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The Handmade Soul of Surfing

Jul 30, 2013

by Lisa Butterworth handmade and vintage goods

Even if you’ve never caught a wave, you probably have some connection to surf culture. Whether you throw a shaka on the regs, can quote North Shore on demand, sported a Quiksilver sweatshirt, or even listened to the Beach Boys, the sunshine-y, laid-back vibes of the pastime are pervasive. Yet despite the big business of surf culture’s mainstream appropriation, the heart of the community is a self-sufficient, indie affair.

“Surf culture has always prided itself on its DIY ethos,” wrote Surfer Magazine editor Todd Prodanovich. “Fixing a board yourself is better than sending it to the ding repair shop. Checking the waves in person is better than looking at the cams. Exploring the coastline is better than sticking to well-trodden surf spots. This self-reliance is heavily engrained in our culture.” So it’s no surprise that surf DIYers have found a home at Etsy. From handmade boards and bags to surf-inspired art, jewelry, and even cookies, the site is full of surf-loving makers whose enthusiasm for the activity inspires their business.



A handmade surf board bag.

“There’s definitely a connection between [surf culture and DIY],” says the Atlantic Ocean’s Natasha. “For me, surfing and being out in the ocean puts my brain in the right place for creativity. There are no worries or stress out there, so I just naturally go to what I love, which is designing and making things.” In her case, those “things” are utilitarian beach totes and surfboard bags, which she began making because “none of the mass-produced ones fit my style.”



Hand planes for body surfing.

Dana, who hand-shapes pieces of California redwood and African hardwoods into stunning, mostly decorative surfboards, experiences a similar feeling. “The clarity that comes from surfing allows me to think clearly and come up with new ideas,” he says. “I am constantly inspired by what I see and feel at the beach while surfing.” He sees a very distinct link between the act of learning how to surf and the tenets of the DIY community. “Surfing is very independent,” he says. “Most people learn to surf on their own, just like most do-it-yourselfers figure things out by watching, asking, and trial and error. No one taught me how to shape surfboards, I figured it out.”

For a pastime that feels so personal, many surfers prefer the intangible connection of handmade goods to the detachment of mass-manufactured ones. “A surfer will always prefer a custom-made surfboard,” says Sina of Ola Para Siempre. “A surfboard that has a history, a board that has been created by the hands of someone you know, someone who knows what you want.”

This belief also informs Dana’s work. “Every surfboard has a story to tell about the waves ridden, miles traveled, and its owners. I like to think that down the road my surfboards will have similar stories to tell.” But when it comes to running a surf-specific Etsy shop, perhaps Natasha sums it up best: “The times spent surfing are definitely some of the best times in a person’s life,” says Natasha. “By making gear for surfers, it’s like I get to be a small part of that.”

Shop Surfing on Etsy

Body Surfing Hand Plane - Paulownia with Pink and Blue Plies
Body Surfing Hand Plane - Paulownia with Pink and Blue Plies

2 Featured Comments

  • meganbailey44

    Megan Bailey from SwellLove said 7 years ago Featured

    I heart surfing! Surfing has definitely influenced my creative process. Every time I am in the ocean I am able to relax. I love being able to express my self thru my surfing and my jewelry.

  • jessgreenleaf

    Jess Greenleaf from GREENLEAFblueberry said 7 years ago Featured

    I've never been surfing- windsurfing once, and I promptly ended up in a great big tangle of seaweed, so I don't thing that counts- but it sure looks like fun. Surfing always seems like such an apt metaphor for so much of life- riding a wave, being in the moment, never giving up. Love it!


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