The shapes he carves on the ocean waves are clues to champion surfer Charlie Grey’s other great passion in life.
For Charlie, who has represented Great Britain in stand-up paddle-boarding, is a talented wood carver, working out of a land-locked studio in East End Lane, Ditchling.
He lovingly crafts bowls, mirrors and everyday objects out of oak, elm, ash and other recycled bits of wood but in his spare time he rides the waves in national and international competitions.
He won the British Championships in Cornwall two years ago and competed for Team GB in Peru last year but when he is not immersed in the thrills and spills of riding roller-coaster waves, he retreats to the tranquil atmosphere of his studio.
Charlie, 32, said: “The creative side does play its part in surfing because you visualise the shape of the water. The materials that I use in my wood carving are never perfect so you have to work around the imperfections and create something that would otherwise go to waste.
“I love working with natural things. I would never cut down a tree to make something, I rely on what people give me or on wood from fallen trees.
“I was given some doors and made mirrors out of them but I enjoy making bowls because each one is so different. I sourced some elm locally that was destined to be chopped up and put on a fire but now it will live, hopefully, for many years to come.
“I recently completed a bowl out of elm and the grain was lovely with almost a wave like quality to it.”
By contrast, stand-up paddle-boarding is a transitory discipline relying on the agility and skill of the moment. It’s a cross between kayaking and surfing, requiring brawn, speed and nerves of steel.
It comes as no surprise that Charlie puts his skills as a wood carver to making custom surf boards and paddle boards for his competitions. He grew up in Ditchling, with its rich artistic heritage and links to some of the great wood and stone carvers of the 20th century, including Joseph Cribb.
Charlie said: “My parents are architects so I was brought up with a design background and Ditchling’s artistic heritage has been another influence. I’ve been working with wood ever since I was a tiny child when I was given my first tool kit.
“Back in those days it was a real metal saw hammer and chisel not a plastic one. I like working with whatever materials come to hand, I have also done a lot of welding and metal work in the past and built motorbikes which is totally different to wood but you can still apply the same design and visualisation techniques and get the same satisfaction.”
Reflecting the confidence needed to be an expert surfer on the water, Charlie added: “I’m not scared of giving new things a try and learning along the way.”
You can see examples of Charlie’s work at the Ditchling Artists Open Houses event, which coincides with the Brighton Festival in May.
Charlie’s work will be on display in The Studio in East End House, which is open every weekend in May and on both Bank Holiday Mondays between 10am and 5pm.
Other exhibitors at The Studio include Judith Fisher, who makes ceramics, Nick Orsborn, who crafts jewellery, water colour painter Frans de Leij and designer in glass, Siobhan Jones. Find out about the Open Houses event via: