eye. I was perusing a blog or 'board when I came across a few of their gems and learned that they are based out of France. France, home of wine, beachbreaks and sensible health care has a board maker that would pass the litmus test in any Sin Diego lineup. Alexandre, the creator behind Barrel Surfboards, was good enough to converse with me a bit. It seems this gentleman shaper, while living in Bordeaux (yes, the wine), has developed a love for trim and glide that has led him towards a board builder's life.
Alexandre is an architect by trade. The hours spent studying form, function and aesthetics in structures have transferred nicely into shaping. His boards have the clean, drawn out curves of Frye, the balance and kinetic implication of the Campbell brothers and the hallowed gravity of California surfboard makers of notable lineage. It is from these iconic figures that Barrel Surfboards draws influence and inspiration. French board builders such as Chevalier and Toy have produced quality boards, and formed a base of Franco-shaper pride- an oak of support to Alexandres fledgling shaping vision. It would be remiss to omit the primary force behind Barrel Surfboard’s design- surfing the beachbreaks of his Atlantic home. “I only shape boards I like to surf.” Isn’t that the core of it.
Alexandre’s home breaks are the beaches that make up a 250 kilometer stretch of tide and sand sensitive beachbreak. Fickle, frustrating, but potentially epic. These conditions have led his board design to center around maximizing fun on any given day. You won’t find any rockered-out WCT machines in his arsenal. Twin fin fish, are a preferred choice as both a rider and a craftsman. “I never get as much fun as on a twin fish. Shaping one take a lot of time but is a great fun too.” Alexandre wrote. In fact, the fish design is a primary reason for Alexandre’s venture into surfboard shaping. “In France, when I started shaping, there were no boards like that and they were boards I wanted to surf. So I started shaping for myself short, wide, thick, low rockered boards and they really are efficient boards.”
As his experience grew so did his repertoire. Barrel Surfboards now creates eggs, single fins, and fish of the twin, twinzer and quad varieties. When pressed, Alexandre might even whip up a “user friendly” tri-fin shortboard. To be sure, Barrel surfboards are entities of functional art. A particular attention goes into each board as it is conceived and developed through the shaping bay and into the hands of the glassers, true craftsmen in their own right. "There is one thing I really like about surfboards: when lines, volume, colors, and fins match altogether and you can feel it's been done to remain one unique piece.Some boards can have nice curves but sad fins and poor colors... then you can only see how average they are.One part of the job i like to take care about is the fin choice, material, templates, color match etc... On the pictures I chose (for this article), I love the way the boards came out, curves, polishes, colors, fins.To me, these boards look like a solid material, much more than foam and resin."
To my eye, his boards look wonderful, though Alexandre insists the evolution of Barrel Surfboards is far from complete. “As a shaper, I'm in front of the Himalaya and I've just landed in Katmandou and climbed the first rock. I wish I could travel again and meet more shapers to exchange with, share shaping sessions and so on. I'd love to become a better shaper to offer better boards to all the surfers who dare to trust me.” Right on Alexandre! The hand built paradigm of surf-stoked surfcraft is alive and well!
I initiated contact with Barrel Surfboards. I was motivated by the unique nature of what I saw- a French board builder whose boards are dripping with San Diego lines. No commercial activities were involved. Kindly remove your suspicious grimace and let’s see the surf stoked grin that fuels us.
Most pictures are of Alexandre's choosing. I indulged my own fancies here and there.