Roger Cox: Bartering with surfboards

Will Brawn, right, with Colin Macleod and the longboard he shaped in exchange for studio time. PIC: Mike Guest
Will Brawn, right, with Colin Macleod and the longboard he shaped in exchange for studio time. PIC: Mike Guest
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The barter economy gets a bad press – of course it does – apart from anything else, it offers an alternative to the shaky financial structures that prop up traditional media institutions like this one.

But whether you think bartering is crude, outdated, hopelessly idealistic or all of the above, you have to admit that there’s at least a fundamental honesty at its core that capitalism lacks. Jesus may have thrown the moneychangers out of the temple, but as far as I can recall he never kicked anybody’s ass for swapping chickens for sheep or sheep for donkeys.

I love a good barter as much as the next wannabe-urban-hippy-with-a-mortgage, so I was intrigued to learn the other week about a strictly cash-free exchange going on in the Outer Hebrides involving top Scottish musician and surfer Colin Macleod (aka The Boy Who Trapped The Sun) and English surfer, surfboard shaper and aspiring troubadour Will Brawn.

The pair met a couple of years ago while Brawn was on a surf trip to Lewis. Brawn, at that time a sponsored rider for NinePlus surfboards, was having an evening session at Barvas – a beautiful reefbreak that lies to the north-west of Stornoway. Macleod paddled out to join him, the pair got chatting in between sets and a friendship was forged.

Fast-forward to January this year, and Brawn was back on Lewis, this time to record his debut EP at Macleod’s Further North Music studios. In return for making use of the recording facilities and Macleod’s not inconsiderable skills at the mixing desk (he recently recorded Rachel Sermanni’s upcoming album, Tied to the Moon), Brawn agreed to shape Macleod a surfboard. Not just any old surfboard either, but a classic, old-school longboard – 9ft 8in in length, heavy as hell and with a single, deep fin to facilitate the noble art of noseriding, whereby the surfer cross-steps his way balletically to the end of the board and perches there for as long as he can, rocketing along the wave face with nothing in front of him but water and air.

“I got in touch with Will pretty randomly,” says Macleod, “I guess it was a pretty strange email – somebody you meet once in the middle of nowhere says ‘Hey, do you wanna come up and hang out for a week and make a board and record some songs?’ But luckily enough he was up for it and it’s been great – I’m really glad we did it.

“We’ve tried to be as flexible with it as possible,” he continues, “but we’ve mostly been outside surfing and shaping the board during the day and then coming inside in the evening, getting all the gear going and recording.”

One of the songs – Hold Down – was recorded in the resonant acoustics of Europie Church. “That was a bit of a sneaky one, confesses Macleod, “we weren’t really supposed to be there, but that’s cool, they probably all know anyway – you can’t keep anything a secret on Lewis.”

The “two-takes-and-run-away” approach to recording might not suit everyone, but somehow Brawn manages to sound entirely relaxed and unhurried. Lyrically, the song seems to be about a surfer trying to relax as he is pinned underwater by the force of a breaking wave, but Brawn insists it’s open to interpretation: “It’s an analogy, that one – an analogy for life.”

The EP, Brawn’s debut recording, is a mixture of instrumental and vocal material, and he hopes to release it in the autumn.

“I’ve been working on music for a few years now,” he says, “and creatively for me this was a really good time to start putting some things down, so I jumped at the opportunity.”

And how’s the surfing been? “We’ve had a couple of epic sessions,” he says. “The first session was a little bit overhead on a reef – very clean, sunny... well, sunny with intermittent snow... and then we had another session at a little left-hander, with smaller, longboard conditions – amazing surf.”

Edinburgh-based filmmaker Mike Guest has been on hand to document the project, and is hoping to turn it into something for the London Surf Film Festival in October.

He had to turn down other (paid) work to see the project through, but he reckons it has been worth it.

“It just felt like one of those things that you have to go into 100 per cent,” he says. “It’s been great. I’ve had so much fun.”

• For more on Further North Music, see