Meet the West Factory, Abidjan
The West Factory are Afrosurf trailblazers, establishing the first surfboard building factory in West Africa. Affected heavily by Covid-19 they are one of the grassroots African surf businesses we will support through The Elbow Project. Founded by Cote d’Ivorian surfers Hadi Beydoun and Pierre Nicoud, we caught up with Hadi to find out more about their business, their purpose and the surf culture of Cote d’Ivoire.
Mami Wata: Most importantly. Tell us about your local. How are the waves around Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire?
Hadi Beydoun: Assinie is the every weekend spot, it’s kind of a fast beachbreak. Can be perfect depending on winds and sandbanks, like in the Southwest of France. It’s a very punchy beachbreak, super fast.
What made you decide to start the West Factory?
Surfing was something I thought was dangerous and cool at the same time, since I was a kid. I grew up in the Ivory Coast where we used to go to Assinie almost every weekend with my parents, siblings and friends. That is where I first saw people surfing and bodyboarding. At the time, my friends and I used to bodyboard and surfing looked like something too hard to reach… as we thought it to be too technical. When I was 18, in 2009, I moved to Australia to continue my education. That's where I really discovered the beauty of surfing. I then realized that there was something we had missed out on back in Cote d'Ivoire. From that day, I started to develop the passion and ideas for this future project.
How does it work where each board produced and sold by West Factory supports the local kids’ education?
We started working with this organization called 'Fondation Williams', a foundation that supports education here in Cote d'Ivoire, by providing school packs and even full-year school grants for kids. Our partnership was based on 10% of profits made from the sale of locally made boards. This for us could be translated into school packs that would be distributed by this foundation.
Why is it important to have a board factory and shaping knowledge in West Africa?
West Factory did not come about necessarily because of a strategic decision. The idea wasn't to create a brand, because there are brands out there that do an amazing job at portraying African surf culture such as Bantu Wax or Mami Wata. We wanted to create and have West Africans learn and understand the concept behind shaping their own surfboards here, with local knowledge. We have been inviting a few shapers to teach our local team and also participate in the production so as to have, in the long term, real concrete shaping knowledge in our house. Our guest shapers include Paul Abbas, a self-taught shaper from Lebanon and Yann Chailleux, a French shaper who also grew up here and is a good friend of my partner Pierre Nicoud. Our shaping house is happy to invite experienced shapers to continue this long and important process of passing on knowledge to the local community.
How many people do you employ? And do you teach them the skills of shaping, glassing, finishing etc.?
The West Factory consists of the production team and the technical management team. The management team consists of Sylvain, Pierre and myself. In production, we have Eric Kouakou and Souleyman Sidibe who have been training now for 4 and 2 years respectively, in the art of shaping and glassing. Today, I am confident to say that they can both glass and sand without any difficulties as well as engage in board repairs.
In the factory, we have Sidibe and Eric who work as assistant glasser and shaper. They are always present when the shaper is going through his production. They have learnt all the basic skills of shaping, glassing, sanding, wet sanding and ding repairs. Shaping is particular, so it will take a bit more time, experience and boards for them to master that, however for everything else they have been progressing very fast and provide very important help to the shaper today.
Apparently West Factory produces a board named after Mami Wata?
Yes, the Mami Watta is a mid-length with a lot of volume for people progressing from a longboard or softop to a shorter more manoeuvrable board. It has a medium rocker in the nose for easy paddling and catching waves and enough rocker in the tail to make it manoeuvrable and keep it from nose diving in late takeoffs and steep wave. The board has a wide but pointy nose and round or baby swallow tail. It comes in thruster fin setup or two plus one on the bigger sizes. It’s one of our most popular shapes.
How are are you responding to the Coronavirus crisis in Cote d'lvoire?
We decided to close the store so that people have less risk. But we said we would deliver everything that is wanted or needed. We haven't cut any jobs, so the guys who are working with us are still paid. However, they're getting half-pay while we're forced to work from home. Next, we're establishing a platform on WhatsApp Pro, to sell our products and we've put a budget together to buy a few things like rice, pasta, bottled water - the things people might need when they're staying home. And we're collecting these things and taking them to a school in Assinie, to give to the kids. Lastly, we are also distributing masks to our whole database, of all our customers. People can either collect from the shop, or we'll delivery where possible. All for free.
Words: Andy Davis
Photographs: The West Factory