Business is not always about boardrooms, briefings and black coffee. In tribute to these who take a more unusual approach to enterprise, Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill examines the unconventional and downright difficult careers in the North-East

Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a... surfboard maker

SURFER Glenn Nary has ridden hundreds of waves off the North-East coast, and the 38-year-old is now carving out a career with his firm, VisioNary Surfboards, in Saltburn, east Cleveland, making custom boards for enthusiasts across the UK.

How did the company start? I began shaping surfboards in 2008, shortly after I’d started surfing.

I’d had a couple of different second-hand surfboards, none of which really felt right for me being 17 stone and a fairly large bloke at the time.

I also struggled with the new boards, which were, and still are, really expensive.

I figured it couldn't be too hard to make your own and that it must be cheaper than buying one. But I was wrong.

How did you start designing boards? Before studying my Psychology degree at the University of East London, I had completed a three-dimensional design course at Cleveland College of Art and Design around 1992, in Middlesbrough, so I wasn't fazed by designing and making things.

I enjoyed the process and felt that the end result was pretty good, though I did make a bit of a mess of the loft though.

The first board I shaped was a fish, I figured that particular shape would offer the most challenge and I even shaped my own fins.

Describe the process of making a board. The first board took me about two months, but nowadays, I can make a straight-forward shortboard from start to finish in a day.

The more complicated designs, incorporating resin tints and gloss finishes take between two and three days, which is quite a contrast.

Resin tints mean colouring the resin before using it to soak the fibreglass, which is a traditional way of decorating a surfboard.

How difficult was it to get the business going? I took the leap of leaving my job with Redcar and Cleveland Council in January 2012 to start the in business.

It was clear from the start that there was a definite gap in the North-East custom surfboard market. Cornwall and Newquay have dozens of shapers and successful surfboard businesses.

When I started out I didn’t know of any in the North-East.

After making five boards for myself and my son, I got my first custom board order. I actually got thrown out of my shaping room in the loft, due to the smells, so I built a shed in the yard.

Does technology play a key role in shaping boards? My first 150 boards were all entirely shaped by hand, I naively considered anything else to be cheating.

However, I’ve now embraced technology, using computer-aided design software I collaborate with Peter Lascelles, a well-known surfboard shaper based in Cornwall, to get my board design’s machine cut.

I then hand finish the polyurethane blank – foam in a rough surfboard shape - before fibreglassing it, adding fins, and finishing with various designs.

It’s a costly business and the extended winter’s just made it more difficult, particularly in the current financial climate.

What is the future for the surfboard shaping industry? Surfboards are expensive and people don’t have a lot of money at the moment.

For this reason, they need to know that what they’re spending their hard earned cash on is a quality product that is going to do what it’s supposed to do, and do it well.

A surfboard shaper relies on reputation and this takes time to build, but with 70 per cent of my business being return customers, I know that I’m moving in the right direction.