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Agave harvest

Surfing Wood

by Andy Davis / 28.11.2013

Sisal, you know the stuff with the hard, hard spiky leaves and the big tree like thing busting out the middle, that grows untended along the roadside pretty much everywhere in the world. Yep, that’s the same plant the Mexicans make tequila out of, agave. Although the version we get here in Mzanis is known scientifically as agave sisalana, as opposed the Mexican agave tequilana, but that’s neither here nor there, the important thing is that both plants can be harvested and turned into syrup, sugar, tequila, rope, paper and now most excitingly (if the tequila didn’t get you going) surfboards. Hell, plant agave round your house and in a few years you’ll have an impenetrable, natural and organic razor-wire just as effective as your standard electric fence. I guess what I’m trying to say is that agave is basically just your average wonderplant.

Now, I’ve wanted to shape myself an agave surfboard ever since I saw Californian big wave legend Gary Linden carve a board out of some raw agave logs back in 2003. Ever since then, whenever I’d drive and see a huge “African Christmas Tree” alongside the highway (the stems grow in spring and bloom in mid summer), I’d make a mental note to come back in the dead of night, hack the thing down and start shaping my magic board. It became a longterm, unrequited fantasy. A few summers back, a fine agave specimen shot up in the bush overlooking the Kom. One night I put on boots, gloves and harvested the stick and left it under my balcony to dry, vowing to collect a few more, cut and shape a board myself, like some esoteric surfing lumberjack carpenter dude. Invariably it lived under the deck for two seasons before the chance arrived to make something semi-useful out of it.

In July this year, El Jimador Tequila (Mexico’s biggest selling tequila) got in touch wanting to do something on Mahala, with a surfing angle. My mind wandered to the dusty, dry agave logs under my deck. We pitched the concept of a tequila surfboard and suddenly we were talking to Ian Armstrong about shaping us a wooden keel-fin fish thing, from pure agave logs. Ian’s the South African shaper with the most experience working in agave and it really is a unique skill set. Shaping agave leaves a layer of brown dust on everything, not ideal in a surfboard factory that specialises in shiny white sticks! So we decided to cut it up in the open, outside the Burnett Wooden Surfboard factory in Imhoff’s Gift, Kommetjie. We roped in big wave hellman and full-time carpenter Jason Hayes from Hayescraft to help us with milling, shaping and creating the agave blank. Jason has long been interested in combining his carpentry skills with his love for big wave surfing. He’s already shaped himself a 10 foot agave gun and has been collecting choice agave stems from his ballie’s farm in the Karoo and just happened to have a stack of them at his factory. You can expect to see some more agave surf products from Mr Hayes in due course.

Carpentry

Once the blank was shaped, it made more sense to epoxy the board than traditional glassing, considering the agave is quite porous and sucks a lot of resin, making it heavy. Epoxy ensured the board would remain relatively light and deliver the best surfing performance. Stu Moerdyk from Blackhill Surfboards glassed and sanded the board and Scarfini donated the bamboo keel-fins. And then it was time to take this bad boy for a ride.

The Tequila Surfboard, first met the Atlantic on a big, blustery winter’s day, but the additional weight of the wooden board is perfect for waves with a bit of chop on them, because it simply slices straight through. Big wave tow-surfing boards are often made from agave for precisely this reason. After that initial session, the board got its second wetting at The Inner Kom and then Crons, repeatedly, by yours truly. Once you get used to the weight of the board, I was always surprised by how much speed and momentum it generated, even on small waves. And every time you surf on this board, it’s always glassy. At the moment, the production team, the dudes at El Jimador and everyone else involved are busy squabbling over who gets to keep the Tequila Surfboard. It was last seen in the grubby hands of film-maker (and Kommetjie surfing hobbit) Neil Webster. Word is it may be on it’s way to Durban, if we can liberate the board from Neil’s clutches. Music on the video is from Jozi-based singer songwriter Gil Hockman’s debut album and is definitely worth a listen.

And without giving too much away, Mahala and El Jimador are busy planning a speciality agave surf event in early 2014. So watch this space.

Woody

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