SHAPER SPOTLIGHT: JUAN ALBERT
by Florian Saylor
Meet Juan Albert, the Venezuelan/Spanish shaper for Jaguar Surfboards located in Colombia. We've gotten to know Juan over the years, and been keeping an eye on the high-quality boards he's been producing from a land we don't know much about. We finally got a chance to catch up with him and ask some questions we've been wondering...
Florian: Honestly, I don't know much about the surf in Colombia. I know there are two coasts, but what are the best time of year for waves and swell directions?
Juan: Hi Florian, you are right about it, Colombia has two coasts,
- Caribbean Coast, with an easy access and places to stay, it comes to life with a north swell (better) and north east swell. Wind swells are common with a relatively small wave periods throughout the year, but you can get a good solid swell, during the hurricane season (June to September) and north winter season (December to February).
- Pacific Coast, is a shame I haven´t been there yet, but I know there are good spots and some exotic and amazing ones to be discovered. Unfortunately, getting to some of those great spots is much more difficult than traveling to the Caribbean Coast.
Surfing in Colombia is a great adventure. Locals are extremely friendly, water temperature is fantastic all-year round (between 77º and 82º F) and swells are relatively steady. However, even in the coastal regions, it's not easy to find leashes, fins, and other key accessories.
Florian: I'm familiar with a couple of other shapers in Colombia and I imagine you know them also. Do you guys all get along or is it a competition for a small group of the same customers?
Juan: Yes, there are very few shapers here in Colombia but, I only know personally a guy who shapes kiteboards and paddles. We have built a good friendship, sharing techniques and experiences in boards-building process. Actually, we have discussed several times about the possibility of creating boards together… some day!
Florian: Your boards have been looking great! We're pretty spoiled here in the US with easy access to materials. Looks like your mostly using block-cut EPS. Are you hand-shaping all your boards? Which material is the hardest to get?
Juan: Yes, all my boards are block-cut EPS, it gives me the chance to experiment with materials, rockers, density and stringers. For example, recently I spent a couple of weeks reflecting on materials for absorbing most of the EPS vibrations and providing more spring to the surfboard. Then, I came up with the idea of using cork as a stringer. Cork’s density and flexibility definitely transforms the feeling and response of the EPS. The feedback of my team riders has been amazing… “an EPS board with a PU feeling” recalls one of them who is a power surfing-oriented guy.
On regards to the building process, I only do hand shaping, I'm not in war with CNC machines, I just love the whole process of building a surfboard by hand. For me the sound of the electric planner, only compares with the smell of waxing a surfboard.
Talking about the hardest material to get, is easy, all of them are difficult to get here in Colombia… We have to import most of the components from fiberglass, leash, fin plugs to carbon tape etc.
Florian: I know you just got a new factory space in Bogota. How’s it being a shaper in Bogota? Isn't that pretty far from the coast?
Juan: It started as a garage project with my friend Camilo Rojas (glasser and sander). My first shaping room was a barn outside Bogota, then we move to a small garage (322 sqft). Now days, we are in a bigger facility with a 14’-foot-long shaping room, glassing and sanding room with a total of 1022 sqft.
Being a shaper in Bogota is weird in a good way, at least 80% of Bogota´s people don’t know anything about surfing, less about shaping surfboards, so imagine everything you have to explain to finally reach what you do.
I think I'm the only surfboard shaper at 9,842 feet above sea level, one hour by plane or 18 hrs by car to most of the beaches in the Caribbean Coast of Colombia, but I'm always traveling to be in contact with the local surfers, team riders and try new shapes and constructions.
Florian: Are local contests happening often in Colombia or are your team riders mostly traveling up to Costa Rica and down to Brazil? What challenges have there been in building a team?
Juan: Right now, Colombia has a surfing federation (Fecolsurf), which has a national circuit going on. We have been working together to promote surfing, doing our part as a surfboard brand, sponsoring new talents and helping children, especially in the poorest areas of the Caribbean Coast, to access surfboards.
We have a solid and diverse team, one of them is @freddycitosurfing. Freddy won the open and junior U.S. adaptive surfing championship 2018 in Oceanside, California. His boards are always a challenge to my shaping skills, because is not a board for just one surfer, I have to think also in his coach, who assists him to get in and catch a wave so I have to be very careful with rockers and foils in order to shape a board that works for them as a team.
Florian: I know to some here in the US, Colombia might still have a stereotype of being over-run with cocaine, revolunationary guerrilla combatants and drug cartels. Our movie industry (thinking Pacino in Scarface or Johnny Depp in Blow) helped for this visualization, but most of us know those times have mostly passed and the country has stabilized politically. Are you seeing an increase in surf travel tourism? Are there still some regions a surf traveler should avoid?
Juan: Being a foreigner surfer in Colombia, I have to say, everything you mention is in the past, right now you can go and surf places that were dangerous long ago. Today, the only thing to worry about is getting sunburned or breaking your board in the middle of a good swell.
The surfing tourism has increased for what I can tell. I have shaped boards for expatriates and backpackers from Australia, Chile, Brazil, Spain, Canada.
Florian: Congrats again on the new space. Is it open to traveling shapers? Let us know what's next for you?
Juan: Sure Florian, my humble shaping room is always open for those who want to shape closer to the stars… What´s next for me?… apart from continue shaping, I'm starting a new business linked to Paddle boarding… more news coming soon!
Shaper: Juan Albert