LoveFoam & Bandwagon Customs

Chris Hartop Surfboard Builder

Chris Hartop is a man of many unique talents, one part master, one part mentor, all parts tea maker. If you’ve ever had the dream of shaping your own surfboard, his wisdom and good vibes can be at your disposal to tutor and advise. When he’s not helping other people build their own boards he also creates his own sublime sleds for lazy buggers who don’t want to get any dust in their hair. Heres some words of wisdom from the man himself.

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So let’s start at the beginning how’d you start surfing, were you brought up in the West Country?

I got into surfing late. I grew up just outside of Reading and other than the wake left as someone threw a shopping trolley in the river it was pretty wave starved. I got my first taste at 14 on a school field trip and true to the cliche I was hooked from that moment. Took me another 4 years to get my own (completely wrong) surfboard and another 3 to move down to Cornwall.

And how does surfboard shaping come into things, are you self taught or did you serve an apprenticeship somewhere?

When my wife (then girlfriend) and I moved down, we stayed in a tiny little caravan by the beach in a back yard. No toilet, no hot water but it did happen to be the epicentre of the local surf community and lurking in the bushes was a shed set up to shape and glass surfboards for the locals. I was convinced that there was some sacred alchemy going on in there so I never dared ask to learn but I paid attention. Everyone from the local rippers to other shapers to the old stalwarts came by, talked shop, talked surf and I sucked that stuff up like Henry the Hoover before he went to rehab.
Fast forward a few years and I’d become disillusioned with the boards that I saw around and so me and a mate decided we’d start making our own in the yard…like, literally in the yard. The boards were ugly, twisted, ill-conceived pieces of crap and we absolutely loved them.
There must’ve been a small spark of something in the shapes though because when Rob Lyons (then of ‘Royal Surfboards’ and now ‘Label’ in the states) moved to Santa Cruz, he left me his shaping bay, his glassing bay and enough cloth, tools and tints to start doing it properly. His only condition was that when he came back he wanted to see boards being made. Without that push, I certainly wouldn’t be doing what I do today.

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So you’re taking the role of surfboard shaper a stage further with LoveFoam. Essentially a service tutoring someone to shape their own board, right? How’d this come about?

Pretty much as a result of the Rob’s gesture. I’ve always been a bit of a hippy/anarchist so my first thought wasn’t “hey now I’ll be a shaper” (in fact I fought against being that for a long while), it was “Hey everyone, come round, bring some beers and lets make some shit”.
Turns out I was learning faster and learning more working with people than I ever could by myself and it just led to that lightbulb moment.

What’s the LoveFoam experience? How’s it work? I guess the kettle goes on first right?

Always the kettle first. I keep saying I’m going to get a range of LoveFoam merch that just says “Powered by Tea and Profanity”.
The course is always as close to 1 to1 as possible. Sometimes couples or mates will want to come and do a board each but I don’t want people to just make a board by numbers, I want them to understand what the different elements do, understand how to do them and then design and build their dream board. People are often surprised by just how hands on the course is. I want them to feel confident in saying they made the board, not they watched me make it.
All that said though, I’m pretty fucking laid back. I tend to do the course over 5 days. It takes the pressure off. Means folk can go at their own pace and most importantly it means we can get in a good few skivy surfs while wait for stuff to cure.

What’s the variety of boards people shape?

Absolutely everything. High performance shortboards, old school replicas, fish, eggs, hulls, logs, finless stuff, modern hybrids, the list goes on. Once people get the idea of what I’m doing they seem to really embrace it. The only real common thread is the phrase “I’ve never taken the chance in buying one but what I’d really love to make is….”. A lot of the time it really pushes me to look outside my ‘happy place’ as far as designs go.

Are there any plans to extend LoveFoam services, like any shaper residencies or maybe workshops elsewhere?

I’ve had some offers over the years and some interest from from relatively heavy hitters but nothing has felt right so far. I’d love to be able to offer proper accommodation and if anyone felt like putting me up for a few days, I’d happily take the show on the road. Beyond that though, I’m really keen to keep it grass roots. I always say I want no part of the surf industry but I want to fully embrace the surf community…..bloody hippy.

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Being around boards everyday you must have some quiver yourself, which are your favourite personal sleds?

I have a fair few to be fair. 18 or 19 at last count with access to probably another 20 – 30 for science. I like the stripped down, archetypes. I don’t want a progressive fish, I want an original Lis fish. I don’t want a modern hull, I want a pain in the arse, punish you wen you get it wrong, Gregg Liddle stubby. I find going back to those original designs with all their quirks really gets my motor running both in the water and in the shaping bay. If I absolutely had to pick a favourite though, I’d have to say the traditional keel fin fish.

So you spend your time teaching others, but which shaper dead or alive would you like to have the chance to learn from?

All of them. Seriously. Although to have been a fly on the wall of Bob Simmons’ shed or getting a window into a young George Greenough’s brain would be pretty damn sweet.

This leads onto your own shapes Bandwagon Customs, tell us a bit about what you’re working on and your personal shaping ethos?

I like to start from scratch every time. I’m committed to doing everything by hand and everything myself and I want that to come through in my boards.
That’s not to say all the designs and ideas are mine and mine alone, They certainly aren’t. I’ll look for influences and ideas everywhere, but it means I want the board I make for someone to be totally personalised for them. A total one off. Not just colour, but rocker, foil, wide point etc. I try and emphasise that by sticking to the old 70’s thing of giving each board a name. Usually a really bad pun but a name never the less.

You know we love wheels too so what do you drive or ride, anything interesting?

Hahaha. After all my waffle about individuality I’m currently driving a black VW T5 van, hahaha. I’ve bunged some old steels and whitewalls on it out of spite. I have had many dangerous liaisons with classics over the years though. A model T, a plethora of bays and splitties, a pimped out mercedes, a ’57 GMC pick up truck, ’61 Chevy Greenbrier and up until very recently a ’66 Volvo amazon. I love the smell of rust and leaking petrol.

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I know you’re a connoisseur of 90s alt rock, but what other sounds get played in the LoveFoam bunker?

I describe my musical tastes as punk. Weirdly that includes very few actual punk acts. It’s the punk ethos that seems to run through it all. Music by the people, for the people and anything that challenged the old musical establishment.
Roughly translated that means everything from 1920’s jazz, big band swing and Celtic folk music, via beat, prog, psychedelia, mod and new wave, all the way to Grime. All that aside, the last 2 boards have been sanded exclusively to James Brown and Led Zeppelin.

Tell us your favourite place/thing to eat?

Definitely at home with a humgungous lasagne.

And somewhere good to indulge in grape or grain?

I’ve reached the point where I think all the best places have closed down. There’s a pub by my local break though where you can sit on the wall with your mates and watch the sun go down. That’s got to be a winner right?

Is everything you own covered in dust and resin?

Yep. I don’t own a single pair of trousers without resin on and I regularly turn up to do the school run looking like I’ve been in a flour mill explosion. I’ve got used to the gritty texture round all the mugs now though so that’s progress right?

Visit
www.lovefoam.co.uk All pics can be found on Chris’s Instagram except portrait shot which is by Toby Adamson

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