AN INTERVIEW WITH SAVIOUR AQUILINA
BY SARAH THORNELY
Having known Sav for a few years now, I was lucky enough to put some questions to him about his life, career and family – with a dream location in Christchurch and a fast-growing business; I hope you enjoy reading his story.
Can you tell us a little bit about where you were brought up, and was there any water experience/sport in your life as a youngster?
My name is Saviour Aquilina – I am half Maltese but grew up in sunny Grays, Essex. We didn’t have much water in our lives in the early days growing up, and unfortunately, Grays wasn’t blessed with the greatest beach (on the River Thames). My two brothers and I were always up to something, whether good or bad, but as a child, I couldn’t get enough of the grimy Thames water! I think you could say water mad; perhaps I got this from my Mediterranean father’s roots. We also had a local lake, Grangewaters, where I used to go in the school holidays and with a Cub Scout group, participating in kayaking, canoeing and adventure activities.
What was your profession before you became involved in SUP?
I was a boat builder at Sunseeker International for ten years, manufacturing superyachts from 40 to 155 feet based in Poole, Dorset. I also was lucky enough to travel abroad carrying out yacht repairs. My last project was to work on Eddie Jordan’s 155 ft masterpiece BLUSH. I worked on this project from the first day it started until we finished on a two-year build. I highly recommend to any youngster who isn’t sure what to do as a career, learn a trade, get experience while working out what you would like to do with your life – it will all fall into place.
How did you get involved in SUP, and how long have you been paddling?
SUP SUP SUP Wowza! It is crazy to try and think back to when I first started, as it is such a big thing in my life now, but I think it was around 2011 when I first got on a paddleboard. I hired one from a local surf shop; I couldn’t stand up, so I proned it in some chop. I wouldn’t say I was immediately hooked as I preferred to surf and bodyboard. It wasn’t until I started repairing boards and I met a local grind crew BaySUP – without them knowing, they showed me a new way of thinking, a new direction and a new freedom – this changed my life.
Do you paddle for leisure, racing, adventure or all three? Did you compete in the GBSUP National Series – how did you find it?
I love all types of SUP, but most of all, race, surf and, more recent, foil surfing. I have taken part in the GBSUP National Series races in 2018 and 2019. I placed 7th in the flat-water series in my age category in 2019 and 6th in the UK Sprint Championships 2019.
When did you transfer your passion for SUP into a business?
In 2011, a friend asked me to repair his surfboard. It wasn’t a pretty job, or so I thought – after this, I seemed to have a queue of watersports people asking me to repair their crafts. I was doing this while still working at Sunseekers in my spare time, so I made a Facebook page and website called Saviour Board Repairs. After a year or so, I decided to make some surfboards and SUPs – everything I made I would sell. After three years of absolute graft (2014), sacrifice and passion, I knew I could make the leap of faith and leave my safe and secure career at Sunseeker. My first workshop had a leaky roof and a rotting door – you could say this was an overpriced shed, but I was living the dream.
Can you tell us how your business has evolved over the last few years?
I moved into a new workshop in a marina in 2017 and expanded my board repair/board shaping/manufacturing, and employed a local legend, small wave logger Andy to help out. We started getting boards coming to us from all over the UK – I was hand shaping 14-foot raceboards and playing with shapes which felt like a hobby rather than a job, creating, shaping, glassing and finishing boards; I learnt a lot. I made some shockers and some great boards but was always learning and moved forward.
I had a great location waterside in Christchurch, Dorset, so I started teaching paddleboarding, renting boards and selling my boards along with boards I would buy, repair, care for and sell. In 2019 Nick Watt, a friend, The SUP Store owner, BaySUP chairman and GBSUP race organiser, asked me if I would like to take over from The SUP Store, which had an excellent reputation and was a dealer for Starboard and Red Paddle Co.
After a year, I needed a more accessible shop/workshop, which I was fortunate enough to acquire. I am now in our current location based on the stunning River Avon with The SUP Store, The SUP School and Saviour, with some fantastic people helping me.
SAVIOUR – CREATE – CARE – REPAIR is evolving, and we want to help watersports enthusiasts prolong the life of their equipment, so watch this space for new products and how-to videos.
You are in a beautiful part of the world – why is IT perfect for your business and what are the local highlights for paddling around that area?
Based on The River Avon, Christchurch, Dorset, we are literally on the river, or should I say in the river on a high tide in the winter! There is a nice long stretch to explore up the river, passing the Christchurch Priory and a wildlife packed run. It is also a 15-minute paddle away from the river mouth to the open ocean on the south coast. We are lucky to have plenty of surfing locations, sandy beaches and waterways sheltered from the elements. This is great for business, and we really would like to promote using the local waterways, taking in the scenery and leading a healthy life.
You have recently celebrated the first birthday of your son Sonny – how has having a family impacted your life and business?
My BOOYYYY – what a kid, a pure lockdown baby, so only recently has he started meeting family and friends, so we have had a few tears as he now knows more than his parents exist. It has been a challenging year for many reasons, and the guys who know me know what I mean, but this little guy makes me smile and drives me on to be the best dad I can be.
Sleepless nights, early starts, and all that a baby brings takes it out of you, so my late/early working hours and paddling have taken a hit. I will not be winning any GBSUP medals in 2021, so the taking part counts now – business hasn’t been affected as I have a great crew working with me who I can trust.
Have you made positive life or business changes due to lockdown?
I think lockdown has made many people, including me, acknowledge what is important in their life – health, positivity, freedom and respect, I feel are the main characteristics – it has made me realise who is there for me in my life and business. Luckily for me, the business has been in the right industry to help people enjoy the local waterways, be healthy and outdoors.
What other watersports are you involved in?
Sea swimming or dipping is a new relaxation and mindfulness exercise I have recently started; I am also a part of the Bournemouth Outrigger Canoe Club, although COVID restrictions have limited this. I love to SUP surf and am starting to learn sup foiling and winging.
Do you sponsor individuals or clubs, and why do you think it is important to support them?
I sponsor Ryan James through The SUP Store and SAVIOUR. He is one of the leading UK OC and SUP athletes, so I want to make sure his kit is cared for so it performs as it should – he inspires and motivates many other water athletes and leisure paddlers, and we applaud this.
We offer a discount to our local BaySUP club members, which feeds new blood into our sport, so it’s the least I can do.
Are you constantly evolving your business, and do you have any exciting changes about which you can tell us?
We have an ever-evolving demo fleet at The SUP Store with plenty of adventure paddles planned with The SUP School and exciting new products and videos from SAVIOUR. These will help you prolong, care, and repair your water equipment – look after your board, and it will look after you and stop boards going to landfill. I have products, DIY repair kits with videos on how to do this, along with lots of other ideas on how to stop boards from deteriorating.
When teaching SUP or other watersports, what do you think is essential within that lesson apart from the fun aspect!
Safety – safety – safety, of course, is number one – if in doubt, don’t go out – wearing the correct leash is vital. We educate through experience, knowledge and passion.
For me, water efficiency is key, the water isn’t our natural habitat, so if you fight it, you will lose.
Are there people you would like to thank in your business or family life who have supported you?
My beautiful other half Stacey who puts up with me, of course.
Our local club BaySUP and the local grind crew who inspired me showed me a new way of living and give me confidence in what I now do; they know who they are.
To all my awesome customers and the growing SUP community for finding the froth.
We think Sav is a new kind of #supjunkie, finding a new passion and business that works for him, his employees and his family – we look forward to watching his brand and business grow. If ever you are down Dorset way, go and check out his store and the local waters – you will not be disappointed.
See the full interview here!