Joe Lauder is hauling a man-sized plank of wood through floor-to-ceiling glass studio doors. The sun is streaming in, catching a glitter-cloud of dust that mingles for a moment with the snowflakes outside. Down the road, Brixton is bustling to the beat of progress. Teens bedazzled in plastic jewels bop in and out of a cube-shaped TopShop where tailors, butchers and bootmakers once stood. It’s a world away from the oasis of calm inside Studio Satta, a live-and-work woodshop where custom-shaped worktops and a simple futon stand for everything Joe needs to get by.
“I just don’t get it,” says Joe, stirring soy milk into tea. “There’s so much stuff everywhere, you can just chuck some paper at it and get it, but people don’t realise they can make their own stuff. And when you do, it gives you more of a voice, a way to express yourself more clearly.”
In an hour or so, Joe will transform the giant plank of wood into a light-box for the woman who lives upstairs – “She sews labels into my hats, and I do woodwork in return,” – then he’ll either shape a custom skateboard, build a pagoda for a posh garden down the road or get to work on a new homeware collection – chopping boards and vases with tropical orange and turquoise painted tips – which he’ll put out this summer with his friends at streetwear label COPSON ST., just one of the many kindred-spirit passion projects skateboarding has brought into his life.
“I’ve just been blown away since I started skating,” says the twenty-four-year-old, who bought his first skateboard in Melbourne in 2007 as a way to get to work across the hilly city. “The people that I’ve met through skating are all doing artistic things, all at the forefront of whatever they’re doing. It just seems to kinda attract outsiders, people who seek refuge in that meditative practice where it’s just them and the board. And they go on to do great things. It’s like magic.”
Skateboards, gardens and high-end furniture may seem like separate threads, but with Joe at the centre, the Satta tapestry makes sense. Studio Satta started out as a garden design-and-build practice that allowed Joe to fend for himself when he left home at seventeen. After spending a month in the Amazon jungle, living with a shaman and learning about the rainforest’s medicinal ways, he came home knowing that “whatever I did, I wanted to work with nature. It seemed futile not to.” Laying decking led to a love affair with wood and soon his clients were asking for tables and bookcases that matched the stripped-back aesthetic of their Zenish backyards. In November 2012, Satta Skates was born, closing the circle on all the things that make Joe, Joe.
“It was kind of a bringing-together of my woodworking skills and my love of the roots of skateboarding, to be able to make the first boards that came out from surfing and led to skateboarding,” says Joe, sanding a pintail board that looks straight out of Dogtown. “It’s about being able to see a piece of wood that’s nothing – it’s just a piece of wood – and then at the end of me working on it, it’s a skateboard. Someone can have hours and hours and days and months of fun on it, or like a whole summer or a year. They’ll have a story with it and it becomes theirs. That’s the magical thing for me – being able to make something that’s fun for someone to use.”
Joe grew up not far from here but he came of age in an entirely different place. At fourteen, as an “angsty annoying teenager,” his mum sent him to stay with family in Sligo, on the northwest coast of Ireland, for a little time-out. He sulked the whole way there. But the warmth of the cold-water, sleepy surf town soon washed over him. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to go to Ireland!’ but everyone was just so nice,” he says slowly, as if crafting each word. “I wasn’t used to that – to people just being alright with me and it just kind of opened things up. My cousin took me out surfing and I just loved it. I remember falling asleep and feeling like I was in the swell, just going up and down.”
If surfing was Joe’s antidote to angst, travelling helped him find direction. The places he’s been – “Zen gardens in Asia, Hindu and Buddhist retreats in Tibet and Nepal, all these beautiful places of reflection,” – have seeped into his craft and outlook on life, both of which seem stripped of excess.
“I love japanese woodworking, which is very minimal,” says Joe. “The joints they use are mind-blowing – it’s about conserving as much energy as possible. I was thinking about this while watching a documentary on permaculture, which is about using as little energy as possible to reap as much as possible from the land. That ties in for me through my yoga practice – conserving my energy to work as efficiently as possible. In terms of furniture design, I love stuff that is simple but striking. It doesn’t need to be fussy when you’re working with natural materials. Whenever I’ve bought a skateboard, I’ve always sanded back the graphic. With Satta, I keep the artwork simple so that people appreciate it’s just a piece of wood that they’re making their own fun with.”
In the few short months since launching, Satta Skates has been quietly blowing up. Clearly Joe and his friends – “who all ride weird-shaped boards” – aren’t the only ones trading off-the-shelf popsicles for something custom-made. To Joe, it makes sense. Surfers, after all, have been doing this for years. “I’d love to take the role of a surfboard shaper,” he says, “and have people say what shape they’re looking for, then make the board for them. If you’re thinking about your board and how you like to ride it, then you know exactly what you want from it. There isn’t any culture of individual skateboard shaping – I find that really strange.”
But it’s not just skateboarding that could benefit from a two-way exchange. Having a say in the things we buy and understanding where they come from is, for Joe, the key to a strong community. It’s written in his mantra: ‘Deep Roots Stand Firm.’
“With the money problems of the world, people think more about what they spend their money on,” says Joe. “And that’s where the craftsman has to sort of stand up and say, ‘I’m making stuff which is the same or better quality than what you’re going to buy from a mass-produced factory. You can have a relationship with me and we can make this thing together so it can be exactly how you want it. You’ll be involved in the process of it coming into creation. I live in your community, so support me and… it works!’ To me it just seems like a good way to go: to make my own stuff, to make stuff for my friends and family, to support each other on a more community-based level. Because, well, why not?”
This article originally appeared in Huck 38 – The Dave Eggers issue.
The Working Artisan’s Club, is presented by Huck and O’Neill to celebrate the rad makers who shape their future with their own two hands.
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