A self-labelled ‘wood head’ Alen Van Rooyen’s passion for surfing started as a child when his family settled in Italy. In the lulls between the swells, local surfers would pass the time talking about surfboard designs, which sparked his interest in learning how to make them. Having qualified as a traditional boat builder and machinist, he worked as a head carpenter on traditional tall ships and restored classic yachts in exotic locations around the world before setting up his own business, Lignum Surfboards, in south Devon in 2016.
Passionate about creating fine, handcrafted wooden surfboards, Alen harmoniously blends traditional carpentry with the precision that modern technologies offer. ‘I aim to make boards that are as sustainable and long-lasting as possible,’ he says. ‘All the timbers I use are carefully selected from sources I know are focusing on earth-friendly approaches. I also spend a lot of time figuring out ways to make the boards even stronger but always without compromising on the performance of the final product.’
All Lignum boards are certified by The ECOBOARD Project, which promotes reducing carbon footprint, increasing the use (and reuse) of renewable, recycled and up-cycled materials, and reducing toxicity within the surfboard manufacturing process. For Alen, engaging with the wider community through projects that promote the use of eco-minded materials and ethical practices is paramount. For instance, last year he collaborated with a Member of the Royal Society of Sculptors, London-based sculptural artist Ros Burgin, on ‘Lifelines’, which was designed to raise awareness of the current state of our global coral reefs.
‘Ros drew a map correlating to the locations of all the reefs known to us; I designed and built four custom longboards which each represent 90 degrees of the earth’s circumference onto which we projected the reefs,’ he recalls of the boards, which are now on display at Trinity Buoy Wharf, across the river from the O2 Arena. ‘Ros has given several talks around the subject of reef decay, due to the acidification of our oceans. Reefs are an important aspect of both surfing and the environment so this project was very close to my heart.’
Alongside surfboards and paddleboards, Alen also takes bespoke commissions for one-off items. Recent requests include applying a walnut burl veneer on a carbon ‘fuel tank’ for an electric concept motorbike called the ARC Vector (‘developing new ways to wrap complex compound curves with wood was just one of the challenges this job required,’ he says) and building a pair of carbon fibre wrapped flat water kayaks for a customer, to go with his two custom paddleboards. ‘Wanting to keep to my ideology of using ecologically sound materials, I built the kayaks around a wooden core and used a natural flax fibre cloth for the internal skin,’ he says.
Although last year the pandemic meant it was difficult to run his usual surfboard making workshops, Alen is hoping that they will be able to resume in 2022. ‘Ultimately, I want to help people realise their unique ideas – whether that’s teaching someone on a course or creating a dream design for a client – and enjoy the great outdoors on their boards, before handing them down to their children.’