INTERVIEW: PAUL BLACKER
Lightning Bolt boards program keeps marketing exclusively the authentic surfboards shaped by the original shapers of the brand: from original templates and rockers so that boards are exact replicas from the original shapes, beautifully crafted, glassing with tint or opaque laminations and glassed finished buffed to the same shine how they were more than 40 years ago.
Under this philosophy, we’re thrilled to have Paul Blacker on board as one of our official ambassador Lightning Bolt shapers.
The bitter English weather and the absence of palm trees have not deterred Paul Blacker from perfecting his skill and keeping the notion that surfing is a state of mind, not climate.
Paul Blacker is one of the surfboards shapers in the UK who was permitted by Gerry Lopez back in the day. Blacker used to shape Bolts for Ted Deerhurst with Bruce Palmer, all icons of UK Surfing and big friends with the Gerry and Rory.
Paul Blacker has been responding from Devon to Lightning Bolt surfboard orders for over 45 years, with the old school philosophy and working methods and he still makes every board himself by hand from start to finish, with the guarantee of top craftsmanship equal to Lightning Bolt demand for quality.
Paul Blacker remains a very respected shaper and manufacturer of surfboards and he has created a reputation as a real artisan and fine craftsman.
Back in the 70s, what was it that got you into shaping initially? What drew you in?
In 1964, aged 10, I saw on Saturday sport on TV, the world surfing championships from Hawaii. That was it, I was hooked, the likes of Fred Hemmings, Greg Noll, etc. were all in it. It was about 15 minutes long which was more than enough time to become addicted.
When my parents took us to Cornwall for the holidays I would walk around the surf shops just looking and dreaming of having one myself, I just fell in love with the shape of surfboards and wanted to make one. In 1969, I made my first one, aged 15. I have never stopped since. My future could have taken a different turn as I was an apprenticed Panel Beater /Paint Sprayer, I was one of the only two in the country who passed the exams with the highest grade, and then I was headhunted by Aston Martin to go and work, hand building their car bodies for them, but I turned them down preferring to make surfboards by the ocean, a much better idea.
What was your first shaping experience?
Well, actually I couldn’t afford to buy a board, some friends of mine were making their own and they gave me the addresses for a place that sold blocks of foam, my first blank was a slab/block of PU 8 feet long 24” wide and 3” thick with no stringer. Another friend of mine had made a couple himself and kindly allowed me to make mine in his garage, he showed me how to glass it. The blank had no rocker at all so when we glassed it we had to put 2 bricks on the nose and one on the tail to get the rocker in while the glass job cured. I was stoked with it, it was a 7’ 6” diamond tail hull, just like Andrini makes today.
You had gifted relationship with legendary surfers and shapers. How was it back then? Did they have a big influence on your shaping?
Yes, we were all a band of brothers having fun, doing what we love. We helped each other out, shared info on techniques of board building etc. We all had and have our own theories of the hydrodynamics of shaping which results in different shapers styles. No one has really influenced me, but when we all see something new you try it out, if it works it stays then over decades it blends into your own unique style of shaping.
When and how did an opportunity arise to join the Lightning Bolt team?
In the late 70’s I was working for Chapter Surfboards here in N. Devon, along with Bob Lidell from Sydney Australia, who was a great shaper and craftsman. Our quality was very high, both Bob and I aimed for perfection at every stage. Gerry and Rory came over to France for the world championships. Team Chapter went down to France, Bob met Gerry and Rory, they saw the quality of our boards and were so impressed they gave us the go ahead to make Lightning Bolts for Europe. Unfortunately, the next year Bob got sent back to Australia as he did not have a work visa, so I took over as shaper. I left Chapter the following year and set up on my own, Ted Deerhurst (R.I.P.) Team Lightning Bolt came over from Hawaii that summer and made me for the second time Lightning Bolt boardmaker for Europe again. Until now I still make Blacker Bolts and each one I sign “In respect to Ted D. Team Lightning Bolt Hawaii. R.I.P.” He gave me a real boost when he said Blackie, you’re a real custom shaper, not a production shaper, you are the most underrated shaper in Europe and you can quote me on that”, so I did in some adverts.
What does surf transmit you?
To be by the ocean and be part of it humbles the spirit to share the surfing lifestyle with other like-minded people is a freedom of the mind and spirit, just sitting and watching waves break is so soothing to the soul, being in the surf gets you away from problems and just have fun keeps you young.
More than a brand, the lightning bolt represents a lifestyle, how do you define Lightning Bolt?
The iconic logo of the bolt is a world recognized symbol which creates in the mind the whole encompassment of surfing. Sun, sand, surf, fun. To me, no other logo has ever really come close to the spirit of surfing, and from Hawaii where it all started, embodies the dream we all want to experience and be part of.
How do you think these classic boards appeal to young people? What will a surfer be moving from a modern performance longboard to one of your retro logs experience?
The resurgence of Lightning Bolt has stimulated further the retro experience that the young want to investigate. Moving from a modern board to the old shapes, a surfer has to surf the board in the old style, long flowing moves a smoother body rhythm is required or they don’t work so well. The old single fin retro boards have different bottom contours, making them a bit slower to turn than modern multi fin boards.
And do they work for us regular guys? Who looks for a Lightning Bolt surfboard?
All boards work, it’s whether the surfing style of the rider compliments the board. I feel that today, people really want to experience the vibe of the 70’s and 80’s nostalgia, the pinnacle of that era was Lightning Bolt, the best surfers and shapers represents Lightning Bolt all over the world. It was global and people want now to be part of the “old School” again. Lightning Bolt strikes again!
All of the boards you make are 100% handmade… Do you find it possible to apply any new board knowledge to classical shapes? By adjusting design elements…
All my 50 years of shaping has been involved in refining those elements and applying them. My boards look similar to the old 70s 80s but they’re not. Once I design a template and experiment with the shape and it works well I don’t change it. If I have to I will make subtle changes for a customer to suit their needs and ability.
Your boards are totally hand made from start to finish, how long does it take to make one board? How many surfboards do you shape every year?
I like to take time in creating a board letting it cure through the stages. Normally 7 to 10 days is fine. I like the board to be cured well before it’s handed over. I used to make about 100 -150 a year, since the 2008 recession I only do about 30 now. At 65 years old now I haven’t the burn as much as I used to. I have always spent a good few hours with each customer to give them the chance to feel that their board was truly custom made for them, for it to be a memorable occasion and to see how a board is made.
Do you have a favorite model? Which One?
Oh yes definitely, it has to be 7’ to 8’ Pintail guns, they are my most favorite. But any Pintail long or short, I just love the flow from nose to tail.
Which other shapers, past or present do you look up to? If you could order a surfboard from any shaper, who would order form?
Wow, that is a difficult one, gee in the older guys it had to be Greg Noll, Phil Edwards, Dale Velzy, etc. Later in the 70s, 80s it was Gerry Lopez, Rory Russell, Bill Barnfield, Dick Brewer, and Rusty. I would love to have a Gerry Lopez and Rory Russell Lightning Bolt, so now I am back on the team again maybe I could make one each for them and they make one each for me!! (laughs)
What kind of feedback do you get from your work, after so many years shaping?
Still really positive comments. I still get photos or comments from people who still have their board 10-20 years on. Nice.
What is your favorite part about being a shaper today?
Still doing what I was born to do can only be good, God-given thing. I don’t have to keep trying to design something new as I have seen all eras come and go, I have in the shaping room over forty templates which I have designed over my fifty years of experience.
About Gerry Lopez… he said that “(…) surfing represents the deep simplicity of expression, this has helped me many times throughout my life in other situations than surfing (…)”. What do you think about this? Do you also think surfing has helped you through your life?
Surfing definitely has a humbling effect on the soul. Being involved so close to nature, the ocean, the earth and people, connects us all to the wonders of nature which has helped to guide me along the paths of life. Surfing, travelling and meeting people teaches a respect for others and life itself.
Lightning Bolt boards today are more than just a board, a milestone in surfing history, a masterpiece that surfers dream of having in their homes! Do you have the perception that when you make a surfboard you are communicating directly with someone, somewhere in the world, that attaches tremendous emotional value to this brand?
Lightning Bolt has epitomized the dream of self-expression. The surf, the beach, the way of life that surfers want to live. Lightning Bolt surfboards are the dream boards to own. I believe Lightning Bolt has to be the most recognized, respected brand that has ever been created and sought after as it’s not just an individual shaper but a team of the world’s best and most respected shapers/board makers and team riders. To own a Lightning Bolt is to be part of surfing history of the 70s and 80s and it is awesome to see its resurrection again. History always repeats itself.
How do you feel about being one of Lightning Bolt’s official shapers?
To get to the age of 65 and after 50 years of shaping to be officially made Lightning Bolt shaper again for the 3rd time, is the greatest accolade ever. It’s a lifetime award achievement to be recognized as one of the world’s best, but not from Hawaii, USA, or Oz, but the UK!! Wow! I am totally stoked and one day will die a happy old shaper, hopefully, many boards from now. So, it looks like I can’t retire just yet, and thank you Lightning Bolt for striking me and relighting my fire. “one man still makes every board himself, by hand”
Plans for 2019…?
Enjoy to the last, what time God has given me to make some very special Lightning Bolts again for those who want to own something that was and is again the most iconic part of surfing history.
Photo Credits:Tim Barrow
Thank You, Paul!