An Interview with Bruce Cockburn

I had the sincere privilege of meeting with Bruce Cockburn for an hour this winter. We talked taboo: faith and politics, and discussed his recently published memoir Rumours of Glory (HarperCollins). Visit http://convergemagazine.com/interview-with-bruce-cockburn-15500/ for the story.

AHOY Bags: Refilling Sails with New Purpose

Ucluelet/Tofino, BC

There’s only a handful of church gatherings in Ucluelet, BC, but my friends and I ended up at one that took us out for lunch, then rescued us from a soggy disaster of a tent that night, putting us on warm beds and couches. At this lovely little gathering I met Nelly and Jens Heyduck, artisans who moved to Canada from Germany four years ago. They planned to be here for only a year, but have found a home in Ucluelet – Tofino’s less touristy but no less picturesque neighbour.

05-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineNelly and Jens are the founders and crafters of Ahoy Bags. The bags are made from retired sailcloth donated by sailors and yacht clubs. Thanks to Jens’ skill with a heavy-duty sewing machine and Nelly’s background in design, the bags are both durable and eye-catching.

Because this couple handles all aspects of Ahoy, from design to production, to marketing, I reckoned learning these skill sets would be the source of most obstacles for them. Jens didn’t think so. Growing up in Germany, he tells me, he learned sewing and craftsmanship, and his previous ventures have taught him skills that readied him for this enterprise. Nelly agreed: “Even though it’s really different from what we’ve done in the past, everything we’ve been learning has come together in this project.”

Making bags out of sails is admittedly different, even though their art backgrounds have prepared them well. Nelly has a Diploma (equivalent to an M.A.) in Design, and has worked in graphic design and product design. Jens comes from a background of antique restoration and conservation of cultural heritage. However, it’s not just the product that’s a change-up for the Heyducks; it’s also the first major business project they are doing together as a couple. “We have our challenges, but we love what we do”, smiles Nelly. “I am privileged to work on a product that is mine. New things are happening really quickly. The first time I took our products to the market, I met tons of people.”

03-AHOYBAGS-Press-onlineLocals really appreciate Ahoy’s upcycling model. Ucluelet and Tofino are low-industry towns where ecologically-sensitive living is really important. Yet, the bags have global appeal. Holidaymakers from around the world buy from Ahoy. Nelly lets me in on their secret: “When we place the templates to determine the cut, we pretty much fall in love with every corner of the sail – The patina, seams and hardware all tell a story. Our customers pick up on that dialogue. We think the best stories are yet to come, when the customers take these bags on their very own adventures. We keep in contact with a lot of our customers, especially via Facebook. We are excited to hear stories back from them.”

Jens and Nelly told me some of their adventures and mentioned that they especially love meeting fellow Germans. “We have found we can reach out to more German people here than when we were in Germany! We run a Bed & Breakfast and meet people all over the world. As we share stories and hospitality, we become really close,” shares Nelly. Nelly’s letters home “get people interested in why they are living in this rainy little place – and they are watching us”, she says. “It has opened doors.” Having no relatives nearby opens up time for the Heyducks to connect with their neighbours and visitors more, “but we miss having a community of young professionals,” they share.

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One major logistical challenge that Ahoy Bags faces is in the sails themselves. Nelly says, “some kind souls donate their old sails or scraps, but at this point, it’s word of mouth.” Sometimes the Heyducks will receive word of an available sail, but have to drive a considerable distance to pick it up. Sailing is incredibly popular in the Victoria and Vancouver areas, so sails are unknowingly tossed there all the time, but it’s a long way from Ucluelet. The Heyducks hope that as the word gets out about Ahoy’s practical, ecologically-friendly upcycling process, that sailors will see a perfect recipient for retired sails. “We’re sure some people don’t know that there is a better alternative to dumping their sails. If you give us a mainsail, you’ll receive a bag. One hand washes the other!” exclaims Jens.

Jens and Nelly have been involved in all kinds of interesting design and restoration projects, but why bags? I ask. Jens laughs. “During the long winter months, trapped inside, one comes up with all strange ideas! We actually started talking about this idea during a drive back from Port Alberni. We wanted to create classic, green yet durable bags handcrafted from decommissioned sails. For Nelly it had to be a simple yet functional design, taking all the original seams and repair patches into consideration. For me it was the nautical spirit and traditional craftsmanship associated with it that let me sign on. In general, bags break too quickly. We wanted to make something really rugged. Sail are exactly that. They can propel a ten-ton boat through the water.” Nelly adds, “We had a lot to learn. Sails are not identical. There are differences in quality, weight, size, and so on. We needed to get an industrial machine because a home sewing machine can’t handle layers of sailcloth.”

They are particularly excited when I ask them how they see their faith playing into what they do and make. Nelly shares that recently, the verse 2 Corinthians 5:17 is really significant for their trade: ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, they are a new creation: The old has gone, the new is here!’ “We had our old life”, she says, “with all the things we have done in the past, and when we come to Christ, he upcycles us; he renews us! Like people, these sails have a past, including scars and bruises to tell their story. When God upcycles us, we become something entirely different – and with much purpose!”

Find Ahoy Bags on Facebook and see their charm for yourself.

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Hanzane Skimboards: Custom Artistry Meets Recreation

This summer I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Siemens and Nick Niebuhr, the duo behind Hanzane Skimboards, based out of White Rock, BC. Their boards are handcrafted and handpainted. Each board is unique. And they sell for less than the competition . . . what’s with that?

Kyle Lynch Creative

Kyle Lynch Creative

CK: How did this all start?

Hanzane: We looked up how to create a board online! I took a piece of plywood, cut it into shape, soaked it for a couple days, clamped it and let it dry, painted and varnished it and it was good to go. That’s how Hanzane started. Our first challenge was finding a base material that was strong enough to withstand rubbing against the sand and rocks; that’s where we’ve had the most innovation and change. Now, our skimboards are a wood core with fibreglass on the bottom and sealer on top. We bought some tools and learned from others too. We’ve had this board shape for about two years now.

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CK: Do your boards differ from other companies’ boards?

Hanzane: In size, our boards are a couple inches different but the shape is fairly standard. Some people do asymmetrical shapes with a distinct nose and tail but we think having both ends symmetrical gives you a longer lasting board because you don’t wear down one end so fast. We’ve changed our shapes a little bit and this year we’re working with boards that are a little bigger so they don’t sink as easily in deep water. I’ve tried to use what I know from my own style of riding; hopefully people will like that.

CK: Starting with the art, a lot of things stand out about Hanzane.

Hanzane: Our boards are handcrafted and handpainted. The art is one thing; there’s also the process and the pricing. A pretty standard company in skimboarding will sell their stuff for about $180 plus tax. They will also make cheaper beginner boards. Our boards are $120, so we’re significantly cheaper while putting out a quality product. While established companies use more mechanization, that isn’t necessary for the quality of the board.

CK: Who does the art and how does it get onto the boards?

Hanzane: We prime and paint directly on the wood surface and finish it with a heavy-duty sealer. Each board is unique. We will also create custom designs based on the customer’s idea and preference. Chris (Siemens) does a lot of the art but we have art from Laura Klassen, Tessa Nickel, Catherine Bennington, Nick, and several others.

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

The artists at the We Have So Much To Give open-air showcase

hanzane3CK: If someone wants to have you create a new original design, is that an extra charge?

Hanzane: We charge about ten bucks extra for that.

CK: So, for ten dollars I could get an original custom design, and the board is still cheaper than the competition’s?

Hanzane: Exactly, We pride ourselves in every board being different. There are a lot of companies -skateboard, skimboard, snowboard- who just do lines of standard identical boards. We do create some stencils, which are reusable, but none of them is identical.

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CK: Your stencilled boards remind me of POGs! They’re all a little different. I want to collect them all.

Hanzane: [Laughs] That’s awesome!

CK: Do you have a website that people can buy from?

Hanzane: The majority of our boards have sold to people in the local area but we’re beginning to get request from other provinces. Our boards sell through a website called skimbc.com

We have a lot of fun doing this. It’s something we enjoy and we try to make a point to not worry too much about making a profit but in taking joy in the riding and making of skimboards and making sure that those two things never become disconnected. We don’t want to turn into a factory that cranks them out and doesn’t care about what happens afterward. We love making things by hand and doing it ourselves rather than outsourcing. We also try to make a point of connecting and communicating with each customer so the whole process is congruent. Our focus is doing skimboarding and woodworking well.

Find Hanzane on Facebook. 

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Art by Jon Janzen (Sunblind)

Upcoming film: Underneath The Ash Tree (Chris Nash, Vancouver)

Right after checking out the profile of an upcoming independent film, “Underneath The Ash Tree”, that focuses on the theme of family, today I had the good fortune to run into its director, Chris Nash, at the lovely Water Shed Arts Cafe in Langley, BC . We talked about his upcoming project and I was left with the deep longing to help this exciting project in some way. Chris and his team are trying to raise $15,000 by the end of April so that they can make the project happen by Summer 2012. The plan is to begin filming in June.

I will be doing my part by interviewing Chris and Jacqui (production director) to talk to them about the exciting and fearsome aspects of undertaking a milestone project like this.

Interview with Chris and Jacqui. Filmed by Rosanna Peng. Interview by Craig Ketchum:

It doesn’t end there. You, reader, are invited to participate in making the film happen. Auditions are March 14 and 17 in Vancouver. People and businesses are volunteering services and resources. If you donate to the Kickstarter project, you can even get your name in the credits! Read more below.

Here is what Chris says about the film on the website, Underneath The Ash Tree:

The title of this film is a bit of a misnomer. It is derived from my name (Nash), which literally means ‘at the ash tree.’ However, unlike the characters in this film, I come from a very strong, stable and un-dramatic family. Impassioned outbursts are a rarity in our clan and risky ventures are usually suppressed. So when I decided to explore the concept of ‘family’, I branched away from my own experience in search of something darker and grittier, but nonetheless real.

For seven years I studied countless cracked and crumbling relationships, devoid of hope, and I sought to immortalize them on film. At long last I have finally chiseled four fragile people – two young couples – and called them a family, in the sense that all they have is each other and they are inescapably intertwined.

Some people are lucky enough to be born into a family. For others it is a rite of passage. Regardless, the strongest bonds are forged in the fires of love and bloodshed, so I have stripped this quartet of all the comforts that allowed me to grow up healthy and safe. They are neither strong nor stable. They have no guidance or community. On top of this hollow sagging earth I have infused heavy drama and risk, and here you have my film: Underneath the Ash Tree.

What lies underneath the facade of small town normalcy? How does desperation get pushed to the point of life-or-death? What do we crave most at our cores: Trust or Truth?

I hope you will join us as we explore these curious characters, trapped in situations they perceive to be inescapable and struggling to climb toward hope and redemption.

Thank you so much,
-Chris Nash, writer/director

Find the Kickstarter fundraising project: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/underneaththeashtree/underneath-the-ash-tree