Mark Roberts is an Cornish surfer/shaper who is the creator of Glass Tiger, a line of handcrafted wooden surfboards with a lightweight foam core. His boards are known for their durability and their minimal environmental impact. We caught up with Mark to learn more.
What was it like growing up in the UK?
I grew up a long way from the coast, so I always had to travel to get to the surf. I mainly surfed South Wales with the odd trip down to Cornwall.
What was your first surf board?
My first board was a 6’4″ pop-out. It was a bit of a pig, but at the time I thought it was the best thing ever. It was complete with 80’s graphics.
Do you remember the first time you stood up on a board?
Yep. It was on the pop-out pig.
Who inspired you when you were young?
Occy, Tom Curren, Tom Carroll—they all had good, powerful surfing. I enjoyed watching those guys the most.
How does the surfing culture in England differ from the rest of the world and how has it affected you?
It’s still pretty small over here compared to places like Oz and the west coast of America. It will never get that big here, which in a way is a good thing. It can still get crowded, however, and Cornwall is still is the centre for surfing in the UK.
I think the scene here has loads of good points, and there are people being really creative with surfing and all the peripheral stuff that goes with surf culture. I love living in Cornwall. Dare I say, it seems to be a very happening place right now.
How did you get involved in shaping?
Since I was a kid, I wanted to shape boards and, in a very roundabout way, that’s what I’ve ended up doing. After school, I went off to study 3D design. I hated the course but had a ball being away from home for the first time, meeting some great people. As soon as I finished that, I moved to Cornwall and started working in boatyards. I used to make boards for myself, just copying other designs and just teaching myself through trial and error.
The big turning point came when I started to research how the sandwich construction boards were put together. This opened a whole can of worms for me. For a couple of years, I spent time just taking this concept and running with it. Picking holes in the concept was a tangent that has led me to where I am today.
What is your process for shaping a board?
The exact process is a bit of a secret, but it involves hand shaping EPS, vacuuming on skins and bending rails. It is all done by hand.
What were the factors that led you into the wood surf boards?
Basically, turning the way a normal surfboard is made on its head and wanting to make something that looks beautiful, lasts and is more environmentally friendly.
What has been the reaction to the wood boards?
Lots of people say nice things about the boards, but what I really want is people out on them surfing. It takes a bit of commitment for a surfer to part with hard earned cash for a surfboard that has no external glass, and to believe me when I tell them it will outlast all of your other boards if you look after it.
It’s taken awhile for the penny to drop, but it’s the best feeling to know guys are really stoked with how they surf, how they last and how they like being a part of looking after the board.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out? And why?
I haven’t travelled a huge amount, but Ireland and Morocco are a couple of my favourite places I’ve been to—both consistent with great point set-ups.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Shaping wise, I love the way Tom Wegener has really opened the door for wooden surfboard shapers … and all his standing-on-his-head thinking really out the box. Guys like Danny Hess and Josh Dowling are producing some very beautiful wooden boards with sound construction techniques.
What is in your current quiver? What is your favourite board?
At the moment, I’m riding a 6’4″ single fin egg, which I’m loving. My quiver changes all the time with what I can lay my hands on and what I can surf before someone buys it or borrows it for an extended “demo”.
What’s your favourite meal?
My mum thinks its boiled ham and parsley source, so to keep her happy I’ll say that. (Laughs)
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
Man, these are no small questions!
I love philosophy but have no time for it; there’s a contradiction I think.
Well, I would say a Beastie Boy lyric always pops into my head at times like these: “Be true to yourself and you will never fail.”
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
What’s next for Mark Roberts?
Keep doing what I’m doing.
Find out more about Mark Roberts and Glass Tiger surfboards here. Surfing Photograph by Ian Butler.