Shelby and Kim Sanding

Words By Mat Arney/Otter Surfboards

A surf holiday with your other half ordinarily conjures to mind swaying palm trees and warm water rather than a workshop on the wind blown cliffs above a Cornish beach, and you’d have thought would also involve surfing for as long as your arms can paddle.  For Canadian ex-pats Kim Bendfield and Shelby MacFarlain however, their most recent surf trip was to the UK to build a pair of wooden surfboards on a “build-your-own” workshop course with Otter Surfboards, rather than to significantly increase their wave count for the year.  Kim and Shelby have to travel and move around a fair bit for work, and have surfed back home in British Columbia as well as in the warmer climes of Hawaii and Costa Rica in between their work placements (they were in the process of moving from Amsterdam to Japan when they built their surfboards), so a unique experience and learning something new trumped “going to a new surf spot” when selecting a destination for their latest trip.

Shelby Chiseling nose

“This was completely new for me, but I like working with my hands and making things.” Shelby stated when asked about her experience at the end of the week.  She’s an engineer by trade and so was very comfortable with rolling her sleeves up, however she had had little prior experience working with wood.  “The only thing that we’ve done that’s similar to this in recent years,” explained her husband Kim, “is sanding and oiling the old rowing boats as part of the annual maintenance at the rowing club that we belong to in Amsterdam”.

Shelby clamping rails

A lack of prior experience using hand tools is no barrier to building and shaping a wooden surfboard though, as James Otter explains:  “The courses that I run are designed to be accessible to absolutely anyone and everyone, so guests are guided through each part of the process of building up a hollow wooden blank and then shaping it back in stages.  It’s amazing when they get to the Friday afternoon and look at the board that they’ve crafted and consider what they’ve learnt and achieved in just five days.”

“It’s really good to see all of the work that you put into them – it really makes you appreciate them a lot more. It means something that you’ve made it yourself – I’m going to have to insure it for a million dollars or something!” Shelby

Shelby saw rasp rails

This accessibility becomes even more apparent when you ask James Otter about what type of people build their own wooden surfboards with him for their holidays; everyone from an 11 year old school girl building a surfboard with her Dad in her half term holidays through regular surfers and successful businessmen, on up to the recently retired have passed through the big blue workshop doors and emerged on the other side cradling a wooden surfboard bearing their signature.

Spending a week off work learning new woodworking skills rather than scoring perfect tropical waves may seem counter-intuitive to many surfers, but for those who value their surfboard beyond its purely functional merits then the temptation to craft their own wooden surfboard to take with them on all of those future tropical trips is a strong one.

Shelby Finished

For more info about the shaping courses check out the Otter Surfboards website at