BY Thomas Takao

Guilhem Rainfray started surfing in Biarritz in 1966. He was living in Paris at the time, but spending all summer holidays in Guéthary. During the summer of 1968, Nat Young came to France with the first "short" V-bottom surfboards shaped by Bob McTavish. He was inspired by the maneuverability of the design and decided to stripped the fiberglass of an old 10 feet Barland surfboard and reshaped it. After spending some time on the blank the length of the new shape was 8 feet and it had a pronounced V bottom and a square tail.

The concept of pealing the glass off a surfboard then shaping it didn’t fit the mold of being ones first shape. So in January of 1969, Guilhem shaped his very first surfboard from scratch in his parents' flat in Paris. Foam was impossible to get in those days, so he went with balsa wood and glued the pieces together and used a rasp, a block plane and some sandpaper to shape his first surfboard. When he started to glass it, their neighbors smelled the resin and called the Fire Department thinking there was a gas leakage. After the commotion of sirens and firemen going to his parent’s flat. Guilhem resumed his glassing and finished the surfboard. His parents understood his ambition to build and so they let him complete what he started.

It was one of those moments that Guilhem remembers "The article that changed my life was published at the beginning of 1970 in SURFER MAGAZINE. Mike Diffenderfer explained many of the basics in shaping and the important things about design and construction. A lot of this still holds true. Articles in the mags were the only way to have access to shaping info back then because so few people were building boards in France and those who were doing it were jealously keeping their construction secrets to themselves." That's how Guilhem got started in the shaping and glassing of a surfboard. From then on he made his board out of any available material, mostly of thermal insulation panels!. He would cut them length-wise and glue some plywood stringers to the strips of insulation for strength. To place a rocker into it he would applying the weight of a four-gallon resin can to the nose area of the blanks to bend some rocker into it.

Then Barland the only French manufacturer of surfboards at the time started selling blanks that they made under the CLARK Foam license agreement. Those were officially called "second quality" but with all the air bubbles you could say they were "rejects" by today's standards. But they were actual surfboard blanks and not insulation panels, so it was better than nothing. Guilhem would recall "I would spend hours studying closely Diff’s shapes as many of my friends owned a "Diff". Guilhem owns a board that Diff shaped for former French Champ François Lartigau in '69. The years of neglect in the sun and left to disrepair had it looking like any other surfboard left outside, but it still was a Diffenderfer.

According to various sources, Diff is said to have shaped it in a friend's garden with whatever tools that were available to him there and he glassed it as well. When he was about to glass it, he found a peacock's feather lying on the ground in the garden and decided to inlay it under the glass. The board was originally a rounded pintail but the tail got cut into a square after the tail started to delaminate. Guilhem started shaping boards for close friends at first. They would pay for materials and he would shape and glass it for them for free. He specialized in semi-guns and guns for Guéthary, one of Europe's best big wave spots, a reef break that has been said to look like Sunset Beach. He would also shape other kinds of boards as well. There were a few guys in the beginning of Guilhem Rainfray's career in board building that stand out. One of those guys was Joël Roux, who started shaping roughly at the same time as Guilhem. His parents had a fishing shop in Biarritz and he would put his boards in the window for sale. "One day I noticed a very nice semi-gun with one of the first airbrushing I had ever seen" Guilhem recalled.

So, he went into the shop and asked about how it. Joël's mother who was minding the store told Guilhem that her son was busy shaping downstairs and that he could go down and see him. So he went down an old stone stairway that led to a vaulted ceiling with no ventilation. There was Joël's in his shaping bay covered with dust from head to sole. He was shaping with a very crude French Peugeot power planer. A power tool that had many attachments, you could change it into a drill, a sander, a grinder, or a planer, which is what Joel was using it as. Joël at this time was producing some very progressive shapes and he continued to do so for several years after. He was the one who sold Guilhem his very first real foam blank, a Bennett Surfboard blank from Australia. Guilhem didn’t know how in the hell Joel got hold of it.

After that meeting, Guilhem got to know Joel and had him glass a few of his early boards. Today Joel is a well-known sculptor. Other early French shapers included Jacques Albert who was making some fine swallow-tails around 1974/75. Then there was Baptiste Dupouey who was shaping under the Lightning Bolt license. One day in the early 1970’s Nat Young and a few other Aussies came to Guéthary. The Aussie crew had met a bunch of Californian guys including Billy Hamilton and Mark Martinson. The old school stylist and the animal were surfing together with the waves at 8 to 10' and good conditions. There was this one wave where Nat lost his board on a late take-off and he went swimming in after it for hundreds of yards; remember there were no leashes then. Guilhem and those around him were watching from the cliff some 1/2 of a mile away. But. they could hear him swearing between waves. At low tide Guéthary can be a long swim and most other surfers would have been exhausted and unable to swear so loudly. Everybody was laughing very hard on the cliff.

Those were days when Guilhem would surf from 7 AM to 8 or 9 PM. Occasionally someone might have gone to Spain to buy a sheep and they would roast it on a fire right on the beach and had a beach party. Into the night with wine, music and girls after the surf, French surfing at it’s finest. In 1976 skateboarding had become very popular and Ty Page and Mark Bowden arrived in Paris for demonstrations in skateboarding. Guilhem who was living in Paris at the time, through varies connections he became the manager of the two and drove them around, setting up demos and autograph sessions. After Ty and Mark returned back to the states and skateboarding started to lose its flair. Guilhem continued making surfboards.

His shapes during the early 1980’s started to become more progressive and his shaping skills started to advance. Surfing had entered the tri fin era. Guilhem remembers the 90’s. "In 1990 I started shaping under my own brand called Guilhem Rainfray Surfboards, then changed it to Guéthary Surfboards in 2000” Guilhem said. Today he is into longboards, minimals, retro-singles and, lately, stand-up paddle-boards. Doing everything himself from shaping to glassing, sanding, pinlines, glossing, and polishing. Not making a lot of boards, but trying to make each one better than the previous. So, if you are in Guethary, France stop by and talk story with one of France’s top surfboard builder.