Although the German-born, Bali-based Markus Gneist didn’t grow up surrounded by waves, he knew that the water was where he felt most at home, so as soon as he had the chance, he moved to Indonesia, where he could surf as much as he pleased. Gneist soon felt the need to customize his board, and his company Journey Surf was born. Gneist spends hours meticulously carving large pieces of wood into custom boards that are as striking as they are functional. This summer, Gneist can be found surfing the waters of Montauk, New York, where last month he shaped a piece of balsa wood into a Journey Surf board for a charity raffle at The Surf Lodge, where his wife Tara Lee runs the door. The Manual caught up with the surfboard maker to ask him about Journey Surf, how he got his start and his process.
How old were you when you started surfing?
I am originally from Germany, so I actually never set foot on a beach until I was 17 years old. I knew right away the ocean is home for me and the first chance I got, I moved to Bali, Indonesia where I could surf everyday.
How did you learn how to make surfboards?
I have a background in science. After I became proficient in surfing, I realized I could surf even better if I changed the design of my board. So I researched how surfboards were created then I applied my knowledge in chemistry and physics and made my own. Luckily it worked and other people in surf community wanted me to make boards for them.
How did you start Journey Surf?
Journey Surf has had a journey all of its own. It began unofficially when I was making boards for others. Then I was receiving enough orders to start a company. So I did. I met my wife shortly after and she has background in hospitality and tourism. We partnered and Journey grew to also incorporate surf retreats in Indonesia as well as intensive courses where people can shape boards. Our shop is at Echo Beach in Canggu, Bali.
What kind of wood do you use? Where do you get it?
Mostly I use a foam composite for our boards, which I developed. This summer I have made hand-shaped balsa wood boards at some of our live shaping events in Montauk. But I love the look of wood and like to put a wood veneer on our boards. And with the veneers and collector’s boards, the range of wood I use is vast. We have one collector’s board, which is made of “buried tropical teakwood” which is quite special to me as the wood is nearly impossible to find…
Describe the process.
The process is what makes a Journey Surfboard so unique. It begins with an idea — your idea. Tell me of your journey. Where you have been, where you are going, and what it means to you.
Then I channel those ideas onto our blank canvas, sculpting a shape, which suits your surf skill and style. I will add touches that reflect who you are so that when you look upon your board, it is a tribute to your journey. My goal is the end result is not just a board, but a true work of art which is specific to the individual recipient.
How long does it take to carve one surfboard?
It depends on the board. The buried teak, for example, took me roughly 100 hours to shape because of all of the rich oils in the wood. It all just depends on so many little things.
You’re based in Montauk for the summer. What’s next for you?
Actually we are based in Bali, Indonesia. We are here for the summer and then we head back to Bali to continue the journey.
For more information, visit journeysurf.com.
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