Undeniably one of the best logs I have ever ridden. It was only a couple of waves, I managed to swap boards with this guy I was surfing with in Capbreton and you know when you know, right?
Have you ever heard of the phrase 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating'? Well if not, then look it up. I have eaten the pudding and the pudding was good.
Enough talking in metaphors, Jackson Higgs is (and I don’t say this lightly) in the master craftsman range of shapers. Someone who specialises in quality old school logs, he surfs pretty well too. All his boards are made 100% by hand, no one else touches them from start to finish and the finish is excellent.
Jackson is based in Penzance, Cornwall in the UK and has very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us here at Surf Bunker.
SB: Hey Jackson, thanks for sparing the time for Surf Bunker. Hows have the waves been recently?
Jackson: Hi there Surf Bunker, thanks very much for choosing to interview me. The waves in Cornwall have been pretty much all time recently. The banks at my local break, Sennen, seem to jack the smallest little ankle snappers into shoulder-high reelers. Now that is great news for me and my buddies, but terrible news for my customers who are on the custom order waiting list (who are just gonna have to wait that little bit longer). But it did go onshore today so I did get back to work, it's all good fun really.
SB: How old are you and when did you first start surfing?
Jackson: I started surfing pretty late really. I was 15. I was always into skating (bowls and downhill mainly) My dad has always surfed and had always tried to get me surfing at a young age, but I never wanted to do what my dad did, cos that's just not cool eh?? or at least it didn't seem it at the time. Anyway, I wish I did start earlier, wouldn't have spent most of my youth in A&E that way as well!
SB: What made you want to start shaping? Where do you get you influence from?
Jackson: I started shaping boards because it has always fascinated me how any little move in the shaping bay can be felt every time you catch a wave, so really it was purely an extension of my surfing.I started off making longboard single fins (pretty unsuccessfully) -in fact once when I was starting out, I accidentally filed a fin so sharp, the damn thing cut through the skin in my foot deep enough to need stitches.But shaping boards got really addictive for me. Just how doing something slightly different in the shaping bay would make such a huge difference in the sea.
But it's never just been about the shaping for me. Glassing is such an underrated skill in the surfing world, especially when you get into those beautifully deep, polyester resin tints that you just can't wait to wet&dry up to the 2000 grit, mirror like, glossy perfection. That's where ! have a lot of fun.
SB: Are there any other shapers worldwide that you look up to past or present?
Jackson: Being a "shaper" is cool, but being a "boardbuilder", now you are talking a different league. Don't get me wrong, I don't have any beef with someone shaping a board, passing it onto a glasser and then the glasser passing it onto a sander/finisher. But boards develop their own unique style when the shaper "makes" the board from start to finish. There aren't many left of us out there really, but we do still exist. I can't think of too many off the top of my head, but ask your shaper if he glasses, hotcoats, sands, glosses, wet&dries, compounds and polishes his/her boards. If the answer is yes, place an order!
SB: Bluff is a pretty unique name, is there a story behind that?
Jackson: I get asked this a lot and yes, of course there is a story behind it. I have always, and will only ever use traditional materials (polyester and polyurethane), accompanied with the traditional methods that were most popular in the 60's, to make my boards. Nowadays, all of this new age, epoxy surf light, tuf tech (see what I did there?) nonsense seems to be taking over all of the line-ups. But as we all know, those "outdated" traditional ways are hard to come by now. But if you enjoy the feeling of a proper traditional log gliding under your feet, you know where to go. As you said before, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. You would have to be out of your mind to buy one of those ultralight pieces of cork that "twang" across the surface of the ocean like some kind of helium filled skimming stone. No, the best boards are made the old fashioned way, and I used to joke about bluffing the mass production companies with my outdated ways. The name stuck.
SB: When you make a board for someone, does it help to be able to surf with them to know what they need or can you get that from a chat?
Jackson: I can't tell you how much it helps me to go surfing with someone first. You have to realise that I have been a surf coach full time since I was about 18, and only recently has it become an occasional weekend job. I have made my own boards for ages, but being around less skilled surfers helped my shaping so much. To see someone struggling on a knackered old foamy really makes you realise how much you can aid someone with their progression. Sure, you can just push them into a wave really hard, but better still is to make them a board that is going to aid their chances for them, like the "teach a man to fish" motto. In the beginning, most of my first customers were beginners that I had taught through the surf school. This was challenging at first because I was always used to making my own boards, and I had never taken into account someone's ability, weight, height, size etc, so it was a big learning curve for me, but one that I am very glad I took. Make no mistake about it though, I am lucky enough to be friends with some very talented surfers around here with a very critical eye that always put my models through their paces. So keeping a broad spectrum between advanced to novice is very important. Sorry, I've gone off track, what was the question again? ahh yes, surfing with customers. Great fun.
SB: How much input does the customer have from a creative perspective?
Jackson: Each board is 100% custom made for each individual customer. My shapes work on a model basis, but are still infinitely customizable. The glassing is all resin tints, so I guess you could say that the colours are infinite too. I always give the option of glassing something meaningful into all of my custom orders as well, at no additional cost. My personal favourite was one guy had just had a new born baby. He got her to walk on his scanner and I printed off her footprints onto decal paper and put them walking all over the deck of his board!! It looked really cute, but most importantly it made the board his and made the whole custom order experience more enjoyable for both of us. Usually, I like to at least go for a coffee with my customers so that i know exactly what to make them.
SB: Do you get many orders from outside the UK?
Jackson: Well, I drove my lady down to Morocco this past winter and we had an amazing time surfing the long right hand points out there. I sold eight boards to the locals and the travellers out there, which made the trip that bit more enjoyable! I am just working on a custom order that is going to be sent to a Swedish guy we met out there at the moment, and I hope that he will be the first of many overseas customers. I have sorted out the shipping part of it here, and I can pack the boards up at the blank factory and the courier can pick them up from there. It costs around the £150 mark with insurance, and I would have to insist on a custom made board bag for each board to help with the packing. It would be brilliant to do it more often though, and we will definitely be going back down to Morocco, or at least Portugal with a van full of boards for next winter.
SB: What part of the whole process to you enjoy the most?
Jackson: It would have to be the customer's reaction when I finish a board. It is infectious and such a brilliant energy to be around. All of that hard graft that you have put in can be summed up by someone's reaction to them first laying eyes on their new board. I should start filming it really.
SB: I love the look of the 'Hang Glide' model, how much would that set me back with full extras and how long would it take?
Jackson: Hang Glide is an absolute classic, and it sounds like that was the one you had a go on in Capbreton, the yellow one, right?
For the board in full resin tint, glossed up to a mirror with a double stringer, a hand filed tail block, a 9.75" Greenough 4A fin all fitting snugly inside a custom Bluff board bag and a 9ft longneck knee leash would add up to £846. I charge a £200 deposit to make a start and it usually takes 4-6 weeks, depending on how busy I am.
SB: Do you look up to any surfers for inspiration with your own surfing?
Jackson: I like surfers with good styles that come across as fun people to surf with in the water. I'm going to have to say a session on a long, mellow right-hand point break with the likes of Joel Tudor, Alex Knost and CJ Nelson would be incredible, especially if there is some board swapping involved as well. But I don't have to look too much further than about 10 miles from my workshop to name my next favourites. For loggin' James Parry and Sam Bleakley are both at the top of their game, with Michael Lay, Rich Emerson and Matt Travis both surfing with incredible style. My girlfriend Holly De Saint Pierre is an unbelievably graceful glider, and there's lots of other great local shortboarders like Seb Smart and Isaac Marshall tearing it up too. It's an inspirational place to live for sure.
SB: Can you describe how it made you feel the first time you caught a wave or got barrelled?
Jackson: The first time I caught a wave was one of pure stoke. The first time I got properly barrelled was absolutely terrifying. I've only just got used to the claustrophobia in those things.
SB: What was your first surfboard and have you still got it?
My first surfboard was a custom made 7"8 mini-mal, made by legendary Bude based shaper Roger Tout. It was the perfect board to learn on and I still have it hanging from the ceiling in my workshop to this day.
SB: What is your favourite wave anywhere in the world?
Jackson: I think my favourite wave ever is deep down in the Western Sahara, where most people brainwash themselves into being too politically scary to go. I can't say the name, but it is right by a military base and the deal was you have to bring cigarettes and some tasty snacks for the guards on the post. They were always really cool with us, but always told us not to walk on the beach because there are land-mines. So you have to paddle up the point against the rip, but when you get there, I can honestly say that I have never been so in awe of a wave. So mechanically bowly, it starts off small then the bottom just drops away from you. Anyway, it's irrelevant now because they don't let anyone surf it anymore. Some kook decided to skip the paddle and prance right through the military base instead and ruined it for everyone!!
SB: Anything else that I have not asked that you would like me to include?
Jackson: I think that is about it really. I'd like to say that I really enjoy your magazine. Compared to others, you guys seem to have a really good "filter". Everything seems to be interesting and the stuff that I would normally just skip through doesn't seem to make the cut, which is great.
I should probably mention my website:
www.blufflongboards.co.uk and to like the facebook page too if you like what you hear. Nice talking to you guys.
Photo credits to Michael Eddy and Mike Newman.