Imagine making your own surfboard in a bush camp setting ‘a million miles away’ from civilisation, but actually only 45 minutes from Sydney.
That’s what Wollongong surfboard shaper Dave Porter is doing, dropping as many toxic substances as possible and relocating his business to two shipping containers on top of the Illawarra escarpment in Helensburgh.
Summer is evident on a visit to Mr Porter’s bushland camp — it’s 37 degrees Celsius and the cicadas are deafening.
“I don’t know how I’m going to go out here today,” he said of the heatwave.
Luckily, the two shipping containers he works out of are insulated and surprisingly cool inside.
There are remnants of a campfire, two large, levelled, raised clearings for camping, an outdoor shower, a composting toilet and a table and chair set.
It is all part of a renewed push to create more environmentally friendly surfboards, something which now sees his clients become his students.
The man who started shaping surfboards 21 years ago has now turned into a teacher who offers surfboard shaping retreats.
“My skills initially were in making boards, and then five years ago I decided I’d teach classes,” he said.
“I used to teach music when I was younger, but I had very little teaching experience, so I had to quickly work that out.
“Now I’m cooking for people, setting up camps, showing them around and being a tour guide.”
Lifestyle changes lead to relocation
Dave Porter found himself in Helensburgh through a combination of events.
He became a father, the rent at his Bulli site went up, and he wanted to reconnect with nature.
His new workplace also allows him to tap into the valuable surf tourism industry, and by being closer to Sydney, he is now within reach of scores of international tourists.
“It feels like you’re a million miles away, but we’re probably 45 minutes from Sydney CBD and half an hour from Wollongong,” Mr Porter said.
“There’s something about it, as soon as I saw it I thought it would be a relaxing spot to shape boards in and camp.
“Stanwell Park beach is down the road and it’s quiet and peaceful.”
Making an environmentally friendly surfboard
For a sport that is so intrinsically connected to nature, surfing involves a lot of environmentally unfriendly materials.
From neoprene wetsuits to polyurethane boards and epoxy, some surfboard manufacturers have acknowledged they need to start using different materials.
For Dave Porter, it was a decision that coincided with his move to shipping containers in the bush.
“I hope the customers can understand that and get excited by that fact that they can now make a more sustainable board.
“In the industry, it’s a relatively new thing and that environmental agenda is getting pushed hard and I’m happy we’ve ditched the toxic stuff.”
Tapping into surf tourism and DIY culture
Some of Mr Porter’s students have not used power tools since high school woodwork class.
He said creating their own board gave people the satisfaction of making something they could use and could even plant the seed for a long-term hobby.
“Most customers just do it for fun and they’re not particularly serious surfers,” he said.
“They come and shape fun boards or retro designs like twin-fin fish, 70s single fin, or long boards.
“Most boards we create are orientated to smaller waves and guys that just get out and have a good time.”