Chris Tilbe’s passion for the surfing world began when his friend’s dad introduced him to windsurfing on Vancouver Island in the early 1990s. Since then his passion for the sport has grown with the creation of his own surf brand, the Makara Surf Company.
While he is now living his dream, Tilbe originally came to Hong Kong for a co-op job placement during his degree. After graduating he returned to the city in 2002 working between Guangzhou and Hong Kong before finally settling permanently in 2005.
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Tilbe put his surfing passions aside and focused on his career as a consultant for nearly ten years before deciding it was time to get back on the board. “I registered Makara in 2014 with the intention to produce my own boards by hand in the most responsible way that I could. I started shaping boards and they turned out pretty good and so I just kept going with it,” he says.
Starting out with a workshop in Fo Tan, Tilbe eventually moved to Tap Mun Island in 2017 where he began making waves in the sustainable surfboard market. “Like any decision we make, we need to not only consider the cost to our bank account but also the cost to the environment,” he says. “The average surfboard maker creates more waste than the board itself. They can easily produce over 10Ib of waste for a 6Ib surfboard. By focusing on efficient material usage and responsible disposal of excess materials, you can easily get that waste weight down. My goal is to reach 1 percent for the weight of the waste in comparison to the weight of the final surfboard.”
His workshop and boards have gained local and international interest, resulting in plans to open a second workshop in his hometown on Vancouver Island. “The original plan was I would set-up a workshop on this side of the Pacific and then spend my time between Tap Mun and Vancouver Island,” he says. But like many business stories this past year, things did not go quite as planned for Tilbe.
How pandemic affect my progress
“The pandemic has made it difficult for me to return to Tap Man and my progress on the second workshop is extremely slow. I spent last year renovating a 1947 log cabin to make it somewhat liveable and this year switched over to the workshop.” But his original workshop remains in the safe hands of his colleague Jess who keeps the shop open for repairs and accessories.
While navigating through the pandemic has been a challenge, it has given Tilbe the valuable time to assess his priorities. “About three years ago, I realized that the more time I spend away, the fewer people that meant something to me are still around when I visit. I’ve spent the last 19 years abroad and now my mother is 78, I think I should probably spend more time closer to her,” he said.
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“Tap Mun Island will always be the home of the Makara Surf Company and I have my whole life still ahead for me to be in Hong Kong. But for now, it means regular trips between the two places when we can finally start travelling again.”
Follow his journey on Youtube at youtube.com/makarasurf