THE AV STORY: AURELIO VERDI
Aurelio Verdi had a humble start in windsurfing, but has rose to become one of the most respected shapers in windsurfing, running his own company, AV-Boards. He tells us all about his life and his designs! This feature is from our November/ December 2021 issue!
WORDS – Aurelio Verdi // PHOTOS – Stefan Csaky, Pep Bonet, Victor Couto and Pietro Zamorani.
Ciao, I’m Aurelio, I’m 44 years old, I’m from Grosseto (Italy) and I usually sail on the beaches close to my home city, in Maremma district. The first time I tried windsurfing I was a teenager working as waiter in a restaurant inside a big village in the seaside area of Grosseto. My teacher at that time was the girlfriend of Roberto Ricci, and she allowed me to enter into this incredible windsurfing environment that was completely unknown for me. For me it was absolutely mind-blowing to discover that in my own town there was a windsurf factory! Before that I thought that this kind of factory could only be somewhere in the USA or California or Hawaii, or other mystical places like those! Then, after the first time I smelt resin, I got completely hooked on board building.
When I started windsurfing, my passion and love for windsurfing become bigger and bigger, so I started visiting Roberto at his factory as much as I could, just to watch how to make the boards and to help somehow, doing simple things. I think that Roberto and Emo (his father) were impressed by my passion, so one day they asked me if I wanted to start working inside the custom factory. I felt that this was a great opportunity, because I really like to learn new things, and even if I had no idea about what to expect, I was pretty excited for this new challenge.
I started in the RRD custom factory as a simple worker, and then after a few years Roberto asked me to shape a board from scratch. So I started shaping boards in 1997 and in a very short time I became the shaper behind all the RRD range. This was like the golden age of windsurfing, with Roberto attending events with his top riders, Anders Bringdal and Josh Angulo, so in a very short time I started meeting and developing boards with a lot of the big names in windsurfing, testing our boards from Maui to Cape Town and everywhere the wind was blowing! This pimped a lot my designing, shaping and riding skills and gave me a lot of motivation to keep improving to give them the best boards ever. Believe me, to satisfy their request and to sail with them was a huge motivation!
Then in 2006 I stopped with RRD to follow one of his top riders in Maui, with the goal to work in his factory and to keep improving my skills in the windsurf mecca, learning where everything has started, to further my shapes and my boards. But when you think that you’re living the best moments of your life, the bad news is always around the corner!
After 4 months of full work on the development of prototypes, and when the new board range was already in production, the new company decided to fire me. So I found myself jobless in Maui with my girlfriend, with all the economic problems of living on that island, after having stopped the work of my life with Roberto!
As you can imagine I was completely pissed off, and I came back to Italy with the idea to stop everything about windsurfing and start working again in a restaurant. This misadventure completely destroyed my dreams, my passion and my motivation.
But this time it was Roberto Ricci himself who came to me and offered me the opportunity for a new job, but not to make boards, only to help his father and him restore their house. I thought that was a good opportunity to clean my mind and after a while he employed me again in his custom board factory. One year later I was back in my old job, shaping again all of the board range.
For me this was the biggest lesson of my life: when you think you are at the top, then something can always happen that makes you touch the bottom the day after, and it’s not important how many times you need to stand up again after falling, but how strong you will be after!
Anyway, after all that, I decided to stay with Roberto as long as possible and give the company all my knowledge and dedication. Then after about 10 years as a designer and shaper in this top brand, after world titles and speed records (with Antoine Albeau), I felt it was time to start my own company, and thanks to the help of my friend and now business partner, Alberto Possati, I’m CEO and shaper of AV-Boards.
When I started shaping in 1997, everything was handmade. So I’m used to starting from zero with the blank, using only my hands and my eyes. From 2006 CAD programs and CNC machines arrived in the windsurf industry, and this allowed us to save time, energy and sweat! So from 2006, CAD-CAM technology has helped me in the design and shaping process, but in the end, also today my hands and eyes are the way I use to check and tune the final shape, according my feelings and my knowledge. So the boards are never exactly as the original CAD files, but that’s the way I like to work! I still design and make by myself all the prototypes to test with my team, and then I send to the final production factory only the boards that I want to put into production. I still have many requests to produce custom boards, but honestly, since it’s a “one man band” custom factory, actually I’m fully focused on producing the best prototypes to put the best boards into production!
For about 25 years I have shaped and developed boards with some of the best riders in windsurfing. This is the way I’m used to working and this is the way I keep working. So even if mine is still a very small brand, I decided to invest all I can into a bunch of special and very motivated riders, that are also good friends of mine, such as Alex Mussolini and Jacopo Testa, who are my reference for wave and freestyle boards. Then there is a living legend such as Bjorn Dunkerbeck, who needs no introduction and has always good advice for me. Obviously he’s my reference for everything, but especially for boards that glide fast on the water, together with my speed-slalom test team composed of the flying Dutchman Twan Verseput, Dirk Doppenberg and Italian race legend Andrea Cucchi.
The R&D process is always the same from years before – I collect feedback from my distributors about the products I should provide them to suit their market needs, and from my team riders if there is something to improve in the boards we already have in collection, I pull out the board’s file and start designing according to all this feedback. Then I put a blank on the CNC machine and I make a new board to test. Lately it has been pretty difficult to travel, so usually I meet the team in Italy in Lake Garda, where we can test and tune the prototypes, and when we are satisfied we send the boards for production. Otherwise I can send the protos to the guys in Holland. Alex and Jacopo usually come to my custom factory to design and make their protos and then we go testing somewhere in Maremma or Sardinia, depending the forecast. For many years I have developed boards with Alex and Jacopo, so we have a special feeling.
Well, actually we made our production board range in Vietnam, in the Kinetic factory. I choose this factory because I know that their production process can make the difference. I had the opportunity to go to their factory to tune the production for a couple of other brands, because when I started my own company, AV-Boards, I also worked freelance, and I developed and followed the production of the slalom range for Simmer and then the slalom and foil range for Future Fly.
I always have been looking for a factory able to put into production my boards with a custom process and with the best technology, and I found that Kinetic was the right one for my needs, since they are able to follow up the construction of every board in a really customized production process.
All my slalom and speed boards are full sandwich 90 kg/m3, with stringer double sandwich and carbon layers under the feet, and carbon BX reinforcements under the whole step zone to the mast track. We use 3 axis carbon to give the right stiffness, depending on the board features and its program. The bottom is reinforced with double sandwich stinger plus carbon to keep the same shape after years of heavy use.
Wave to freestyle boards are made with full sandwich 90 kg/m3, double sandwich under the pads, carbon reinforcements, double sandwich bottom stringer carbon on the deck and carbon Kevlar, carbon and glass layers on the bottom. For the finish, I use surfing hot coat technology with epoxy pigmented resin to reduce the paint, and the final weight is 250 grammes less!
My boards are built to last! Just to give you an idea, it’s 2 years in a row that Jacopo Testa has used the same production boards – the Turn 94 and 103, both to train and to compete (2nd at 2021 EFPT Podesdorf) and they still look super good! And as you know Jacopo is not just super stylish, but also a super radical freestyler used to destroying his boards from pulling out monster air Kabis and all the power freestyle tricks.
In the end I think that the most important factor when you start a new board design is your knowledge, your experience and your know-how on how everything works together. This way when you put any kind of features on a new shape (concaves, vee, outline details, etc.) you already know how this could work on the water, and then when you go to test you check if you were right or if there is something more that you can do to reach your goal. For 25 years I have developed boards for every kind of windsurfing program (from beginners to World Cup shapes), so I start from having years of experience, designs and data files that help me to improve my next shapes.
I really love surfing and surfing is the sport that in my opinion allows to a shaper to express the best of his artistic side, because there are countless ways and styles to ride the same wave, and as well countless board shapes allowing any style of riding. That’s why surfing shapes and waterlines are the thing that influences the most my windsurfing shapes. When I look at the best surf shapes, I can see the perfect balance between volume distribution, thin rails and tail, and waterlines, according a perfect drop shape to generate the perfect water flow. To put this in perfect balance for a board, is the real art of shaping.
I think that actually the first and best selling point for my boards is the factory where we make our production boards. Believe me, I decided to go for production boards only when I found a factory able to produce every one of my boards better than me. This is my task, because I really hate to hear customers complaining about production mistakes. Actually Kinetic is the only factory able to suit all my needs. All the boards of the AV-Boards range are top quality boards and shapes. We want to give longterm value to our boards, that’s why we give a 2 years warranty on them. I want AV-Boards to become the most wanted because of all their values on the shape, construction, graphics, appeal, longterm value, etc.
When you spend more than £2000 for a board, your board has to last the same for years. Then when you are tired, you can sell it and the board has to keep this value, so it is still good to be used for years. My philosophy is to sell only the best quality boards and to update the board range only if there is a real upgrade in board shape or construction. We kept the same range for the first 2 years of AV-Boards and in 2022 we’ll introduce the new range, after 2 years of development.
We’re living in a kind of revolution in windsurfing due to foiling. Now we’re able to glide and fly in super light winds to medium-high winds. Foiling also allowed the development of winging and this new discipline is generating short boards that can crossover to multiple sports as well (SUP, surf, wing, wind). I think that we’re going to use very soon new hybrid shapes able to give great flying sensations and can be used both with foils or fins, depending on the wind strength or the wave size. I’m shaping and using boards for winging and I really like it, because this discipline allows me to learn new things and to expand my experience.
All this said, windsurfing wise the real slice of the market is still looking for real easy to use performance windsurfing boards, so I think that will be the real future for board designs, focusing on simplicity. More and more, riders will be able to jump on their new board and feel from the very first go, like they have always ridden it. This is the touch I love to put into my shapes.
AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY
Windsurfing has given me the opportunity to learn, work, travel, meet new people and to discover the world. And after nearly 25 years, windsurfing for me is still an incredible opportunity to learn, to do the work that I love, to face new challenges, to travel (hopefully more than in the last couple of years!), to meet new and interesting people and to keep discovering the world! That’s why I’m still so in love with it!
Still, when I’m riding a windsurf board, I’m completely in love with its wind driven engine, allowing me to play with the forces of nature, the water, the sea, the waves and the wind. Session after session and year after year, all these feelings are stronger than ever.
My first trip to Maui was a very memorable windsurfing experience and then the first time I landed an aerial off-the-lip in Ho’okipa… it was probably about my 8th trip to the island, and to land it at this mythical spot in the windsurfing Mecca, for me it was like earning my windsurfing degree!
Another incredible windsurfing experience for me was attending the last edition of the Lüderitz Speed Challenge (a couple of years ago), achieving 45 knots of average speed on the 500 metre course and over 48 knots top speed at my first speed competition. This event was mind blowing, I met fantastic people and the atmosphere between the riders was just unique. The whole event was an unbelievable experience! It was great also on the professional side, because I really learnt a lot working “in the field” at such a high level speed contest, riding my own speed boards. Moreover, many riders on my speed boards broke lots of speed records. When I came home I was in seventh heaven!
Windsurfing and windsurfers are funny, so I have too many funny stories, but probably the one that I like the most is the first time I met Alex Mussolini. He came to Grosseto to sign with RRD and to make a few custom boards to attend upcoming PWA wave events. I decided to let him stay at my house, and we spent the next 2 months shaping boards and testing during the day, and playing “PlayStation” and watching films during the night. This way we had a really great time; both of us enjoyed to the max his long stay in Grosseto! I perfected my English, we made great boards and we became best friends ever since! That’s also why Alex is still riding for me!
Well, as I told you, my worst windsurfing experience was when I found myself in Maui, jobless, moneyless and with all my dreams broken. This was my worst experience ever and completely erased my windsurfing passions and dreams. Then luckily things changed!
To tell the truth, probably Roberto (Ricci) has always been the one who inspired me the most. I became a shaper thanks to his friendship and following his path, he gave me a second opportunity after my “Maui disaster”, and this allowed me to come back to windsurfing and shaping, and after all that he well understood when I told him for the second time that I have to follow my path and to start my own company (also because he did the same when he was young!). And now that I’m managing my own company, I’m finally understanding many of the things that he told me and tried to explain to me over the years when I was his shaper. I have great respect for him and for the brand he has been able to build thanks to his talent and vision. It’s always a pleasure to catch up with him when we meet on the beaches around Grosseto!
I love wave riding and freestyle, so that’s what I do every time the wind starts blowing and waves start pumping. But actually during summer time, it’s wing foiling that is giving me a great motivation to go on the water almost every day, to test boards and foils and learn new things.
When you windsurf over 35 knots, one of the things that is very important is the board balance on the water, so I watch how a board stays in the water when the rider goes over this speed. How the nose lifts and by how much, how the board accelerates with the wind gusts and how does the water flow. I evaluate all these things to understand what I have to tune in the shape to make the board work better, easier and so faster. The experience I had in Lüderitz has been super important and the feedback of my riders is also important to know how to change volume distribution and board balance to make the boards even easier to sail at high speed and faster.
ALL-TIME FAVOURITE BOARD
Actually one of my all-time favourite boards is my last freestyle board, the AV-Boards “The Turn”, since it’s so far my best freestyle board ever and I’m a kind of a freestyle freak!
But since wave riding is my real passion, I have to tell you that the RRD Wave Twin is still my all-time favourite board! This was the first production twin fin shape that I designed, it was a really successful board range, and this shape always gave me great memories on every wave session I had on it, from Italy to Maui.