Greg Wallace has something to teach you. With your two hands; with patience and dedication you will learn skills that might surprise you. You are making yourself an old style, hollow frame, wooden surfboard. It will be a work of art. It won’t be perfect, it will be unique, and the process might just be more important than the result. This idea appeals to many people for many reasons, it certainly caught the attention of the Department of Veteran affairs and Soldier On.
The board-building workshops Greg runs are a slow-paced, meaningful engagement with a craft and the people working right alongside you pursuing the same goal. Anyone can do the workshop and build their dream board – from a body board to a ten-and-a-half-foot monster. Veterans can apply their task-oriented mindset to this completely different setting and pace. There is no risk or threat here. These qualities have led to funding for eligible ex-service personnel to come in and decompress while achieving a goal.
New board-makers get straight into it. There is no time to have doubts or overthink it. Many of the participants are amazed at what they achieve – in their outlook as well as in the handcrafted board they now own. Over 60 to 80 hours, these new makers learn skills and spend all the time they need to get into the rhythm of their work. You can talk or be silent; slowly building.
Greg had been a naturopath who undertook a board-making course himself, and found a true passion.
“Once you find that spark, you don’t want to walk away from it; but I needed time to make it work and develop a business. The NEIS program was a godsend.”
In May 2018 Greg started his NEIS training with ABS Institute. Bodhi Tree Surfboards wasn’t an easy business to build. It needed quite a bit of shaping. “I was among the first board makers to go to market in WA, with something new to pretty much everyone who wasn’t surfing in the late 1920s. No matter how hard I worked, the biggest hurdle was awareness of the potential,” says Greg.
These boards originated at a time between solid timber boards and the introduction of foam. There is an internal truss structure that saves weight while adding a hidden complexity and a visible craft to the finished board. Getting surfers to appreciate the art in the boards was going to be a slow journey. Developing the ‘workshop’ side of the business was a goal for Greg that NEIS training helped him explore.
For those who have built boards in the workshops, the therapeutic benefits are clear to see. But Greg often found the people who would benefit the most couldn’t afford it; and the people who could, would rather just buy a finished board. The experience of veterans and feedback to organisations such as Soldier On, has raised the profile of Bodhi Tree Surfboards and the workshops, as valuable rehabilitation projects.
This theme was the centre of the story that recently featured on Today Tonight. It created great exposure for Bodhi Tree Surfboards and wonderful acknowledgement of the benefits to participants.
It’s not an easy business model to sustain, but NEIS training helps new business owners see the big picture and look for opportunities. “The biggest thing is that I’m shifting 90% of the business to not-for-profit as we speak,” says Greg. “I will be hanging onto the name Bodhi Tree Surfboards to make custom boards and I will be creating a new not-for-profit business which will run the workshops. It was a make or break decision – I believe the ability to apply for grants and other funding is really important. I really want to keep the doors open and share the love.”
Thanks for sharing Greg!