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North Devon surfing: trio take on board shaping venture

By NDJAndrew  |  Posted: February 19, 2014

Juan Fernandez gets to work in the shaping bay he shares with two friends. Picture: Rob Tibbles

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When it comes to surfboard manufacturing, North Devon has a venerable history stretching back to the early Sixties when Bob Powers shaped the area’s first boards in his garage.

Over the years, numerous shapers and companies have emerged.

Some have gone global, such as Braunton-based Tiki, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

For the most part, however, it has remained a cottage industry and today the area is peppered with foam-covered folk who toil away in sheds and garages to produce beautiful wave-riding craft.

Three friends with a passion for surfing are hoping to continue the story, having opened the doors of what they hope will become a hotbed of surfboard creativity.

Under the banner JF Seven, Andrew Bevan, Kele Taofinuu and Juan Fernandez want to share their passion by offering people the chance to shape their own boards.

What started as chatter between work colleagues escalated and the trio got the keys to a unit in Chivenor in August and set about building a shaping bay.

Born and raised on the Pacific coast of Ecuador, Juan travelled to America to learn shaping craft from Huntington legend Bruce Jones.

“I moved to the UK in 2009 and lived in London for three years,” said Juan. “I joined the London Surf Club and did board repairs for members and ended up shaping more than 100 boards in the shed at the back of my house.”

Nick Lloyd was the first North Devon rider to get his hands on one of those boards and it wasn’t long before Juan made the pilgrimage west as countless others had before. Arriving in North Devon in early 2012, he found work at Sandleigh Tea Rooms in Croyde where he was coaxed into showing his skills when asked to restore one of the oldest Bilbo surfboards.

“It was among the first boards made in the Sixties and had been surfed by two generations of a local family,” said Juan.

Working in a shed, watched by bemused tearoom customers, he brought the 50-year-old board back to life.

“When they came to collect it they opened the door and the tears came almost straightaway,” said Juan.

It is clear how much the team care about the craft and spirit of surfing and how keen they are to share their knowledge.

“The idea behind the shape your own board experience was to watch people walk away with a board they can use, a deeper understanding of board design and hopefully a big grin on their face,” said Juan.

“We’ve got this space and all the tools and want to offer that to people who want to give it a go, whether it’s repairing their board or producing their own shapes.”

There is still a chance to see the earliest boards produced in North Devon in the Sixties Surfer exhibition at the Museum of British Surfing in Braunton.

Congratulations are in order for Ilfracombe surfer Paul Barrington who raised £1,320 for the North Devon Cystic Fibrosis by auctioning his broken board. See page 9 for the full story.

The auction is over but there are still three weeks to run on the charity donation page.

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