PENINSULA LIFE • OUR HERITAGE
Hiraeth is a word well known to the people of Wales. It’s embedded into the very fibre of our culture, connecting a deep longing to our land and home. This concept of home is not simply brick and mortar; it’s a sense of knowing. Knowing the land; the roll of the surrounding moorland, the crests of well-walked sand dunes and the familiar lines of currents that mirror the geography of sea cliffs. It’s the people; the pockets of community, the ones you always bump into in the local shop, in the sea or at the pub. Such people and places are the very foundations of hiraeth; the truest sense of home.
Jacob Arnold has lived and worked from his family farm in Reynoldston village for over twenty years. The Gower Peninsula is very much his home as it is woven into all aspects of his life. As a shaper, surfer and craftsman, Jacob sees his work as collaborative, functional art. Over the years, Arno Surfboards has grown into a family collective with each person contributing to the shaping process resulting in some of the most elegant surfboards on the Peninsula. We caught up with Jacob to find out more about Arno and why he’s chosen to build his life here on Gower.
“I’m Jacob Arnold, a twenty five year old surfer, shaper, glasser, sander and I do surfboard repairs here on Gower. I guess jack of all trades and certainly a master of none. Arno itself is a collaboration of the five of us. It started off with me alone in a shed on an ironing board trying to make cheap surfboards for myself and friends. It’s now developed into this family run business. My twin brother, who is an artist, got involved then my younger brother Max started glassing with me, then I met India who makes the fabrics which we inlay into boards and fins; I taught Dad how to make the fins and I guess together we all make what you see now as Arno.
It’s a collaboration more than anything and you’ll see that in the surfboards - you’ll look at a surfboard and you’ll see I shaped it, my brother glassed it, my girlfriend put the fabric on it, Oscar designed the art for it and Dad built the fins.
"So, I think I shaped my first board back in 2018 then made one every month after that and I never really stopped I guess. I’d repaired a few boards before that, it was a bit of a hobby in university just making a bit of extra money. One of the girls moved out so I started building and repairing boards in her bedroom. I was studying a sustainable building course at Plymouth University at the time. I did a work placement in my third year and after about four months I realised that it wasn’t the place I wanted to be. Everyone I worked with either talked me out of being there or just gave the impression that they didn’t want to be there. I really couldn’t see myself doing that for the rest of my life.
I almost didn’t go back after that as all I could think about was building boards. So I moved to Falmouth for my final year and commuted on the train. I used to just sit on the train and listen to shaping podcasts and watch youtube. The course was a blend of architecture, engineering and sustainability which ended up being the perfect crossover for shaping. I knew I’d be building something, I just always thought it would be houses, eco chalets or pods, you know - and it just ended up being surfboards. It just organically happened.
As soon as I found shaping I thought, ‘ahh I see myself doing this, this is fun!’ And if you can make work fun, you don’t feel like you’re working. That’s sort of the story of my life. It’s hard, your body tells you you're working but your mind is happy; it’s a trade off isn’t it?
"I originally met India through buying fabric. I was on the search for a fabric that could be used to glass into a board and it just happened that she was also on the search for someone to put fabric onto a surfboard with too! Ironically, she'd also studied at Plymouth but we actually met online when I stumbled across her work. I asked if I could buy some fabric, turns out she lived down the road in West Cross. She came down to the farm and we put fabric onto two boards then spent the day glassing with me and never left. Well, she did leave that night but the rest is history!
Being based in Reynoldston is just ideal as it’s in the heart of Gower. We spent the first five years of my life in Bishopston then moved to the farm. It’s an epic spot! Turning barns into spaces for making dirt, like we do in the shaping industry, is quite an easy cross over. Initially I was in the shed for the first few years under a tarpaulin sheet on an ironing board. As things grew I moved into a bigger barn and then the next barn; fortunately there were enough barns to expand into until we eventually moved into this one.
"I do what I do to involve myself more in surfing I suppose. It all starts with an obsession with surfing and what better way to involve yourself in the sport then to build the boards for people to go and enjoy. So I think it’s that but also I did it at first because I’ve always had an interest in how things work. I’ve always loved surfboards, I think any surfer has an obsession with surfboards, some more than others, but I was definitely on the end of that spectrum. Basically, I needed more surfboards and didn’t have the means of affording them so started building them. Part of me was interested in science and part of me was interested in art so when blended together you get shaping. For me, it’s like functional art. I’m not quite like my brother who can just pick up a pen or brush and just create something beautifully abstract. For me, it needs to have a function so this was a good crossover of my skills at the time. And a necessity, I suppose, to have more surfboards.
Because if I’m not in the water I’m thinking about shaping and if I'm in the shaping bay I’m thinking about being in the water. It’s basically mind surfing, that’s what shaping is; four dimensional thinking. Just thinking in 3D covered how I might need to shape something but then you think about how it’s going to perform in the water so it ends up being this 4D thinking, which put simply, is just mind surfing - full time mind surfing.
Even when I’m in the shaping bay, I know that someone is out there on one of my boards, so there is a little bit of you in the water all of the time. I like to think of it like that as the last year and a half as I haven’t been in the water so much. I’m getting better but it's good to keep it poetic in my head and try and think of things like that. Honestly, it has been really challenging as ultimately I got into this industry as I have an obsession with surfing. To have that taken away from me for a couple of years with no certainty as to whether it’ll come back is so hard. But having others out there on your boards, keeps a bit of you in the water. So it’s nice to see people like Oscar, India and Max, my family, and just whoever is out in the waves enjoying themselves as that little piece of me is still frothing out there.
"I’ve been on Gower my whole life, so I don’t really know much else. I mean, I’ve lived in Cornwall I guess and here is just like a small Cornwall except there is less driving. It’s a peninsula so we’ve got three coastlines and it's always offshore somewhere! It’s like 20 minutes to each coastline so you can check multiple spots in a day easily. We’ve got reefs, beach breaks, points, slabs - we’ve got it all. For such a small space it’s amazing how diverse the surf is here and the people.
But it’s just the community isn’t it? You go down the beach and there is always someone in the water you know, if you don’t know them they’re happy to talk to you. There’s not much localism until you go out to Crab or something. But I avoid that at all costs. It’s just a sick place to grow up as a kid. You can be left to wonder, you grow up on the beaches. It’s a safe place but more than anything it’s just fun. It’s a fun place to live. I haven’t had a reason to leave yet. Everytime I go somewhere I always think about coming home so that’s usually a good indicator that it’s the right place to be isn’t it. I dunno, one of my generation needs to leave Gower because we’ve been here way too long, there’s a lot of us here, so someone needs to change that up but it’s not going to be me. I like this place too much, it’s where I want to spend my life. It’s just home; yeah, it’s certainly home.”
Jacob’s pace of life and overarching method strikes a chord with us here at the Brewery. Being rooted in a strong sense of place and community is one of the many highlights of building home here on the Peninsula. Living this line between sea and sky has inspired many to create; be that beautiful surfboards or award-winning beers. We asked Jacob to describe his life on Gower in three words:
Straight. Out. Gennith
If you can’t find Jacob at his workshop, you can guarantee he’ll be down at Llangennith coaching with Progres Surf School, trying out a new prototype or chatting to people in the car park about all things surf.
We like to offer a huge thank you to Jack Moyse for allowing us to feature his outstanding images in this blog.