Alan Davis is a surfboard craftsman.
The 45-year-old son of the late Justice James Davis of the Court of Appeal and English teacher, Marlene Davis, was about 11 when he caught his first wave and it is etched in his memory to this day.
The excitement comes through his voice as he reminisces: “It was very exhilarating. Riding a wave to shore you pick up a speed from a wave, and the first time you feel you can catch and harness the energy of riding the wave to the shore, or as far as you can get without falling off, and you always want to do it again. You get really excited, people will scream when they get a wave.”
As his love for speed developed, at 12, with a bunch of friends he rode a BMX bicycle on a vert ramp up to about ten feet in height.
“I was young, and we were fearless when it came to those things. We had no respect for speed, and would go down on a bicycle too fast and fall real bad...We built the ramp ourselves. One friend was good at construction and design, we had picked up how to pound nail into wood from being around people building houses, saw how the ramp was built on television and did it.”
Besides the ramp, there were the friends with whom he had surfed, eventually graduating to the waves on the line-up. “Like behind the breakers,” he explains. “I still rode the ramps but developed a strong love for surfing.”
From Bishop Anstey Junior School, Davis went to Trinity College, Moka and finally Queen’s Royal College, where he played a little bit of football but did not consider himself the best especially after some injuries, and also played some cricket. But it was always surfing.
What is it about surfing that eventually led to his making a career out of producing surf boards? He explains. “There is a saying that only a surfer knows the feeling, to describe it is trying to tell you what it is like trying liquor for the first time. It’s intoxicating and as well is a very healthy sport because your physical ability has to be tops. I was a swimmer first, which definitely helped with the conditioning that is associated with being out there, sometimes for as long as or more than eight hours.
“It becomes addictive, you don’t want to stop riding a wave. Waves come from the blowing of wind and the wind comes from the spinning of the earth.” Davis becomes more excited as he continues. “So you are actually riding the energy of the earth, there is no motor, your aim is to catch and ride a wave that is water that goes vertical, and because of the spinning of the earth you are riding something that is the energy of the earth. The first time you catch a wave, it’s an amazing feeling. You learn on small waves, so as you feel this energy which increases with the size of the wave, the feeling is even more intense.”
He said there is some fear if it’s a very big wave which can hurt you, as these are not like learning waves. “It takes years before you can get into big waves. The surfing talent really exists on the North Coast and Tobago, since children out of places like Balandra, live there. They grow up and are groomed from just listening to the surf as they are born on the beach....For the first time the sport has been acknowledged and the International Olympic Committee has included it into the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.”
As a teenager, Davis went to pursue a course of study in one of the traditional disciplines, business administration, at Palm Beach Community College in Florida. He participated in a contest in France as part of a national team and met the Venezuelan team . “TT being very close to Venezuela, I made friends with them and the guy who made boards sponsored me to get boards made at his factory... When you compete a lot you need plenty of boards.”
Boards are made out of foam for “floatiness” and fibre glass for “strength”. A competitor, unlike the average surfer, must be very particular about the quality of the board and must have it light, whereas the non-competitor wants a stronger board and life out of the board. Davis makes the comparison that “just as no two snowflakes in the world are alike, there are no two boards identically alike, even when it is made on the computer, which is the new age way of making boards so that the end product gets a lot of consistency and speed. Boards have gone through changes in recent years, so the average length is about six feet and weight about six pounds. Light but very strong.”
Davis has surfed in England, France, California, Portugal and other places, and has developed so many friendships and contacts that his boards have reached as far as Australia. The toymaker, as he calls himself, now imports material from California and makes his surfboards right here at home.
Davis is thankful that he learned how to surf, as it has taught him a lot of life lessons, such as how to treat people and how to get along in the water, as it is a kind of brotherhood where everyone has to look out for each other.
“Surfers are like lifeguards as well, and it has happened already in Balandra or Toco, where you pull up on the beach and with the board as a floating device you can get back out to people in difficulty, pull them up on the board and bring them back to shore. And you helped save a life. As a surfer you just try and live well with everybody.”