In recent years, PWA corporate members Tabou have undergone considerable transformation. From humble beginnings as a traditional, hand-crafted custom board shop in Marseille, France, they’re now a large-scale, world championship winning, mass-production board brand.
Back then shaper and visionary Fabian Wollenweider worked alone, and as his reputation grew he shaped a Tabou line for Bic sport. ‘Actually I started out the same time as Patrick Diethelm the F2 shaper. We shared next door units to each other!’ Those days saw him working with Kevin Pritchard (US-3 Starboard / Maui Sails) and nowadays with his brother Matt Pritchard (US-10 Tabou / Gaastra), who’s been 2 times world Super-X champion since signing for Tabou.
The modern Tabou was born out of Fabian and long-time friend and business partner Knut Budig’s, heavy involvement in the south of France Hip Hop, art and cultural scene. (Knut’s also a major stakeholder in sail brand Gaastra). Tabou’s unique and striking board designs and graphics are testament to this ultra-cool Riviera lifestyle, often reflecting this with their graffiti style airbrushes.
The recent Costa Brava Super-X event gave Fabian and Matt the chance to catch up, and for us to get some insight into their dramatic success.
I ask Fabian about the team and their different involvements in development terms. They obviously have Matt and now Ross Williams (GBR-83, Tabou / Gaastra) for Super-X, and so he explains how Steve Allen (AUS-0, Tabou / Gaastra) and Ross concentrate on the Manta slalom weapons, whilst Thomas Traversa (F-3, Tabou / Gaastra) and fellow French trickster Anthony Ruenes (F-85, Tabou / Gaastra) are key for the Freestyle boards. ‘Actually Anthony and Thomas are quite important in development terms for us now, not only on the Freestyle boards, but for feedback on the small waveboard’s too’ says Wollenweider. ‘When they first started on the team, they were young local riders and didn’t know much about the processes involved, yet now they are top ranking PWA riders and are really growing in their R&D roles’. Fabian describes how the rest of the waveboard’s are principally developed by Matt and Ross on the contest tours wide range of conditions, and the hardcore waves of Maui.
The Rocket Super-X board is perhaps their greatest commercial and competitive success, and I ask about whether this shapes great Freeride reputation came from pure development within the PWA arena, or a wider brief? Matt outlines how they wanted to keep the range small and how they found the Rocket met a natural balance between performance and compromise. “We were half driven by market need and half by our beliefs in what would represent top level PWA Super-X performance. The fact that the crossover between speed, manoeuvrability and freestyle performance perfectly matches the needs of the average sailor, and lets my winning board meet their requirements, is a real bonus’.
Enquiring about how Matt and Fabian work so remotely from each other, I hear about the Tabou CNC machine setup. ‘All the boards are now CNC machined, although it’s taken a long time to build a database of figures, and to learn about its capabilities.’ Fabian points out the advantages: ‘I can send Matt 3D pictures of a shape along with another of any improvements I’ve made to him in Maui from my base in France, so he can see the changes side by side. This is superior to a person’s memory of what the shape used to be like. Distance working like this functions well as I also send the designs to the Cobra factory to produce my blanks, so I only have to make minor adjustment by hand before production. The main advantage is being able to change one parameter in a boards design, whilst keeping the rest of the figures consistent with our built up database of characteristics that are proven to work’.
Talking of production there are rumours about equipment prices throughout the industry rising radically from oil derived raw materials. How will this affect Tabou and its customers? ‘The main problem for us is actually the carbon shortage. If we hadn’t previously been smart in how and where we specify carbon usage on our products in the first place, we’d see prices rise up to about 30% for our end-consumers. The aviation industry and military are taking all the quotas and so you have to bid for any excess stock.’
Matt pipes up on the material usage subject. ‘Our direction and philosophy is Faster. Lighter. Stronger. There’s always a way to make product better this way, so much so its helped us buck market trends and reduce the size of our range - something which has hurt the market previously and confused customers.’ This year we’ve released 20 new boards in the range, which sounds a lot, but with each styles different sizes, in actual fact the usage range is huge, and long term we expect to see many brands follow with smaller collections that cover wider windsurfing use. Of course you still need to introduce new styles and push boundaries, but we try to be responsible and protect the Tabou product re-sale values.’
New styles are always interesting and Tabou are no exception with their contribution to the longboard revival, the Windstyler. At 325 x 72 it’s definitely different to market alternatives. Pritchard excitedly expands. ‘For sure it’s a breakthrough in both planing and non-planing conditions. Previous short and wide beginners style boards have given newcomers a great entry to the sport, but they soon reach limitations, such as poor pointing and planing ability.’ ‘The ducktail means you have a different creature in planing conditions to light wind mode. A completely different planing surface means you get shorter more manoeuvrable board in stronger winds, excellent for progressing intermediate skills, whilst having a board you can teach your friends and kids on, or go out and enjoy old-skool freestyle, rail-ride style!’
The development schedule is something that must provide tight deadlines as right now the team are releasing new shapes but testing and finalising the next crop of shapes and refinements before they have any market feedback or completed PWA tour results. ‘Yeah, it’s a 6 or 7 month schedule really year on year’ says Wollenweider. ‘ There is a lot of pressure and limited time to conceive, prototype and refine shapes to the exacting standards of the PWA arena, the team and to have things like magazine tests help to confirm the performance.’
It seems like Tabou have built a well oiled machine. Results speak for themselves and so does commercial success. Our thanks go to Matt and Fabian for their valuable perspectives on the inside line at a modern day windsurfing success story.