Matthew Kramer was a participant of the first wooden surfboards course that I ran in 2013. Earlier this year I caught up with him for a surf – he subsequently wrote a very articulate account of what his wooden surfboard had meant to him over the years. It was published on Wavescape and I’m re-publishing it below. Thanks to Lee-Anne Curtis-Cox from Capture the Moment for the stunning pictures.
“When I paddled out at Llandudno for one of the first sessions on my freshly built wood surfboard I threw the board down onto the water in the shallows, slid onto it and started paddling, half expecting it to sink. It didn’t. In fact, it paddled nicely, the extra weight of the board making it glide swiftly and smoothly through the water.
I spotted Robby McDonald from Vudu Surf in the lineup and as I paddled over he turned to me and with his usual effortless wit called out, “What’s that you’re riding boetie, the old front door?” We had a good chuckle and pretty soon after that our attention was pulled back to the ocean and the task of catching some waves.
Since that day the “old front door” has had a remarkable impact on my world. I am constantly amazed and inspired by what this wood board can handle and what it can do. I’ve ridden this one board in a variety of conditions from mushy one foot Muizenberg to pumping Llands barrels and I have yet to find the limits of where it can work and bring me joy.
I built the board on a course with Patrick from Burnett Wood Surfboards and the experience of building my own board and then riding it is a huge component of the profound effect I have felt. I cannot recommend building your own surf craft highly enough and I feel it is something every surfer should do at least once.
Riding this board makes me feel I have earned my place in the sea. I feel initiated. I know the cost and the impact of getting to ride the wave. I know what’s inside this thing, just how much effort, love and attention to detail is engrained in its make up, and I’m going to take a great deal of care to ensure that it stays with me as long as possible. I also know that am going to make another one.
Like most surfers, I’ve ridden commercially produced surfboards most of my life and I’ve loved it. Surfing is a gift no matter how it comes to you. I think if everybody surfed there’d be a lot less road rage and nasty business out there. Who would want to be dropping bombs or delivering hurt when there’s a crisp offshore wind and the waves are perfect and you just know there’s a few with your name on them? Well I know what I would choose. I’ve ridden foam and fibreglass boards most of my life.
In fact in recent years I’ve been going through them at a rate. I ride them until they are finished, they reach a point where they will snap repeatedly and at that point it becomes cheaper to buy a new board and not have to keep paying for repairs. But every time I send another board to landfill I feel regret, not for the loss of a board but because I know that I am contributing to the mountain of toxic crap that is bleeding into the earth, poisoning and degrading our biosphere.
As wave riders we are ocean lovers by default. I have a love for the ocean that goes way deeper than just appreciating what it offers me as a surfer. That is something that most water men and women will understand.
The ocean offers us a very tangible and visible example of an ecosystem as a singular entity. The ocean lives, breathes, shifts and changes constantly just like any other organism. It’s easy to see it as a living being and I want to treat it as I would any other living creature, with the respect that it deserves. For me that means being mindful of my relationship with the ocean – what impact it is having and how I can work to better that relationship.
I understand that my actions alone will change very little in this world and any way, I’m over wanting to change it. I’m reminded of a classic line from Detective Velcoro, “My strong suspicion is that we get the world we deserve.”
I believe that Mother Nature will balance the scales one way or another with or without our help. For my part the question is, “what am I going to do to make it all OK for myself today?” And today the answer to that question is to engage in what I love with honor, respect and dignity. I’m putting that toxic shit behind me. I’ll use it where I have to, where I have no choice, but I’ll always be looking for an alternative.
And for now that’s good enough for me, knowing that the blind and unconscious use of disposable, poisonous crap for the sake of convenience is in the past.
I’m not a professional surfer. As far as my value system is concerned I now see that it is more important for me to ride a board that is made from materials that are biodegradable and non toxic than it is to shave five hundred grams from the final weight of my board. In the choice of saving five hundred Rands today versus five hundred years of leaching toxic chemicals into land and sea there is no choice. Besides, I’ve seen more improvement in my surfing while riding my wood board than any performance board I’ve ever had.
What I have learned from this wood board, apart from a better bottom turn, is that although there are limits to what we can do in this life there are options and sometimes the smallest decision can have a powerful effect. I am connected to the the ocean. I am a part of something greater than myself, and I now see that we can only truly care for something when we are a part of it.
It took building and riding a wooden surfboard for me to understand that.”