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From Waves to Wood – This is UGG

Surfers have a deep, personal connection to the sport. And if you ask them why that is, you’ll see it as they struggle to verbalize the ineffable. Surfing isn’t a sport; it’s a way of life. But few surfers get the opportunity to create their own boards. Even fewer get to create a board from wood.

In an effort to get back in touch with our roots in California surf culture, we invited Grain to host a workshop at our Santa Barbara headquarters. We had two surfing members of our creative team there in addition to Wilderness Collective founder Steve Dubbeldam, who is leading us on an adventure down the California coast next week, and UGG Collective member Sakae, who will be joining us on our Wilderness journey. Read on to meet the “Grain gang” and see their dream boards.

Cory proudly displays his Wherry Fish surfboard.

Name: Cory
Claim to Fame: UGG® Sr. Graphic Designer
Board: 6’0” Wherry Fish
Favorite Surf Spot: Devereux

Cory has been surfing for decades and helped design the Grain surfboards you’ll soon see in our stores. This wasn’t his first time building a board, but it was his first time making one out of wood. Ever the artisan, he remained acutely focused, gliding a hand plane to shape the rails and sanding every inch to perfection.

How did you learn to surf?
I grew up in San Clemente, CA. Initially I was taught by my stepdad, but you can only be instructed for so long. You kind of just have to do it—like a lot of things in life.

Why do you love surfing?
I just love being on the ocean and being a part of the ebb and flow of the tides, seeing the colorful changing light of the day, and feeling the rhythmic rising and crashing of the waves—of which no two are ever the same.  It’s an all-encompassing experience allowing you to shed the distractions of everyday life and focus 100% of your attention on a single moment and experience.

What was your experience of this workshop?
It was tremendously satisfying because I was able to incorporate two of my passions: woodworking and surfboard shaping.  Typically surfboard shaping is a process of subtraction; you take a rough blank and remove material until you’re satisfied with the shape. This was at first a process of building, adding material to create a rough form, and then shaping it down. I loved each step of the experience—the patience required for the gluing and clamping, the myriad of hand tools, even the natural smell of the wood.  All senses were involved in the process. I felt privileged to be a part of this.

Sakae goofs around while showing off his Waka Fish board.

Name: Sakae
Claim to Fame: Being Sakae
Board: 5’4” Waka Fish
Favorite Surf Spot: Everywhere in Malibu. So hard to choose!

Sakae is something of a legend. He spent most of his childhood afraid of the ocean, sticking instead to skateboards and snowboards. In high school, though, he began working at a surf shop and taught himself to surf, and the passion he developed for the sport has influenced his life ever since. Living out of his van, Sakae travels around Southern California searching for the greatest swells and shaping his own boards—from foam. This was his first foray into wood. And while he wasn’t the most, er, focused student, he ensured everyone laughed and had a good time.

What does surfing mean to you?
Surfing changed my life. That’s for sure. I learn a lot. There’s people looking after you, but you kind of have to do everything by yourself: catch wave, stand up, find where you’re going, what you’re going to do. Stay in the moment. So I think you learn a lot physically, mentally, and it’s really good for you. For me, surfing means …I don’t know—life? Life is surfing. Life is traveling. Life is freedom. That’s how I see things. Just spending time in the ocean, at the beach makes you appreciate it [and] realize again we are part of nature. If we don’t have this, no one exists here. So we better keep this planet clean. More respect. Humble.

How did you get into shaping surfboards?
My surfing daddy died five years ago. The bank took the shop where I worked because money things. Basically I lost my surfing daddy, my house, and my support system. I was like, “Okay. What am I gonna do now? He’s not here. Shop’s not here. Everybody kind of split it up. Now I’ve got to do everything by myself. I’m going to try to start shape boards. Shape my own board and surf it.”

I think every board is a good board, to be honest. I think I should say my board is the best board, but no. It’s best for me because I love it. I spend my time on it, and it’s my baby. If you make your own board, you’ll love it and have fun.

Peter poses with his Seed Singlefin surfboard.

Name: Peter
Claim to Fame: UGG® Social Media Coordinator
Board: 6’5” Seed Singlefin
Favorite Surf Spot: My home break, Ole Joe’s. (Don’t ask me where it is.)

Peter grew up in Malibu, CA, where he learned to surf at a summer camp. He actually put the entire partnership with Grain and this workshop together, not expecting that he would have the chance to participate. With every step, Peter proceeded with caution, trying not to cut himself. “My luck with tools isn’t the greatest,” he admits.

Where are you most excited to take your board?
Literally anywhere that has waves. I may be a little too excited to get it in the water, but probably the First Point in Malibu when I can.

What did you think of getting to create your own board?
This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but I never knew where to start. I always envisioned working with foam, but wood is much more interesting, plus it’s better for the environment. I’m just thankful I had this opportunity.

What was your favorite part of the workshop?
It’s hard to say. Each day was different. The overall experience of watching this board come to life, piece by piece, and working with my hands was incredible. I’m like a proud parent. If I had to choose one part, though, it would be the final shaping day when we sculpted the boards to be exactly what we wanted using hand planes and sanding blocks.

Steve shows his freshly sanded Waka Fish board.

Name: Steve
Claim to Fame: Founder of Wilderness Collective and CEO/Co-Founder of Darling Magazine
Board: 5’4” Waka Fish
Favorite Surf Spot: Maui

It was impressive to watch Steve craft his surfboard while simultaneously managing two businesses from his phone. The professional multitasker grew up in Canada, where he definitely did not learn to surf. He first got on a board during the months he spent living in Maui, and for the last 13 years has called California home. Now a new dad, he doesn’t get in the water as much as he’d like, but he’s excited to take his board out to his regular spot just north of Huntington Beach. “I think it will be perfect for the choppy, often not stellar waves we have here in Los Angeles,” he says. “I’m excited to see how the wood feels different.”

What do you love about surfing?
I’m a man of many hobbies, but none of them are as simple and pure as surfing. There’s a lot of hype around surfing as an almost spiritual experience, and I believe it. I think it has to do with the simplicity. It’s just you and the ocean and one piece of gear.

What did you think of the workshop?
The workshop was an amazing experience. It was really fun to have such a hands-on approach, and having an instructor there gave me the confidence so I didn’t have to worry about messing up the whole board! I’ve only done basic woodworking before. This was much more like creating a piece of art.

Did the workshop change your perspective on surfing at all?
I suppose it gave me an appreciation for how much thought and design has gone into the evolution of surfing to this point. It’s fun to see Grain taking a page from history and blending that with all of the progress made in surfing so far.

The guys attempt a portrait with their boards, but Sakae does his own thing.

Follow the journey of these boards @uggformen and @wilderness.

Photos by Zach Brown

*HELP! Grain Surfboards needs to move their studios from the farm where they’ve spent the last decade. Please help them a new place to permanently call home by contributing here.