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Shaping Wooden Surfboards With OAK Surfboards

This story is about a passionate guy whose passion is to create, build and surf. His name is João Pedro Carvalho, founder of OAK Surfboards.

João’s work got my attention three years ago and since then, it’s been obvious that I had to go visit him. We met at a photoshoot back in Hamburg, Germany and our small talk quickly changed into a fascinating conversation as soon as the word “surf” was mentioned. João isn’t just a surfer, he is a shaper, but not of any kind—a wooden surfboard shaper. 

When he showed me the pictures of his work, he got me straight away—how could I not like his style of shaping? The details in the wood, the colours and the grains are simply amazing. Eager to see his work live and hoping to get my feet on a wooden surfboard for the first time, I contacted him. My initial idea was to take photos of his work to show how unique it was. I wanted people to see the same thing as I did; a masterpiece.

After almost two years of writing back and forth with João, nothing happened. Tired of waiting, I decided to book a flight from Hamburg to Porto, Portugal. Fresh off the plane, João met me at the airport and took me on a late night stroll, giving me a local city tour. That evening was followed by days observing the Douro River with its historical Rabelos Boats, eating at local restaurants far away from tourist strongholds, watching special music concerts at the Casa da Música, hanging at the best beaches and enjoying the warmth of home-cooked meals surrounded by João’s family. The best part was, without a doubt, the Portuguese cheese from Serra Da Estrella and the oven roasted lamb meat with veggies.  

After a little pause, João opened more to me about his life. You could tell that his mind was walking down memory lane and I wasn’t going to stop him. Growing up in a small village called Carvalhos, João has always been surrounded by different sports as well as farming, tree climbing and most importantly, the ocean. Having a spine problem during his teenage years, he swapped his passion of bodyboarding for surfing, allowing him to be in the ocean still. At age 18, João started to work as a model and still does to this day. He also became lifeguard, another attempt to be closer to the sea.

OAK Surfboards started when João first shaped a foam surfboard, glassed with polyester resin. All the chemicals he had to handle during the process got him thinking and he decided that he had to find something more ecological. Wood was the way to go! After building an Alaïa surfboard (one plain layer of wood without any rocker and fins), he did a workshop to learn how to build hollow wooden surfboards. He quickly found himself in his own workshop, playing trial and error. Always trying to evolve while using different woods (no oak, obviously), you can find him using Paulownia, a local and sustainability tree, as well as Criptomeria, which is a tree from the Azores Island.

But why did he call his company OAK? Was it because it was heavy wood and something inappropriate for building surfboards? When I asked him, he just smirked and answered: “It’s the translation of my last name and the place I grew up in Carvalhos. “Carvalhos means Oak in English,” he said proudly. Keeping his roots well alive, that’s for sure.

I’ve learned through my past experiences that passion is a gift that you should follow, no matter what directions it may take you in. João’s work was interesting to me at first because of the beauty of it, but I’ve discovered through this trip that OAK Surfboards is way more than just the boards in themselves: it is João. His energy, his stories, his passion and most importantly, his commitment to his craft.

I haven’t got my feet on one of his boards just yet, but I am already counting the days until my next trip to Portugal.

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