Urs Welti is one half of the creative duo behind the surfboard production firm Enlain from Flims. He builds all kinds of boards in order production and in workshops – from stand-up paddles and free skis to snowboards and skateboards. Behind the sawdust and wood chippings lie a sophisticated craftsmanship and individual design. ‘Every board is unique,’ Urs says about his creations. However, the hardware is just one side of the coin. What he creates from the wood every day is not just a board, but a way of life. Surfing a wave or riding a slope with a board made with one’s own hands is a feeling that cannot be described. It simply has to be experienced.
How did it all begin with Enlain?
There are two us at Enlain, Ben Chick and myself. We met at the Freestyle Academy, when my kids were taking Ben’s courses there. We soon discovered that we both enjoyed making surfboards from wood in our spare time. After a few discussions we had, we quickly found out that other people were also interested in learning how to do this. So we decided to set up a course. We performed the course in my garage with just a few participants. The courses were a great success, and we moved on to skis and snowboards from surfboards fairly quickly. We soon realised that we needed more space, and our business also grew larger with the workshops. Our courses have now been running for almost three years under the name Enlain, which means ‘from wood’.
You and Ben are not trained carpenters. Was that an important factor?
No. I think that although what we do has a lot to do with wood, it’s not really a question of carpentry. A carpenter works a lot with straight edges and clear shapes. However, with our boards, there are no straight lines. Everything is round and flowing. You can’t learn that from a carpentry apprenticeship. We are both self-taught and learned a lot of what we know from YouTube. Of course, we test our boards regularly on the water and on the snow. This is the best way to understand what’s working and what’s not.
How important is location for Enlain?
I think location is very important. Of course, you might wonder why we are producing surfboards here in Flims, where there’s no sea for far and wide. But we believe that surfing is the basis for all freestyle sports such as snowboarding, skiing and skating. Every snowboarder is also a surfer in a different way. So we are sure that we are in the perfect place here.
What type of wood do you use for your boards?
We predominantly use Paulownia wood. It’s extremely strong and light, which makes it perfect for producing all kinds of boards. We also often use special types of wood that are associated with nice memories in certain places. This makes every board unique. I still remember a course participant who had inherited a 10,000-year-old piece of bog oak. We built this into the back, and it makes for an amazing story, of course.
We can also create individual designs for the deck, using old newspapers or prints. Recently we’ve also started ‘flaming’ decks with a blowtorch. It’s an old Japanese craft for finishing surfboards. We also find a world of inspiration on YouTube to keep playing with the designs.
Can you still recall the first board you built?
Oh yes, absolutely, it was a stand-up paddle board. The wood I used came from a 100-year-old pew from the church in Falera. My father-in-law gave me the pew and I took it apart and built an SUP out of it. You can’t buy something like that, and the feeling when I took to the water with my church pew SUP was simply indescribable.
Any more funny anecdotes to finish?
One course participant was really unlucky. He left his board outside to dry, and when he came back, it had rained a bit on the board. So he had to smooth down everything again, of course. But that’s not all. He then left it in the workshop to dry, and some rain dropped through the roof, and of course right down on top of his board. So then he had to smooth down everything once again. The poor guy really had to work hard to make his board.
And there was another participant who accidentally left a piece of wood from a clamp in his board. Now it rattles whenever he moves the board. That’s the other way to create a unique board.