Our workshops make the biggest impression on people who don’t think of themselves as makers. We all grew up with some kind of creative expression – it might just have been building Lego – but that gets drained out of a lot of people as they strive for academic excellence in the education system. They lose touch with what they are capable of and reconnecting them to that – and helping them find that confidence – is the real strength of our workshops.
I remember a guy who came on a course seven or eight years ago. He confessed afterwards in an email that he’d been struggling with his mental health for four or five years, but he found woodwork and working with his hands was a centering process – it gave him something to focus on and lean into. He said he was building a couple of tree houses in his garden and wouldn't have gone down that route if he hadn’t explored the idea of making a surfboard. He had reconnected back into this world and it had a pretty powerful effect. The courses aren’t about people becoming surfboard makers. They’re about just flicking a little switch to say, look, you can do something.
Another guy told me he’d never increased his confidence so much in one week. He also said he never thought a surfboard would ever be the thing that did it for him! He has that surfboard in his office now – actually he might have recently taken it home – but it’s with him as a reminder of the experience of just having a go at something. Of course, the point is it doesn’t have to be a surfboard. He could have made something completely different.
My passion has become my work, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I’ve worked since I started making surfboards ten years ago, even though there have been some long, hard hours trying to get the business going. On the other hand, I’ve still had to learn to switch off from it – and that’s been a real challenge. We all feel a pressure to be achieving something or getting something done, but that’s often self-imposed, which means it can be tricky to shake off. It’s taken me years to learn to come home for the weekend and not want to go back to the workshop.
The key to switching off is good time management. I keep weekends clear to be with my wife and son. If we go to the beach, I’m not obsessed about having to go surfing (which is obviously intrinsically linked with what I do). Just being outside, on the coast, is important for me and I can get that experience without actually jumping in the ocean. Mondays to Fridays – work days – are when I keep some time free to go in the sea now.
The pandemic’s taught us we need to make space and time to do what makes us happy. I think a lot of people have found that reconnecting with the physical, natural world now takes precedence over materialistic goals – they are spending more time in gardens, growing their own veg and that sort of thing. Using your hands to make something can also connect you to that world and bring you into that more meditative state I mentioned earlier, which feels important right now.
My book is just a key that allows you to unlock a door to progress. It’s part of the Do series, which is all about inspiring people to get out there and, well, do! So that they feel like they’re doing something – achieving something. You can read a lot of self-help books and they won’t give you the tools to actually step forward and do something for yourself. These books really try to inspire you to go and do the thing you’re reading about. From running surfboard making courses that are based around my book, I’ve seen the impact they can have.
Do Make: The Power of Your Own Two Hands by James Otter is published by Do Books.
Read our interview with Matt Rudd here.