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Bahara: Made in Lebanon Surfboards

We want you to meet Paul Abbas, a 41-year-old self taught professional surfboard shaper (someone who designs and builds surfboards). In fact, he is the only person who makes surfboards in Lebanon. We learned that he became a skilled surfboard shaper in a country where he had no competition, so we decided to share his unique story on The Wellness Project.

A keen bodyboarder since his youth, Paul always enjoyed catching the waves. When he was ready to move onto a surfboard, he decided to try his hand at making his own board purely as a challenge. All the boards available in Lebanon were imported and nothing was produced locally. Paul learned to do it by watching tutorials on-line. He began by checking out blogs then later sourced YouTube. “Initially I got my information from written instructional texts by bloggers, but in the last few years with the development of YouTube, there became plenty of excellent video tutorials available online,” says Paul. His first surfboard was made in 2010.
With time Paul improved his technique and started to receive commissions from friends to make them boards, while he continued his day job as a technician for a TV station. However, a few years later, Paul quit his job and decided to pursue board-making full time.

Five years ago Paul was asked to make boards for a company in Ivory Coast, and so he straddled between Lebanon and Ivory Coast, making boards for these two markets. However eight months ago he took the decision to work purely for himself and remain working from Lebanon.

To Further improve his craft, Paul also attended a 20-day workshop for surfboard shaping in Maui, Hawaii in September 2019. Bahara بحّارة is the name of his brand of water boards. He does both surfboards and stand-up paddle boards (SUP), crafted in his workshop located on an industrial street in Nahr Ibrahim, about 35 kilometers north of Beirut. While the economic crisis has impacted his business, he says it is fortunately offset by the increase in surfing in Lebanon. “Two years ago I used to get 10 inquiries a month and I would end up selling 4-5 boards. Today, thanks to the boom in surfing, I get around thirty inquiries and still sell around 5 boards a month.”

Stand up paddle board (SUP)

Picture credit: https://www.beirut.com/l/51525

So where are the hot spots for surfing here? According to Paul there are quite a few places, but Batroun, Jiyeh and Jbeil (Byblos) are popular thanks to good surfing conditions. He also recommends Dammour, Jounieh and Sour (Tyre). While surfing in Lebanon is a year-round sport, he says winter is the best season as that’s when waves are the highest making it more challenging and enjoyable for serious surfers like himself. “In winter I can surf almost everyday and the waves are very consistent in Lebanon. While in summer the waves are generally smaller and surfing days are more spaced out,” explains Paul.

To make his boards, Paul relies on three main ingredients: polystyrene foam board, resin and fiberglass. The core of the board, or the part he always begins with, is the foam board. The foam boards he uses are all made in Lebanon, while the resin and fiberglass – to coat the board with – are sourced from abroad. “I use resin made especially for surfing boards so it can withstand the sun’s UV light and it is very robust against heat, wear and tear. This is currently not available here, nor the fiberglass type that I need,” explains Paul. He manages to import these two components from South Africa which has an established surfboard industry.

Bahara’s surfboards are all custom made. When he gets a commission from a client, he takes into consideration the style, the surfing level and the body weight of the customer. He will also propose the graphics and colour for the board to suit the client’s personality and taste. The size of the board normally corresponds with the level of the surfer: “The bigger the board the more stable it is. As with most objects, the more surface area the more stable. So the more advanced the surfer the smaller the board he or she uses. But it is also a personal preference and style. A client may improve in surfing but still likes to use a longboard, for example.”

Bahara boards can range anywhere from one to four meters in length, tailor-made for the client. The current price range is from $400-$800. Paul explained that he slightly reduced his prices since Lebanon’s financial crisis began in order to help meet his clients’ budgets. Bahara surfboards are also sold outside of Lebanon to clients living in Dubai, Egypt, Africa, and even as far away as Canada. “I also have a few boards sold to clients in Italy, Mexico and France. I can’t recall them all, but Bahara boards can be found in over a dozen countries today,” says Paul.

Picture credit: Elena Kukoleva

What is rather remarkable about Paul is that he is still a one-man show when it comes to producing his boards, from A to Z, completing pretty much all the manual intensive work inside his workshop. Lately however, he has been outsourcing the painting (the last step) of the SUPs to be able to handle his increased workload. Paul can also do any type of board repairs – whether surfboards, SUPs or windsurf boards. It takes him on average a week to complete a board for a client, and he tends to work on four different boards at the same time.

A typical day for Paul starts with going to the beach in the morning for some surfing. By 11 am he is in his workshop working non-stop until sunset. If the surf is good that day, he will go for an early evening surf then return to his work station until late into the night. “I might be in the workshop until 2 am on some days,” says Paul. With the increased interest in surfing and water related sports, Paul sees an optimistic future for board production in Lebanon and is now considering hiring someone to help him at the workshop to meet the rise in demand.

Paul Abbas with his Bahara surfboard

Picture credit: Elena Kukoleva

Paul also hopes to sell more Bahara boards to the region, especially to Egypt which has a burgeoning surf scene. “It is like Lebanon ten years ago, so it’s a growing market. Especially in Alexandria, which is currently Egypt’s surf capital.” He also hopes to sell more boards to Dubai going forward. In the meantime, Lebanon’s surf demand is definitely keeping him busy! Today, he thinks there are about 400 hundred surfers in Lebanon, of which 150 are hard core surfers. “I’m sure by the next few years we will see many more home-grown surfers,” says Paul optimistically.

Well, that’s it for our story on Paul Abbas and his custom made Bahara surfboards. Hope you enjoyed reading about it. If you want to know more and wish to see his soon to be operating website, visit his Instagram page for all the details and updates. You can reach it via this link https://www.instagram.com/bahara_surfboards/?hl=en

Finally, with the lovely summer season kicking off in Lebanon, whether you surf or not, do enjoy the beach when you can! And if you have never surfed but have always wanted to try, this summer could be a good time to give it a shot!

Picture Credit: https://mpora.com/surfing/beyond-bullets-look-behind-scenes-beiruts-embryonic-surf-culture/

Picture references:  All pictures (with exception of the second and last one) have been provided by Paul Abbas