After 30 years in the business, the French surfboard label UWL in La Rochelle is looking forward to the next 30 years, rebranded as Shapers Club and with an impressive 4-million-euro project on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Thomas Cardinal, co-founder with his shaper brother Renaud, gives us the keys to this success.
How has the Shapers Club evolved from its beginnings in 1991 as UWL to today?
Founded in 1991 by Renaud and Thomas Cardinal as UWL, the Shapers Club has always been driven by a passion for surfing and craftsmanship. We started as a small company dedicated to manufacturing high quality surfboards. Over the years we have evolved and grown, always keeping our passion for surfing and craftsmanship in mind. Today, we are recognized as Master Craftsman, labelled EPV by the French Government (Living Heritage Company, or EPV label, is an acknowledgement of their traditional and industrial skills), BPI Excellence (entrepreneurial network), Usine du Futur Nouvelle Aquitaine, Made In France and member of the La Rochelle Technopole. In 2023, we launched Shapers Club, an endeavour that aims to bring together independent shapers from around the world in a collaborative and innovative hub.
Who are the members of the Shapers Club?
The Shapers Club comprises 45 independent master craftsmen from around the world who share our vision. Each shaper brings a unique insight and valuable expertise to our community. Among them we have experienced talents (Bob Mitsven, Roger Hinds, Joshua Martin, Stu Kenson, Neal Purchase Jnr, Joel Fitzgerald, Thomas Bexon…) who show decades of experience, as well as emerging talents (Barrett Miller, Troy Elmore, Ellis Ericson…) who bring new ideas and techniques. Each shaper contributes to the quality and diversity of our community. We welcome those guest shapers at the factory in France to make series of custom boards for European surfers and surf shops. This year, we already welcomed Joshua Keogh (Australia), Takuya Yoshikawa (Japan), and we will welcome the creator of the Bonzer design Malcolm Campbell (California) in August.
How did the Shapers Club manage to register a double-digit growth during the Covid crisis?
The Covid crisis has been a challenge for many businesses, but Shapers Club has managed to achieve double digit growth during this period. We believe the key to this success has been our ability to adapt quickly to the situation, to continue to provide high quality products and services to our customers, and to benefit from the support of our community and our collaborators. Today we are proud to be commissioned on projects with major global brands, as well as for the luxury brands.
Some big moves have been announced for 2024, can you tell us more about this new location?
The building work has started and we will move from our current factory in La Rochelle to a new site three times bigger in Marennes in June 2024 (in front of the island of Oléron, in the middle of the French Atlantic coast). This new location will allow us to welcome more shapers, hold more events and provide a larger and better equipped workspace for our community. The new site will also include a bar/concert space, a coworking space, a gym, a skatepark and visitors will be able to see the manufacturing of the surfboards from all public areas.
This major project, right on the waves route, is for us a recognition of the surf culture and values of Shapers Club. Thanks to a 1800 m² surface area and a 4 million euro budget, we are going to fast-track the company into a new dimension.
What trends have you observed in surfboard design and customer requests?
Over the past year we have seen a growing demand for custom surfboards. Customers are increasingly looking to have a board that matches their unique surfing style and personal preferences, something we excel at. We have also seen a trend towards more versatile board shapes that can be used in a larger variety of wave conditions.
What are your plans for this season and for the future?
For the future, we are working on new board designs, innovative technologies and expanding our product range. We plan to split our historic label UWL Surfboards into UWL (which includes funperfs and longboards) and CARDINAL (for all perf and core shortboards). We are also relaunching our retro ADDICTION label. And, of course we will continue to promote craftsmanship, innovation and community through the Shapers Club through many partnerships to come.