How one man’s love for the sea turned into a bespoke surfboard business striving for sustainability
Zacharias Abdel-Salam, better know as Zach and founder of Zach Sticks Surfboards, has always had a deep respect for nature. His relationship with the environment acts as the core of his brand and shapes the surfboards he creates.
Zach arrived in the Algarve four years ago. Having travelled extensively across Europe and Africa following the surf, he wanted to find somewhere he could settle. He naturally gravitated towards the wild west coast of the Algarve as he found many people who see eye to eye with his love of nature, surfing and his need to create something that combines his passions.
Zach started surfing at 22. As he is originally from Germany, there was not much opportunity for surfing, so he travelled to France for a surf camp. He quickly took to the sport and bought his first surfboard on the internet. When it arrived, he realised the fibreglass was very fragile, so he attempted to glass it himself. “My dad was from Egypt, and this African influence always taught me that anything was possible and to give anything a try.”
However, he soon realised that it was actually quite difficult. But Zach enjoys a good challenge, so he took to the library to brush up his knowledge. Unfortunately, he only came across information about wind surfing. He turned to his fellow travellers and luckily met a lot of shapers on the way, so he asked if they would teach him.
“Because I was a trained carpenter, I had a head start and could exchange my skills for lessons on shaping,” Zach said.
He wanted to stick to his roots and only work with wood, but he explained: “There are levels to shaping and if I wanted to learn, I had to start from the bottom and learn to shape with foam and fibreglass first.”
In 2011, he founded his company, Zach Sticks Surfboards, inspired by his nickname as it is a slang term for surfboard, which was used in the 60s and 70s.
Recently, he has not only been making surfboards but also skateboards and longboards.
In his workshop just outside Vila do Bispo, Zach’s goal is to make a product that can last a long time and is also environmentally friendly. “A lot of people use polyester resin, which is used on boats and is really toxic to the environment. I like to use epoxy resin, which is far more sustainable as it uses no solvents,” he explains.
Zach can make surfboards consisting mainly of EPS foam, fibreglass and epoxy resin. However, he is a “perfectionist and craft lover, and innovation and creativity are extremely important”, so he is always looking for new materials and working methods “to optimise the manufacturing process and the end product”. He has even used pieces of old surfboards to make a new one.
Zach started to experiment using Balsa wood and found that this was a great alternative, however, since it comes from Ecuador, he tried to find something more local. Consequently, in Portugal, he discovered the Agave plant. Typically, the lifecycle of an Agave plant is between 15 and 30 years. When the lifecycle of the plant is finished, it produces a flower and pushes out the stem, which is the wood he now uses to create his surfboards.
It takes roughly 30 to 60 hours to finish a board depending on customer requirements. “I always advise everyone to try out as many shapes as possible and thus remain open to everything new. Rather than the current fashion trend, the main contributor to this decision should be the surfing fun that a different shape brings,” he says. “I have many templates which I use.” Typically, his wooden surfboards range from €1,000 to €1,200.
“What I am doing and what the industry is doing is completely different,” he explains. “Often, with fashion, cheap things come around in an attempt to keep up with the trends. However, when something is cheap, it is thrown away more easily as people don’t understand the value. As well as making surfboards, I also do a lot of repairs as I cannot compete with the prices of large industry surfboards as my product is completely different in terms of quality, time and skill.”
“My goal would be for people to understand the process, the art and time that goes behind creating a surfboard so that people understand the value of my boards,” Zach says. “First, I am an artist, then I am a shaper”, and this is arguably the biggest difference between mass-produced surfboards and handcrafted, one-of-a-kind custom-pieces such as Zach’s surfboards.
By ALEX BRENNAN