Ian Walton is one half of OTHERS – a collection of design projects revolving around the surf community and outdoor objects.
Where did your relationship with surfing and its community begin?
I’m from Galway and basically grew up in the water in Connemara. From the age of six, I was windsurfing, which after twelve years became kitesurfing and then ultimately surfing. I’m acutely aware of just how lucky I was to have a childhood like that – I’ve been permanently connected to the ocean ever since.
Can you explain a little about how OTHERS came to be? Who are the people behind OTHERS?
OTHERS is basically a passion project between two designers, Eoin McNally and myself. We met in NCAD (years ago) studying product design and then pretty much learned to surf together during our four years there. Once we graduated and got real jobs, we had less time to make the trips west and OTHERS came about as a way to stay connected to surf and the sea. We started out building boards one day a week in the basement of a studio I had off Holles Street, and that grew to include more projects and ideas.
Is OTHERS a labour of love, a means of escape or other focus, and is the hope to grow it to become your full-time vocation?
It’s most definitely the first two! A labour of love with a healthy dose of escapism thrown in… If our focus for the project was to make money I think we would have both checked out years ago! Joking aside – the motivation always has been to find a way to remain in touch with the sea and with surfing during the sometimes long gaps between sessions. On top of that we both feel strongly about the planet and how our roles as designers can (and do) affect that. So, I suppose OTHERS satisfies our selfish need to do something surf-related and perhaps a slightly less selfish need to be doing something environmentally positive. We often daydream about it becoming the day job, but you’d have to sell a sh*t load of surf wax to get there.
I see you give your project Status Updates on your site. Why is that? What projects do you have on the To Do pile that look like it might make it to Status Updates in the coming year?
You’ve had a good dig around! The status updates seem like a natural way to show that this is one big ongoing experiment. When you’re developing new ideas or new ways of doing existing things a lot of the time you come to a dead end or fail entirely. Take the black board project which is up there for example. We upcycled a giant block of EPS foam left over from a client project into two boards for ourselves. These failed spectacularly, heating up in the sun and basically exploding (the entire base of mine delaminated on a wave in Easkey). So the status updates let us show failures as well as successes.
The To Do pile seems to grow faster than our ability to ‘do’ at the moment. I won’t go into exactly what’s on it because inevitably the more you say about something the less you actually do to get it done! Lots of things are exciting us at the moment though.
Surf and design have long been harmonious bedfellows. Who are the mavericks in the space, in the products, the packaging, the magazines, the culture, etc.? The people who carved the groove for others to follow?
They go hand in hand. One of the reasons we felt confident taking our first steps in shaping boards was because sculpting foam was already part of our language as product designers. There are so many people and companies doing great things across surfing that it’s pretty hard to list them all here with any kind of logic… So here’s a random collection; Ryan Lovelace, Ryan Burch, Parley, Yvon Chounard & Patagonia, Otter Surfboards, Backwash Magazine, Danny Hess, and way too many others to mention…
Your product is unlike others on the market, for many reasons. Can you give me a quick overview of what sets you apart, and why the products you make have been received and reviewed so well?
Our first product is an organic surf wax called #WoodstoWaves. Surf wax is a product you apply onto your board to improve grip, and generally speaking they are made from petroleum-based ingredients. In fact, one big irony of surfing is that much of the products we use to enjoy what nature offers us are in fact pretty horrendous environmentally. So our wax has only four ingredients all of which are organic. It gets its stickiness from pine resin which we collect from Irish forests, its bulk from Irish beeswax, its softness from organic oils and there’s a fourth top secret ingredient which is also 100% natural. Every bar we make is stamped with the source forest so you know exactly where it came from, and they smell pretty incredible because of the resin (think somewhere between walking in a pine forest and a sauna).
I think it’s been received well because of these things, and also for the plain and simple fact that it performs well. Often natural substitutes are a poor alternative to the synthetic option but after years of tweaking and feedback from people who surf far better than us, our wax actually works.
How did you land on a product that seems to redefine what surf wax can be?
By total accident. There’s a guy called Cyrus Sutton who is an American surfer/climate activist/filmmaker. He has a site called Korduroy which was a fairly regular source of inspiration for us. A few years ago, they produced a short video about making your own wax from natural ingredients and we started messing about with it for our own use. From there the idea of traceability came in, but it wasn’t until about a year later when we stumbled upon a fourth ingredient which made it work really well that we thought we might have something.
You mention the word ‘community’ a lot in everything you do. How important is the community to you and your future success? How do you mobilise them, keep them involved and interested and helping you innovate in your activities?
Hmmm this is a tricky question, because the idea of community and community-driven projects is something we love, but also something which probably requires more time and effort than we have to give as part of a side project. In fact, I quite regularly feel guilty for the effort that our community members have put in, if for one reason or another Eoin and I are not in a position to match it. As I type I have packets of resin collected by our (incredible) community collectors which haven’t yet made it to bars of wax, this kind of thing keeps me awake at night.
So, to answer your question,100% truthfully, we were blown away by the community interest and involvement when we introduced it. It’s something we want to integrate into a lot of what we do, but it’s also something that we need to make sure can be matched from our side.
Where to escape to… The best surf breaks in Ireland?
You know they’re all top secret right?
The bucket list surf adventure you have yet to make?
Lofoten Islands in Norway
The oceans have long been seen as a playground but in more recent times have become a battleground for ecological challenges facing mankind and marine life too. What can people do to help, from the small efforts to the large challenges?
Yeah as I mentioned above there’s something very wrong when the toys and equipment we use to enjoy the ocean are made from some seriously nasty stuff. So from a “play” perspective, I think it’s our responsibility to consider the alternatives to the cheaper mass-produced option. The good news is that they are out there and they are great. Patagonia and Finisterre both have Yulex (natural rubber) wetsuits and shapers are building flax fabrics, eco foams and bi0-resins into their boards. Start with those and then see if you can rethink the other objects that surround them. In terms of the large challenges, it’s hard not to talk about plastic. Just two days ago a dead whale in the Philippines was found to have 40kg of plastic in its stomach and effectively starved to death. So the next time you’re getting a takeaway coffee and you don’t use a reusable cup, have a good think about where the lid might end up and about the animal you could potentially kill. Sorry for getting a bit strong here, but our culture of convenience is annihilating our planet and the beautiful animals we share it with…. Oh and while I’m on it have a read about what happens to “compostable” plastics in the wild, if you’re that way inclined.
Any learnings from your adventure so far that you reckon would resonate with our readers today?
Not sure how to answer that without sounding all preachy and self-help, but for me personally I think there’s massive value in being involved in a project where it’s not really about money. Eoin and I do this for the love of it and that alone, and I think that’s pretty good for the soul. I have noticed recently that when I get into the frame of mind where OTHERS needs to be more of a “business” I then suck the life out of it. They’re called passion projects for a reason I guess.
What’s your long term goal for OTHERS? How do you see it developing over the coming years?
Eoin and I both have dreams of a workshop and studio beside a long right hand point break, producing our own products and doing something good for the world in the process. But as I just said, the more we think like that, the less creative we seem to be. So, we are focusing at the moment on keeping energy and passion in the project, looking at a few new products which we think allow for that to continue.
The dream stays the same but we need to focus on doing what we think is good work, and that’s not necessarily commercially driven. Obviously if you’re reading this, have loads of cash and want to invest it in a fledgling surf project send us a mail : )
Words: Richard Seabrooke