by Alvaro G. Velilla
During a recent trip to the Atlantic northwest Basque region of Spain and South of France, we had the opportunity to surf one of the most iconic European spots: Zarautz. Home to the legendary brand Pukas and birthplace of renowned competitive riders such as Aritz Aramburu, Ainara Aymat, Axi Muniain, or Hodei Collazo, Zarautz's surf history is rich, vibrant, and unique. The Basque Country, traditionally associated with the '80s and 90s aggressive attitude due to the high-performance character of some of its most popular (and heaviest) waves, such as Hossegor or Mundaka, is in fact directly connected with the '60s & 70's So Cal spirit. Well documented is the first introduction of surfing via Californians Dick Zanuck and Peter Viertel in Biarritz while filming "The Sun also rises" in Pamplona (1956), smuggling the first board from the Spain side of the border into France (at the peak of the Franco dictatorship) to avoid paying excessive taxes. Or Miki Dora's "incursions" to the area while living (30 miles north) in Guethary in the 70s. Som much has happened since the first Basque surf club (Euromar Club) was founded in Zarautz in 1967. Still, the original spirit remains, and a new generation of riders, more interested in classic board design, finding the perfect line, self-expression, and style (rather than catching air) is reinvigorating the scene and (once again) re-writing the story.
Jon Garmendia, two times Long Board Spanish champion, and winner of the expression session (best shared wave with Alex Knost) at Joel Tudor's 2018 Vans Duct Tape Invitational is at the forefront of that new generation, making things happen and proudly representing Basque culture (and style) around the globe.
Aapua: Tell us about your beginnings in Surfing and what influence Zarautz had on you?
JG: My life has revolved around the sea, my grandfather was a fisherman, and he always told me his stories and gave me advice on fishing. My father had a surfboard, and from a very young age, riding waves fully captivated me. Being born in Zarautz, it's difficult not to have a relationship with the ocean. I remember my first sessions at Mikel Troitiño's legendary surf school.
Little by little, all my friends also began to surf, and it became a custom to go Surfing. And so to this day, LOL
Aapua: What are your biggest artistic and musical influences? Which brands are you currently involved with?
JG: I think the artistic vein comes in my genes since my mother loves painting, my aunt was a photographer, and my sister works in the world of music. The truth is that I do not have artistic influences as such, but I am indeed very crazy about classic boards and designs. Different shapes and colors. The uniqueness of it. I am currently involved in various projects with Yeti, Rhythm, Needessential, Mach Fins, and of course, Garmendia surfboards.
Aapua: How is the surf scene in Spain right now and specifically in Long boarding? What are the most outstanding exponents currently on the scene?
JG:It's definitely on the rise; more and more people are drawn to it, and the interest is there, but for the longest time, Surfing in Spain has been associated with a radical attitude (shortboard, high performance) and just a few knew and understood the classic roots of the sport. However, the interest in alternative boards and a more stylish attitude is growing, which I think is something positive for the industry and the scene. A new generation is starting to gravitate towards longer boards, which is pushing the quality of our riders.
Aapua: How is the scene in the North of Spain different from the rest of the Iberian peninsula and Europe?
JG: The North has always been known for its waves and quality of surfers, and the same thing happens in the world of Long boarding. There is a high level in the North, but also in the south, where they have some perfect places to practice this modality. Cádiz could be one of them.
If we compare ourselves at the European level, I don't think we are far behind either, so it is something to be satisfied with.
Aapua: What are your favorite breaks for Surfing and why?
JG: Zarautz beach will always be my favorite, and it is where I grew up and where I surf daily. It allows us to surf many days a year in all kinds of conditions, Longboard, shorter boards, etc.
There are hundreds of incredible waves across the Atlantic North coast of Spain, but I'm personally in love with the Galician area (right above Portugal); Ferrol and its surroundings are full of waves, ridable most of the year in all kinds of conditions.
Aapua: What did it mean for you to win the Spanish Long Boarding championship? What are the best things about the tournament, and what could be improved?
JG: It was something I had never dreamed of or considered. I started to Longboard simply for the joy of it with no intention of competing but winning for two consecutive years made me incredibly proud and happy. It is a huge motivation to keep pushing my limits to improve my riding.
There are currently many young people (and especially women) in Spain, riding at a very high level. Also, the scoring system has changed and evolved following the steps of what Devon Howard has been developing in recent years: a more classic competition style.
Aapua: Tell us about your brand. How long have you been shaping boards? What are your trademarks? What kind of materials do you use, and what shapes are the most popular and why?
JG: I started about four years ago, and the truth is I can't believe how far I've come. What began as a game has become my way of life, my job.
I see myself as a shaper who makes classic line designs adapted to today's Surfing. Although there is some innovative design mixed in too
I like to talk to each client to see where they are going to surf, type of waves, their style of Surfing, etc.… and thus make the board that best suits their needs. I believe that the same board is not going to go equally well for two different people; although the outline is the same, the volumes, rails, rocker... can vary depending on the person.
All my boards are 100% handmade from start to finish by me.
I use PU, fiberglass, and resin, the old-fashioned way. The types of boards I make have to have "weight." I am known as a longboarder, so longboards are the ones I shape the most, Noseriders, Gliders, Big Fish…
Aapua: What are your favorite shapers, and why?
The truth is that there are so many excellent ones. I like different things about each one. But the ones that have influenced me the most are Skip Frye, Mc Tavish, Ryan Lovelace, Davenport, Simon Jones (Morning of the Earth S.B)
Aapua: Anything else to add?
I believe that life takes many turns, and you don't know where you will end up. I met Alvaro (Aapua's editor) in Zarautz surfing this with our common friend (music producer, dj, and local ripper) Mike Makala , and he invited me to spend a few days in California, where he lives and surfs. A dream that in a few months will come true. See you at one of your peaks!