I first met Louis Robert at the old Addiction Surfboards storefront on the Sooke road. Pete Devries and Olly Atkey were riding his boards and loving them and I just started dropping into Addiction because the shop was right there, along my path. A few weeks after the 2003 surf jam, I saw Pete back riding an Addiction, and I knew Louis was back from Europe so I thought I would drop in on him, say hello, and find out what's shaping up in Sooke.
I tracked him down at the new Addiction Surfboard factory in Sooke. It's right behind Shrubland on Idlemore. Go past the bottle depot and shrubland and you see a cinderblock commercial building with lettering on the end that says autobody. Addiction fills the second unit of that building with a shaping bay, paint room, sanding bay, glassing room, a very slick UV oven and Louis' indomitable enthusiasm. You'll see a small sign on the door.
CoastalBC.com: Right to business Louis. Tell us about this new surfboard resin.
Louis: Called AST [alive surf technology]. The resin is called DHF durable hyper formance. The resin is urethane based. So it's not made like polyester resin, polyester is based with styrene and when you actually apply the polyester resin, the styrene evaporates and that's the stuff, that's what makes the fumes. It doesn't stay in the resin. When it cures the styrene is gone and all this styrene's in the air its super bad. Styrene is a solvent.
So this new resin is supposed to produce 3000 times less fall out in the air, so it's almost none. When you work with it, you want to wear a respirator but you don't really have to. You can touch the resin, you don't need gloves. You can wash with isopropyl alcohol, you know, like you don't need acetone to wash your tools, so it's way better to work with for health.
CoastalBC.com: And how's it going to perform?
Louis: What happened is, it's got quite a bit more strength than epoxy, because epoxy has always been the strongest resin. It's stronger than epoxy but flexible like polyester. This is a huge breakthrough in the composites. The reason why they tried to make epoxy boards in the '80s, and they always tried to bring back epoxy boards because it's the only thing available stronger than polyester, but it was always so stiff, feels so stiff, it's like you are riding such a stiff snowboard. You feel it bouncing on every bump. There's just no flex, so that's why polyester always stayed on top, it's just the best product available, not for strength but for performance. It's flexible and you need flex.
CoastalBC.com: This is going to make boards more durable?
Louis: It's going to make boards super, like way stronger, like about, they said about 30 percent stronger than epoxy which means you can drop the board on the rail and it would not shatter, like you can drop in on the ground……
CoastalBC.com: Compression dings are going to be lessened?
Louis: Oh yeah, everything. It's got a memory, it just spring back. It's really good.
It's supposed to keep its punch for years. You know when you get a new board and you love it…… and after six months it kinda got loosened, or doesn't have that good, flexi feel to it, so the AST should keep it going for a loooong time. So it's good, I'm pretty stoked.
CoastalBC.com: What about tooling your shop? Dou you need special equipment?
Louis: I need a new oven, a different kind of oven that gives a heat cure. You don't use a catalyst you just heat it up. You need a stove but they're totally setting me up. There's a couple of things that I still have to learn but they say you make 2 or 3 boards with the new technology and you figure the little things out. I'm getting resin this week for 30 so. I'll be making boards right away with AST.
So they give me all this "Top Secret" information [laughs] and make me sign contracts…..
CoastalBC.com: Confidentiality agreements.
Louis: Yeah, all that stuff. And the guy's young that came up with the resin. He's 24 when he came up with the resin, 26 now. Only young people on the crew. It's really like mostly under 25 people running a big show.
CoastalBC.com: Is this going to make the boards more expensive?
Louis: Yea, quite a bit more expensive, about like surftech. $800, $850 bucks for a shortboard, 900 bucks for a longboard.
CoastalBC.com: So it's going to add a couple of hundred bucks to the price of a board for a more durable board?
Louis: Yea. I won't make more money, probably the same amount of money, but the board will be more expensive for me to make. It [has to] pay the same wage. Paid by the hour. I'm just doin the same kinda work. But the good thing for me, no styrene, stronger surfboard.
They won't sell this resin everywhere. In Canada they chose the addiction surfboard factory, and he choose U. W. L. surfboard factory in France where I work last winter, and he chose a couple in California, like only a few factories will be able to have the resin.
CoastalBC.com: Right on that's very cool.
Louis: There's one problem with AST resin, airbrushing will be difficult. The paint doesn't stick with the resin so the boards will have to be white at the beginning until we figure out a way to airbrush over the glass and maybe put a coat of a different finish over top. And the paint from the logos, the ink from the logos don't stick, they bleed so now we'll silkscreen right on the board which is different and jus a little more work.
CoastalBC.com: It would be very cool to have an indestructible surfboard, or a quiver of them, but I never had much interest in plastic rental boards.
Louis: Soul rules, they now mass-produce board in Thailand with shaper that never surf. Companies like surf tech buy up all the big surfboard names and then just pumping them out. Design evolution is affected and they kill a huge shaping culture as well as custom craft.
They pay the surf tech people pretty good, like more better money than factories would normally pay. They might get two bucks an hour instead of 50 cents which is good for them.
The backyard shaping culture has been around so long and now it's going away because of that, because it's becoming manufacturing. They can mass-produce surfboards.
CoastalBC.com: There's not much evolution when surfboards become mass-produced.
Louis: No, no for sure.
CoastalBC.com: And backyard shapers I mean they've always been all about evolution.
Louis: That's what made the surfboards go the way they have today, because of the backyard shapers trying all sorts of thing.
The production board is just made fast, like not the mass-produced ones, just the production setups. Usually the shapers don't want to do channels, they don't want to do things that are too much time-consuming, on the standing process, or whatever, but you know people want to pay the $60 for the channel so why not. Everybody makes his wage and the surfer gets his channel and the evolution keep going instead of just do the same thing.
I guess are still a place for a custom shaper but it's scary sometimes. I sorta don't want them [Surftech and Production boards] to kill the culture.
Louis: Hello, how's it going?
A couple walk into the shop.
The guy: Hey Louis how are you?
Louis: Good, good, good I got your board ready here.
The guy heads straight for the shaping room and Louis follows him in where they survey the guy's new board. It has fat oversize rails and channels down either side of the top where the deck drops down to reduce the overall volume of the board. I leave them in the shaping bay to discuss business and return when the couple leaves. Of course we stand around the board in the middle of the room on the work stand. It's a 6 3 or 6 4 but looks like it would surf any bit of mush that you cared to take it out on.
Louis: It's almost like things are turning back, everything is coming back all the time.
Everything is going retro………
Fashion does that, and even surfboard technology…….
CoastalBC.com: Can you turn that over?
We look at the top of the surfboard.
Louis: It looks, wild looking. What happens is like, you go lower, because those boards are so, so thick, that sometimes they float almost too much, and people want the lower deck so you don't have to have much volume, but keeping the thing fat, like the board's super thick,.
Those boards are supposed to be over three inches thick. So, but it's quite a bit of foam and a lot of people now, now people want them low, low, closer to the water, like two inches thick. But they still want the big rails, to really carry on, if it's too floaty it doesn't dig too much. So it's all 70's, nothing new ya know. Same old thing.
Some things I started improving on, I do computer design now, what I do is I design all the boards on computer, and then I blow up the templates, instead of making the templates by hand.
Louis: Now I design everything on the computer so it makes everything more accurate, it's so much better. If I see a board sometime that I like I can just take a picture of it, and remake a template from it, and things like that, so just more precise, and accurate, and I like. It's that good. I can make the curves super, super clean. Like a few times want to copy, sometimes I do that. Maybe like a guy tells me, like I ordered a Merrick but it got in, like a quarter inch thinner.
I'm like ahh, I can make your quarter inch more. So I put the board, the same dimensions on the computer with the same outline and pull the curves a little on Correll, and God it's just so precise. I get them print out on pieces of vinyl with the C&C cut out machine and stick it on. [Laughs] It's cheating I guess but it's just a tool, not really cheating I guess.
CoastalBC.com: doesn't everybody use templates?
Louis: Just a tool to make it better. The guy beside me, the furniture maker, showed me how to make templates, really precisely now, by hand you know, so it's really good, the furniture guy is so, so good. Such a good craftsman. He's got all the templates and machines, so many templates for all his furniture. I looked at his wall the other day, thousands of templates on his wall, I just freaked out, like super nice perfect chairs, and I gotta learn all this, like I was getting my templates cut out on this huge machine, a big one for anything like airplanes or anything. It will cut the wood perfect but they charge me so much, like 50 bucks an hour, so it would be like, it would take like three hours, it takes about 15 minutes to cut but there was all this preparation. And there's always a new one every week, always someone that wants a new board, on a new template. So it's good to learn from the furniture maker.
I shaped with the guy a few years back. Matt Willis was a really good fish shaper from Santa Barbara and he came to the shop and he took a longboard blank and ripped it up, any shaped one of those fishes, he's the guy that showed me how to shape those. A real soul shaper, the guy was a really good shaper, showed me how to do that top deck [points to the board before us] and showed me some old tricks about V bottoms, and just a special guy.
CoastalBC.com: I see quite a few Willis boards around the south island.
Louis: Yeah, for sure, he's a soul shaper, he's not commercial. I thought about making a Willis model and selling it around here and he is like "ahh it sounds commercial and I don't want to do it ". Just a pure guy, go to Mexico, surf for awhile, come back, shape a couple boards, surf.
CoastalBC.com: So you spent last winter in France.
Louis: Yeah it was good.
CoastalBC.com: That was good for you?
Louis: It was great, I learned a lot. Those guys build a factory [U. W. L. surfboards] just for that, like the factory was designed for perfect efficiency, those guys are real craftsman. There were only two shapers working on the boards, but they were producing a couple boards a day, and every board that came out would be just immaculate, top condition, super nice pin line, everything just perfect. The guy doing the shaping is the best craftsman I ever seen, and he's young, and he's got a lot of surfboards under his belt. Going good for them.
So what happened was there was a big oil tanker sunk, and petrol everywhere so the whole South Coast is totally black and U. W. L. was just at the limit where the petrol went. Everyone went to them, so it actually blew up his business with the rest of the coast closed.
CoastalBC.com: How was the surfing?
Louis: The surfing was really cold, cold like here or colder, and nobody had a hood. They were wearing 4/3 suits and I show up with my hoody. I like, need a hood, you know?
CoastalBC.com: I used a 4/3 right until about 98 and I cannot figure out why I held out for so long. Once I got into the steamer it was just too nice.
Louis: Over there, because they surf in trunks in the summer, and when the winter comes only the hard-core goes. Like, it's uncrowded. They don't have the equipment for the winter, they don't even sell at there. I show up with my 5/4 or whatever, they're just like what the f#$k? I was in the water for two or three hours. Some guy named Minot was trying to hang on with me like, but he was red like a tomato. We got some really good surf , really good surf, and really good food afterwords. Coffee shops with super good coffee. Bakeries, like such a pure lifestyle, and top-quality. Like French people, they don't buy nothing from other country, they just make all their stuff and food is the most important thing so they'll take for lunch, two or three hours to eat, such quality food, fine food. I got like 10 pounds there like in no time. So much butter and it's a really good, really good alcohol and a bit of wine and a bit of everything. Really good shaping trip for sure.
The guy from U. W. L. was supposed to come down here but I felt like going back. I like to go back sometime. They make an addiction board there now. Because I shaped so many old fish, and 50-50 classic longboards. They don't have as much of a surf culture as we do. It's really modern. So then I show up and start shaping like crazy.
CoastalBC.com: They just don't have the old boards around to look at.
Louis: 0h yeah, so that was pretty cool, they went crazy, the orders just started going off, everyone wanted a weird fish, so their old-style line would be addiction surfboards, all the longboards, all the fish. There's like a shaper, Gerard Dabaddi, who shapes for Bic which is like the big shaper, he's the top shaper there, he would drive five hours to come see me shape a fish.
The local surf magazine, Surf Session, did an old school issue with all the addiction boards in the magazine, the covers were so crazy. I was so excited. Like it's not good for me (laughs) . It was pretty amazing, people would come. Like I would have a shaping appointment at 3 and then three people would lineup in front of the window of the shaping room and look at this American person shaping. Ha ha ha ha ha ha it was pretty funny. People really welcomed me, treated me like a king.
CoastalBC.com: What area where you in?
Louis: It was La Rochelle. They make a lot of Pineau alcohol, kinda like really sweet, kinda like port wine. It's also one of the old ports.
CoastalBC.com: Submarine base in the second world war.
Louis: Oh yeah, exactly. A lot of huge submarine bases. They haven't done nothing, it's all still there, there's bunkers everywhere on the coast, and machine-gun nests, and you can just see the Nazis were all over, like it's pretty f#$king wild. We did the whole coast and we saw a lot of war zone. Normandy, it was pretty impressive. And Paris, I would spend a year and Paris looking in all the little streets. It's pretty cool Paris.
We went down the coast to Portugal and met some shaper over there, and he hooked me up with couple of other Moroccan surfers and we drove down to Morocco, and it was funny because the magazine was all over Europe, and I would get there and people would say "you're the guy, I seen the magazine, like everywhere, it was f#$king wicked, I was like holy cow. It was good coverage.
It's funny because when you're not from there and you start, it's pure shape. People, they don't have any attitude, they don't know you so they go from what you shape now, not from your past or what to look like or what you are. It's just like you see that board, wow that's a wicked board. It's pure, they don't analyze it, it's the shape. They love or they don't love. You know?
I'm stoked to be back, but I learned a lot more about shaping since I left, just my sanding and my fiberglassing and everything else is just night and day. I learned so much, I am just totally different now.
CoastalBC.com: It's tough when you work alone, to evolve, much tougher than working with other people.
Louis: Like you find a technique that works for you, but once you do it you just do it that way and you don't think anymore. You're like OK I got this one down and you see someone else do it, and you just like, God I've been making it this way for years, and here's a better way. And the same for everything you know? Years ago my friend came in and showed me this little pin line machine trick, the shaper at U. W. L. surfboards, Renaud Cardinal, made all his pin lines by taping them out by hand, lay it out, rip it up, do that 30 times. I was like "man just use this little machine" and the guy was like "oh I wish I had that years ago". There's just so many trick in the trade, like crazy how many trick. So now I think, working everywhere, I think I got a lot of little trick, I don't have all the trick but I got a lot of trick to make efficient, fast surfboards.
CoastalBC.com: How come you located back in Sooke rather than Tofino?
Louis: I tried to go to Tofino. There was a few backyard shops so I went to the crossroads. Do I stay a backyard shaper or do I make a good factory and do it right, and that, the factory what makes your board so better. We found a nice house with a little shop but it's not quite good enough. I would like to be there but I'm happy to be here. I just bought a house with my girlfriend here, so we are going to be here for a bit. I'm pretty stoked about coming here (he looks around the shop). I got a good shop. It's clean, good lighting, it's perfect, as big as you need for a one-man show. And I want stay a one-man show, the quality just gets better, and I got my name on the boards so I make sure they're all done up. And sometimes you just wanna go surf. It's good, and before I was pumping out boards, it was taking a month, a month and a half. Now it takes 10 to 14 days. Not that long that people can drop in, a week, a couple week that later, they got their board, all cured and ready to be ridden. So yeah, I'm looking forward to making a lot of boards this winter. I got a three-day ding repair service so you can get back on your board fast. I'm happy. I think the place needed that.
CoastalBC.com: I gotta go shoot some skateboarders Louis, thanks man.
Louis: thanks Cam, keep it up Bro.