Meet Nico: The Swiss man who found a new life shaping surfboards in India

As you might know (if you’ve been following my Instagram stories) myself and Mark just had custom surfboards made in India by Indi Surfboards. Before we had them made, all we knew was that we needed to tell Nico – founder and shaper at Indi – a little about our surf story and artwork we liked and he would do the rest.

Little did we know that he is, in fact a total master of his art, an incredibly fun and positive guy AND he has an inspirational story to go with it. All of that and he’s created a business that is as ethical as it possibly can be in its approach to materials and processes while helping give back to the local community. His story is every adventurer’s wildest dream, but it’s totally real… and I am SUPER STOKED to have the opportunity to share it with you.

I caught up with Nico at his workshop in Auroville, south east India to find out more about Indi surfboards. Check out what he had to say below!

Let’s start with the basics, where did Indi Surfboards begin?

We’ve been surfing and repairing boards for about 15-20 years here in Auroville, Tamil Nadu. But because boards were very hard to come by and we often had to share boards between us, we had to learn how to repair all kinds of damages from small dings to broken fins and plugs to boards broken into two pieces. Through this we learned a lot about the different materials and techniques used in board building and that set a good base to start shaping.

So at some point we thought that it would make sense to do just that, start making boards! At first it seemed impossible, as we don’t get the “classic” surfboard materials here, but as the international industry changed and evolved it became apparent that we could also use materials that are locally available. So the process of studying and researching countless nights, to sourcing the first block of foam and building the shaping bay from scratch, started late in 2012.

Who is part of the shaping team now at Indi?

Currently the team consists just of Samai and I. The two of us started surfing around the same time and both of us lived the majority of our lives in Auroville. We started shaping together and we both do everything from cutting blanks to sanding, which means that each board is entirely made by one pair of hands from start to finish. At the moment we also have two others – Kaymon and Sanjay – that come and repair boards in their free time, learning the skills necessary the way we did.

Have you always been a shaper and surfer?

Hahaha…I guess it all boiled down to this! But I’ve always been interested in manual and artistic activities and was never much of a team-sports kinda guy. I skated and cycled before surfing and for a while had a pretty successful band in India as a drummer, in which Samai actually played bass. I initially just saw surfing as a hobby and pass-time, but I am very happy to have found a profession in it through shaping and have learned a lot from others in the shaping community.

So what was your profession before Indi?

I did an apprenticeship as a sound engineer, but never actually worked in a studio, I just liked making some electronic music and it helped with the recordings for the band. Otherwise a long time ago I worked for a lady that was doing tapestry in Auroville, and I worked in a restaurant in Switzerland for a couple of years as a dishwasher, making desserts and as a cashier. For a while I was running a little 50 seater restaurant in Switzerland with 4 other friends where I was working in the kitchen as a sous chef and then later a little snackbar with a friend here in Auroville. I love food.

You mentioned the shaping community being a big help to you, was there anyone in particular?

Yes. There is something I really enjoy about the shaping community on Instagram especially. There is so much support for each others work and people mostly have a positive and supportive attitude. Especially between hand-shapers. Through Instagram we connected to a bunch of shapers and glassers who were willing to help and give tips on how to do certain things. A few names of shapers that inspire me are (in no order):

@martinshapes

@dennis_jarvis

@swopsurfboards

@olaf_shapes

@rochfort_customs

@coreygrahamshapes and so many more!

But most of all, the biggest shout-out has to go to Matt Kinoshita of @kazumasurfboards. He has helped us tremendously through posts, dm’s and emails and he is a master shaper, having learned the craft from his master, Ben Aipa.

Can you tell us a little bit about the process of making a surfboard?

We do everything from start to finish, but the process starts with the designing of the surfboards shape, for which we use a software. It’s a great tool and it gives us a plan or blueprint if you will, that helps us realize our vision with accuracy. From that we make templates to cut the blanks and outlines. We then shape the boards deck, concaves, rails etc using only hand-tools (exept a jigsaw to cut the outline). This isn’t a very classic method, normally an electric planer is used, but this is how we started and it’s not as loud as a planer, so I can listen to music while shaping, which puts me in the zone. Once the boards are shaped, we glass them in an air-conditioned room. Then it goes a bit like this… sanding, filler coating, sanding, gloss-coating, sanding… sanding… sanding…!

So a lot of sanding! What materials do you use to make the surfboards then?

We make EPS/Epoxy boards only and we reinforce them with Carbon fiber. Recently I’ve been working on a new construction with Carbon/Kevlar, to achieve a different feel to the board all while increasing strength.

For anyone who is still quite new to the surfboard scene, can you tell us a little more about EPS / Epoxy and why you use it?

For the core of the boards we use EPS foam (Expanded PolyStyrene) because it is available here, but also because EPS boards really suit our conditions and the foam is not as toxic to work with. This foam has also gained an internationally positive reputation and professional surfers are riding these boards in world championship events more and more.

For the coating we use Epoxy resin because it is the only resin compatible with EPS, but also because it is much less volatile than the traditionally used polyester resin, so also a health reason. Furthermore Epoxy is also a much higher quality resin. It is stronger and lighter and actually I don’t know why people still use Polyester, except maybe for nostalgic reasons!

How do you work to make your processes as ethical as possible?

To keep waste as low as possible, we cut our blanks with extremely low tolerance to reduce shaping waste and get as many boards out of one block as possible. The foam waste we do have is collected by the Auroville Eco-service, then shredded and used in construction processes, mixed with cement and used as a filler etc. We have also started to collect our waste resin to make key-chains, ear-rings, wax-combs, etc…but we haven’t really started with the production of those items yet. The fiberglass cut-offs we collect and give it to all our surfer friends to repair boards or for other random projects like waterproofing a tree-house bathroom.

We try to reuse-reduce-recycle as much as we can, keeping all the cut-offs, waste resin, sand paper etc… Making surfboards is a dirty industry, but with the intention of lowering our carbon impact, we source most of our material locally and in the future we are also planning to change our resin to a more Eco friendly bio based resin.

Do you work with the local community?

Yes! We sponsor a few kids with boards, leashes, wax etc and they are consistently in the top rankings in local surf competitions and in the future we would like to sponsor more local talents, but currently our budget is limited for that. We also teach others how to repair their boards and we are happy to pass on this knowledge. It really hurts to see someone surfing with dings and not taking care of their boards.
Samai runs a surf school together with his brother Juan (Surf School India) where they teach anyone interested. They also run free coaching programs for the Auroville kids in their holidays.

Do you ship worldwide or only in India?

At the moment we only sell within India and we can send the boards all across the country for a small fee. But if someone really wants a board outside of India, I think we could organise it. The best way to get in touch with us is by email – indishapingbay@gmail.com – as we can check it when we have time. We usually get back to you the same day or at most 3-4 if we are out on a surf trip.

Want to get a custom Indi surfboard?

If you’re looking for a custom surfboard get in touch with Nico and his team direct. You can find the contact details on the Indi Surfboards Website here. He’s SUCH a nice guy as you can probably vibe off my photos of him. He will work with you to create a surfboard that is personal to you, from the shape, volume and size of the board to the artwork that goes with it. All for a very reasonable price!

Take a look at the Indi Instagram to see some examples of what the guys at Indi Surfboards have been creating. Or check out the Facebook page if you don’t have Instagram.

And if that couldn’t be perfect enough, his girlfriend makes surfboard bags – #couplegoals or what!? You can check out her work over on Instagram at @esendi.india.

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