Surfboard builder Peter Walker on what it was like to teach at RISD, his burnt board technique, and why some buyers of his boards would never thinking of riding them.
– peter walker
You were an Associate Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, what was the best thing about being at RISD?
I spent 10 years at RISD and have now relocated back to Australia permanently. The were many “best” things about RISD, the dedication of the students, the great people to work with, and dynamic energy where anything is possible and hands on studios where making things is a highly respected activity.
If you could give one piece of advice for someone wanting to attend art school, it would be…
How did you first get into surfboard making?
After a surf trip with a couple of friends into Baja, Mexico, we returned to San Diego and visited Dale Velzy’s workshop as he was a friend of my friend, Glenn Paculba, who used to own Star Surfing in San Diego. Dale was making wooden boards once again. Another trip down there two years later coincided with Dale’s passing and his paddle out and memorial service at Dana Point. I had always said that one day I would get into making wooden boards, and this was the catalyst after 20 years of woodworking and still enjoying my surfing, it was time.
What was your decision behind using wood for your surfboards? What type of woods do you use?
I enjoy working with wood and have a particular interest in natural materials and artisan hand skills. I predominantly use Paulownia for there decks and rails, mixing other timbers for specific detailing effects.
What’s your process for creating a Walker surfboard?
Full size templates, and internal skeletal frame, laminated rails, solid deck and bottoms, hand planes, spoke shaves and a keen eye.
Your also design furniture and sculpt. How do those disciplines help and influence you when creating surfboards?
It’s all related really, combining pragmatic and aesthetic choices to create objects that relate to human behaviour. Surfboards combine skills I like to use from constructing forms in space, reductive shaping and critical proportional decisions. Chairs and surfboards – one small change or decision has endless ramifications to how they look and perform.
Can you tell me more about the illustrations you have on a few of your boards?
Some of the boards are done in collaboration with other artists. – Stephen Bowers, Gerry Wedd, Quentin Gore and Phil Hayes to date.
A few of your boards have a burned effect – what’s your technique?
The burnt boards are burnt using scraps from my workshop. The finished board is placed directly into the fire, allowing the flames to scar the surface in a particular way and removing it before it catches fully alight.
Your boards are works of art and utility – do some of your customers just hang them on a wall and never ride them?
Yes, some boards are surfed and some never see the water. It all depends on who collects them. They are all designed and built to be surfed. One is in the Australian Parliament House Art Collection, some in private art collections, and some with surfers.
What do your customers tell you about how your boards ride?
They love the silky feel underfoot. It usually takes a few surfs to get a feel for them as they are quite a different ride to a foam board with a little extra weight and momentum.
How is Tasmania (where Peter had a studio for 14 years) different from the rest of Australia?
Tassie is remote and wild, cold, windy, hot, crystal clear, uncrowded, unpolluted and if you are prepared to explore you can always find a break to yourself.
Tools you can’t live without in your shop?
Hand plane and spoke shave.
How often do you get to surf nowadays?
Sadly I haven’t surfed much in the past year with other aspects of life taking over for the moment, but that will swing around again. Prior to that I have probably surfed once a week on average all year round no matter what country I have been in.
Favorite place in the world to surf?
A point break with no else – except for my kids or close friends.
What’s next for you and Walker Surfboards?
A couple of commissions right now, another collection of boards for exhibition in 2014, a guitar, a chair, a bit of fishing and a trip to the desert.
+ Source: Walker Surfboards