“Surfing is one of the most physically demanding sports. What sets it apart from other sports is the lifestyle of free spirit that is associated with it. There is an aspect of high athleticism in surfing. It’s human to constantly struggle to achieve and to strive to tame the forces of nature.”
INTERVIEW: RUAN SCOTT
PHOTOGRAPHY: HAYDEN PHIPPS
OK. Let’s get started. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Joshua Jakobus Louw, but the “souties” can’t pronounce it, so they simply dubbed me “Dutchie”. It’s a nickname that’s grown into a brand name, under which I shape and manufacture surfboards. Basically for a living I put people on the water and make them happy. This is a life pursuit for me, as I grew up on the West Coast, and first got into surfing at the tender age of six.
What makes you a manufacturer, as opposed to a shaper?
As a manufacturer, we handle the whole process of surfboard making from start to finish – from shaping the board according to customer specifications to designing and finally adding the art. The board is in our hands all the way from the shaping bay to the glassing bay and into sanding, until it’s ready to hit the water. You don’t want to be stuck traveling with a fragile blank, so we do everything right here – in-house. A shaper is only responsible for shaping the board, and will usually outsource the rest of the necessary processes.
How did you get into surfboard shaping and manufacturing?
I have always been into both surfing and art, so spraying and doing artworks on boards, and repairing my buddys’ boards in between just became second nature to me. Towards the end of my high school career, I was working at a large surfboard manufacturing company as the in-house spray artist. It was a part-time gig. At this stage I was also receiving sponsorship from another surfboard company. I was frustrated because the guys sponsoring me couldn’t shape the board I wanted, so I ended up shaping my own. That first board was an absolute dog show, in that I literally slapped paint on it and sold it in a surf shop. Luckily, that sale made enough money to produce two more boards, and took it from there. In that time, I realised that drawing from my personal experience as a surfer was going to be the difference between boards that did and didn’t meet the requirements of those riding them.
When I walked through the door, you were busy with a customer, and I immediately picked up on your enthusiasm for working with people. What’s the ideal split between face-time with people, and time spent behind the scenes, getting the boards made?
Many business owners have great ideas and massive skills, but soon after they start up a business, or when that business grows quickly, they end up sitting behind a desk. That’s what I want to get away from, and it’s what I feel sets Dutchie apart from the rest. You know, that individual touch. Design and shape are the most important aspects of any board, and these required elements differ from customer to customer. I am a master shaper and qualified graphic designer, so I’m trained to rely on my process. My personal process in designing a board is to turn it into a cad file which then renders a 3D shape, and to then feed this into the shaping machine, thus shaping the board precisely. The whole process is very scientific and design-orientated, and I stick to it so that I can achieve perfection. What sets me apart from other manufactures is the personal touch and artistic interpretation I put into the shaping a board. These two things are what give a board its initial character.
Do you only shape surfboards or do you undertake shaping for other water board sports such as longboarding, kiteboarding, and standup paddleboarding?
Longboarding is very much a part of surfing. I don’t even think you can call yourself a surfer if you don’t have a longboard. We do manufacture kiteboards, but not very often. I thinks it’s wrong to dilute into a variety of styles. It shifts the focus from what you are. As for standup paddleboarding. Fuck that. That’s something I am very, very, very much against. It’s dangerous and stupid and should not be related to surfing or what we do as a sport. I don’t partake in it, so why must I shape those boats?
When you say “what we do as a sport”, do you acknowledge surfing as an athletic sport or do you still consider it more of a lifestyle choice?
Surfing is one of the most physically demanding sports. What sets it apart from other sports is the lifestyle of free spirit that is associated with it. There is an aspect of high athleticism in surfing. It’s human to constantly struggle to achieve and to strive to tame the forces of nature. As with any sport, there will be winners and losers. In the world of surfing it’s called the WSL (World Surfing League). Not all surfers agree with this but the level of surfing today is athletically supreme, thus resulting in steep competition. On the other hand, there is the aspect of free surfing, just like street skateboarding or back country snowboarding. It’s free, pure and extreme. No rules or spectators – just you and the forces. Both freedom and supreme athleticism existing as one – that’s what sets surfing apart from other sports.
When we talk about “athleticism”, we think “able bodies”. You recently assisted a friend who loves surfing, but is not considered able. Tell me more about the story with Dries Miller?
Ah, Dries. Yeah, he’s an unfortunate guy from Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape. He was involved in a car accident that left him wheelchair-bound when he was a youngster JUST discovering the ocean and surfing. He approached me, requesting a surfboard with special handles to give him mobility in the water. I did some research, and together with Dries’ input, I shaped a board that actually works for him. So he’s surfing again, albeit surfing lying down. Along with the West Coast Boardriders Club, we host a day for people with disabilities, where they come out enjoy the ocean, share laughs and have a good time. The guys we meet when we host these days are amazing – they work past their disabilities. Nothing will hold them back.
I noticed, on the day you surfed with the Allah-Las, that you took along a quiver of oddly-shaped surfboards, retro boards etc. What’s the deal with those?
Those boards and the Allah-Las are both perfect examples of post-modern surfing or the retro revival. It’s a revival of the old, so to speak, but modernised to an extent. Earlier, we talked about the athletic side of surfing. In the late 80s early 90s, when the professional side of surfing kicked off, boards took on a more performance-based shape, and for some reason people just jumped at it and sheepishly followed the trend. Surfers simply accepted that this was the new look of board design. No questions were asked. What people don’t realise is that the guys surfing these “professional” shapes are the literally the best surfers in the world. They can practically surf ANY board. However, not everyone can successfully surf those boards. I’d say that during the early to mid-2000s there was a resurgence in the popularity of old school and classic boards. You know, retro boards. These classic shapes are re-visited and infused with modern elements. That’s post-modern surfing, I guess. Those shapes you see in the water with the Dutchie logo on them didn’t necessarily exist in the 60s and 70s, but there are elements of those eras in the board designs mixed with modern raw materials and shaping methods to enhance the surfing experience. This makes it ideal for your average weekend surfer who likes to surf, but doesn’t respond to the high-end equipment out there. This ties in nicely with Dutchie’s approach to individuality. The look and feel of the board in and out of the water reflects the personality of the owner.
The reflection of individuality that a Dutchie board provides is something you take pride in. How do you go about choosing colour schemes and artworks to get this right?
We are as diverse as the waves we surf. You can compare my work to that of a GP. I sit with the customer or patient, and get their symptoms or specifications. Then I make a prognosis and give the the treatment or cure – a board to surf according to their level. Novice surfers should entirely trust the shapers, as we do know exactly what they require. Floatation and stability are vital. The customer then gets to dictate what kind of artwork they want, and we take it from there. As you progress as a surfer, you begin to understand your equipment better, and then it becomes of critical importance to build a relationship with a shaper.
You were seen surfing with the Allah-Las when they toured South Africa recently. What was your involvement there?
I’ve always been a fan of their music and was really excited about their SA Tour, so when the Psych Night guys approached me to get involved, I jumped at the opportunity. We stayed away from the corporate board giveaway thing. And when we spoke to the band it quickly became clear that the guys just wanted to go surfing. So we gathered some boards, loaded the bakkie and went surfing with the Allah-Las. I had some idea of their interest in retro boards and the retro aesthetic, so I made sure there was a variety of boards for them to surf and enjoy.
Do you see Dutchie getting more involved with music and art scenes in the future?
Definitely. I love doing collaborations. We have a lot of talented tattoo artists and illustrators around, and I plan to get them involved with putting artwork on boards and curating art shows.
Where does Dutchie go surfing to get away from it all?
Ha! If I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore. The West Coast is riddled with spots, man. Just go and look. You can surf waves without seeing another human being for miles around.
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