How To Build A Surf Shack

Two world-class point breaks, minutes apart at Tofo Beach, Mozambique. Why hadn’t someone established a dedicated surf shop here years ago, rather than in 2014?

I first met Arjen Pennekamp, 30, when I returned broken to The Surf Shack after hiring a 6’4″ fish from Anna, his Australian staff member the day before. At dawn, I’d snapped a fin and shredded my foot in a botched Tofino rock-jump.

Three stripes of flesh had gone from the sole of my foot; it looked like I’d stepped on Wolverine. My African surf trip now over before it began, I consoled myself by hanging out with Arjen.

First Blood
First Blood

Originally from Westzaan, Holland, Arjen began surfing at 14, in the North Sea, and did his first mission to Indo, at 18. “It was just after the bomb, no one was around. And at that time, no one stayed on the Mentawi mainland.”

After his father died, Arjen worked hard to run a successful interior building company in Amsterdam. But the day after a serious three-car pile-up, his whole world changed.

Arjen decided life was too short.

“The next day I was in Northern France at Oz-lines surf camp.”

In 2012 Arjen arrived at Tofo Beach. His first foray into the local surf biz was a rack of boards and an offer for surf lessons at Blend Restaurant. A friend introduced him to Jose, his current landlord, whose wife had a beachfront clothes shop.

Initially, Arjen leased half the shop, and as board rental increased, dresses gave way to rash-shirts and the whole shop became his to rent, along with the apartment next door. Now, he will manage the newly refurbished hostel accommodation above the shop, too.

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Anna and young grom

Impressive. But what were Arjen’s lessons along the way?

The reason that Tofo didn’t have a dedicated surf store (Tofo dive shops do hire ancient, waterlogged longboards) was that most travelers who become staff members may stay a month or two, but would always move on, making it hard for any surf shop to gain a foothold. Arjen learnt the hard way, when his business partner left for Finland to borrow money to develop the shop. He never returned.

It also helps to speak the local language.

“I got a friend to do the Portugese paperwork,” Arjen said, over our pancakes. “But now, I’d save the time and do it myself.”

And most of Arjen’s customers are travelers, not surfers. “I wish I bought rental-proof, epoxy boards. I wanted a surf shop for surfers, but 85% of people are travelers who damage the boards.”

The staff don’t draw a salary, but are provided with room and board and have the chance to earn commission on sales in the high season. The Surf Shack has diversified and also hire bikes for M500 for a half day and M800 for a whole day, a bit more than a board which is M200 for an hour, M500 for a half day and M700 for a whole day, with a M300 deposit.

Arjen doesn’t have an ultimate goal. He’d like to be rent-free. He’d like to be able to leave the store to his staff and continue to travel while pursuing his Ghanaian tribal photography project.

I pressed him on this, skeptical that he could have his wave and surf it too, the business and the travel, without working hard on site at Tofo Beach. Arjen, with typical optimism, believed that with the right staff, he could have his cake and munch it, too.

Friedel, 30, from Austria, might just be the man.

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Freddy on the tools

He’d rocked up to the store one day to buy a local grommet a leash and ended up walking out with a job and cancelled his flights for the next day.

Anna, 21, from Bells Beach, Australia, has been at The Surf Shack two months and will return home in December.

“She’s very skilled,” Arjen said, as we watched Anna walk up the beach with a gaggle of kids, fresh from a surf lesson. “You should come to the kids’ play tonight,” Anna said. “They’re performing The Jungle Book!”

Talking to Arjen, it seemed that teaching was his real passion.

“An Italian girl I taught, she had been dreaming about surfing since she was a 10-year-old, finally got to surf at age 23, you should have seen the look on her face. People open up, the water does something to you, it’s not about the surf, it’s the tides, the wildlife, everything around you. It’ll change your life in a day.”

The whole crew
The whole crew

In the end, I didn’t feel like such a kook, as Arjen had blown the Tolfino rock jump, too. “I got sucked under the rock-jump once too, held under for one wave, cut up my face and smashed my board.”

If you come to Tofo, check out The Surf Shack, and bring ya rock jumpin’ booties.

Couch Surfing with Harpist Annie Chambers

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Harpist Annie with her partner Javi at their home in Miajres.

Rain. Every happy camper’s nemesis. Faced with the possibility of spending the night underwater, I hit Couch Surfing in search of dryer lodgings. Thankfully, Annie responded and offered me a room at her house in Mijares.

Annie hails from Devon on England’s south-west coast and lives with her partner Javi and son Timo. Annie makes her living as a harpist busker in the Spanish village Santillana del Mar and has traveled throughout Europe with her Camac harp. I asked Annie if it is the biggest and least transportable instrument for busking.

‘No,’ Annie said. ‘My Russian friend in Munich has a grand piano that he uses for busking and transports it into town everyday on a truck. One day, we were walking up hill and I was bent over, pushing my harp on a trolley with an amplifier on my back. He said, I wish I had a harp – it’s so much more convenient!’

Again, this made me feel better about my bike-surfboard combination.

When Annie is flying with her harp she will often book a seat for the French-made instrument, sometimes two. ‘Otherwise it gets damaged.’

Annie started to play the harp at 10-years-old and first busked in the streets of Nice. She found her performances quite lucrative and continued to busk in Ljubljana, Slovenia, for a three summers. A punter suggested that she could make a fortune in Galway. Annie ended up staying in Galway for 7 years, adding a degree in biotechnology to the bargain.

I asked if she ever had any troubles with busker licensing and the police.

‘No, well, one time I got arrested,’ Annie said. ‘It was in Poland. But I never got a fine – they said the music was too beautiful.’

 

 

el Cazurro

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Elmer Fudd enjoying a cerveza at el Cazurro

I stumbled across el Cazurro bar and restaurant on the cliffs of Arnía near Liencres, Cantabria. I saw the man in the Elmer Fudd hat and I stopped to talk to him.

He gestured to the empty surf rack on the side of my bike. ‘What’s this?’

Tabla de surf,’ I said, waving my hand up and down in the space where the surfboard would go had I not left it at the campsite.

‘Ahh,’ he said. ‘Muy bien.’

Wild Bill The Argentine Packhorse

Wild Bill, you crazy bastard
Wild Bill, you crazy bastard

I thought I was crazy.

And then I met Wild Bill, 38, from Argentina. Wild Bill and I are staying together at Boo de Pielagos, with Jesus, our host through warm showers  (couch surfing for cyclists). This is the story of one man, his solar powered e-bike, and his insane ping-pong table sized trailer that he uses to haul his life, including a mobile kitchen and a guitar.

When I was contemplating the logistics of carrying a surfboard on my bike, people said, what about the wind, it’ll blow you right over! Or as my friend Murray said, “Can we get a video of you on the first windy day when a big lorry passes you?”

I came very close to pulling the pin on the whole caper, almost convinced that the skeptics were right.

Now that I’ve met Wild Bill The Argentine Packhorse, I feel much more secure in my madness.

When I met Wild Bill, and saw his emission-friendly, herculean-hauler, I said, “Wild Bill, tell me, why are you doing this, is it an experiment? Or a business venture for electronic bikes?”

“No,” Wild Bill said. “For fun.”

Wild Bill can travel 40 kilometers per battery and the solar panels on the top of his trailer recharge his two batteries as he travels.

Now, the tables had turned, and I had became the hair-wrenching, hand-wringing skeptic.

“Bill,” I said, “What about the brakes? I mean, how do you stop when you’re going downhill in the rain?”

Wild Bill said he has all-round disc brakes and a third brake lever mounted on his handle bars for the brake on his trailer.

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If you’re like me, perhaps you’re wondering, how the hell does Wild Bill attach such a brobdingnagian load to his Scott mountain bike? Well, Wild Bill uses a car-sized Thule trailer hitch that connects his bike’s chain stays and rear axle.

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Wild Bill that’s one hell of of a hitchin’ post.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a photo, but Wild Bill has loaded the trailer to the absolute brim with everything a wild packhorse may need, and, to be sure, plenty that he doesn’t.

But where’s the fun in carrying only the essentials, eh?

Adios amigo
Adios amigo

THE ORIGINAL SURF RACK DESIGN

I had originally planned to ride the Bay of Biscay with my surfboard attached to my old Dawes bicycle. She’s 40-years-old, single (single-speed!), all-steel, English racing bike.

A big mistake.

If I had tried to tackle any kind of hill with a load on, I’d be walking on up, due to the lack of gears (what was I thinking). Luckily, I had to go back to New Zealand to visit family at the last minute and the trip was postponed. It was not a waste, however, as the original rack build formed the basis of the one I currently use to carry my surfboard.

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You can see the video of the original build — complete with dub soundtrack — thanks to Sam Stephens:

Parts list for the plumber’s merchant:

– Three one meter straight sections of white PVC pipe.
– Seven T-joints (now six for the new design).
– Six 90 degree L-joints.
– Three end caps (to keep rain out of the piping).

This was the source of the design for my bicycle surf rack:


My good friend and engineer Sam Stephens helped to improve the design as I wanted it to be a quick-release system, rather than it being permanently tethered to the bike. Rather than attaching the rack to the frame at two points using two T-joints, we used one T-joint on the down tube and exhaust-clamped the second fixing point to the stays of the rear carrier rack.

My new Surly Troll bike has much thicker tubing than the old Dawes and required a new 40mm T-joint to affix the original rack to the frame at the down tube. To join the 36mm piping to the 40mm T-joint we used a reducer which also acts as a quick-release system as the join is tight enough not to require glue. At this point, as D-Day drew nearer, and my ferry to Santander from Portsmouth drew closer, I was running out of time. Instead of creating a second T-joint for the top tube, we used a bungy cord. What seemed like a bodgey let down was actually a good system: it came off easily and provided a shock absorbent between the rack at the frame top tube.

Next post: the new build for the Surly Troll.

 

Complete gear list

Item Cost (£) Purchased?
Surly Troll bicycle (20″ Large Black) 1449
Surly Nice Rack 100
M:Part BMX pedals 25
Schwalbe Marathon Mondial Folding tyres (2) 80
Salsa Hold Anything HD cage 25
Ortlieb Ultimate 6 front pannier 58
Ortlieb Ultimate 6 extension 10
Bottle and cage 5
Surly Front Rack 80
Decathlon Quickhiker Ultralight 2 man tent 109
Decathlon groundsheet 8
Decathlon sleeping bag 30
Decathlon sleeping mat 30
Decathlon pillow 6
Decathlon gas cooker 18
Decathlon plate/pots/cutlery etc 7
SKS Germany Raceday bike pump 7
Leatherman Wingman 39
Misc. (inc. tools, weed, bungy cords, cable ties etc) 50
26″ Michelin Protek Max Tubes (40mm Presta) 18
Spokes 0 X
Wetsuit 0
Towel 0
Insurance 101
Surfboard 0
Palmers surf wax 3
PVC tubing surf rack 60
Dakine Surf leash 20
Journal 6
New Hard drive for broken Laptop 343
Kryptonite D-lock and cable 0
Ortlieb front roller classic pannier pair 72
Ortlieb rear roller classic pannier pair 0
Maps 7
Contact lenses 72
Thermos 10
Total 2848