“Honestly, I have no clue how I got here, I didn’t plan to become who I am but sort of grew into it, but it’s perfect… It feels right!” Spandan Banerjee exclaims about his latest venture. As the creator of India’s very first longboard handcrafting company, Tattva, it’s not surprising that 27-year-old has found inspiration in many an unlikely place. A consummate thrill-seeker Banerjee credits everything from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for piquing his interest in skating and surfing, to the Swat Cats and Talespin for making him realise he wanted to fly, but clearly the heroes in a half shell have a lot to answer for. As a child he was always fascinated by how things worked and he loved meeting new people and building new skills. As an adult this translated into a degree in Mechanical Engineering with the intent to design and work with aircrafts. He later earned his commercial pilot’s license and went on to become a flight instructor. It was at this point he took up surfing, chasing waves early in the morning before teaching for 7 hours and then heading back to the beach for a sunset session.
He tried to find a way to balance his love for surfing and flying but when he was teaching in Orissa, he realised the surfing was quickly becoming the main joy in his life and decided to quit his job and pursue it full time. He and his friends started the India Surf Festival a few months later and that’s when he knew things were going to work out. It wasn’t long before his need to learn new things kicked in again and he became involved with longboarding. He learnt the art of constructing the wooden boards from his friend Lukas who he met during a month long surf camp in Orissa and the two of them decided to go into business which is when Tattva boards was born, the first and currently, only, company in India that presses and hand crafts boards. They use Indian wood and aim to design products that are of the highest quality so they can bring the feeling of surfing a wave onto concrete.
Homegrown decided to get inside the mind of this tireless adventurer and find out what makes him tick.
HG: Whether it’s the air, water or earth you seem to love challenging the elements. What for you are life’s greatest thrills?
SB: Well, first off, I won’t say I enjoy challenging the elements – it’s more like being able to harness their energy and learn from them, play and even dance with them. And how ever cheesy this may sound, but life itself has or is the greatest thrill. So many ups and downs, so many obstacles, so many mysteries and even secret shortcuts along the way. But by far, the sweetest or most memorable experience was this one chapter in my life when I was learning two skills simultaneously – learning how to land a seaplane and building a wooden surfboard all while experiencing the phenomenon of autumn or fall for the first time.
HG: Now you’ve added craftsman to your list of accolades, what prompted you to trade the mantle of daredevil for that of an artist?
SB: Haha, daredevil? – I’m actually quite a cautious and a “fattu” kinda guy. I stay away from stupid shit!
If it’s surfing you’re talking about, then surfing is more of an art form than a sport for me – there’s nothing daring at all! But it’s a way to express yourself and bring out your inner child. Maybe I’m decent at it and I can say that now, but I truly feel that way. And I felt the same with flying. There is grace in the way you choose to maneuver something that weighs a tonne but still can have the agility of a seagull. I fixated on that, I wanted to explore all the possibilities of flying and maneuvering through air and water, but somehow things didn’t work out. I believed flying seaplanes was the only thing that I wanted to do and being creative with my hands, building boards and then riding them would be for my days off. But things didn’t go the way I had planned.
I knew that I enjoyed working with my hands and being physical or even physically challenged. And alongside, there has also always been a need to feel creative and express myself. So making boards, for now skateboards and in the future surfboards seem to be the most natural way to be able to do that. So, in that sense, I haven’t really traded anything. I’m just finding or trying to find balance.
HG: As an engineer you already had the technical knowledge, but what were the biggest challenges and learning curves involved when Tattva was setting out.
SB: Biggest challenge has surely been me doing all of this alone. I’ve had to figure it all out myself. Sure, I have my family and some really good friends who’ve supported and pushed me; without whom I wouldn’t be where I am. But it’s actually been me – battling my own ego or being able to truly believe in myself that has been the biggest challenge. It’s something very simple, something very primal that we all are faced with at some point in our life. I’ve had multiple battles and argument within myself about what it is that I truly want and need! It just seemed tougher because I’m trying to do something that is the first of it’s kind in India.
HG: What types of boards will you be making and what sort of process goes into their creation?
SB: As of now, I’m going to continue with skateboards and longboards. Tattva boards are certainly pieces of art and there is a lot of heart and soul that go into them. I enjoy learning about people, what their interests are, what makes them who they are and how they want to express that, all while riding a board. There’s no science to my process, but I try and understand what I can from my clients and try to translate everything they are and want to be into the boards I make for them. I try and give people an extension of themselves that they can then ride.
HG: Tattva is hitting the market at a time when boarding in all its avatars is really moving to the foreground of youth culture. What elements do you aim to bring to the scene?
SB: My work is simple. Tattva makes quality handcrafted boards tailored to your needs and preferences with soul in it. Although skating might be a cool thing right now it is the most accessible board sport in India. I’m not catering to a trend but I’m working on strengthening it’s foundations and culture.
HG: If you could envision an ideal future for the Indian skate scene what would it be and what would be Tattva’s starring role in it?
SB: Predicting the future is always risky business. If there is one lesson I’ve learnt in my life, It’s that you have no idea what will really happen. However, I’ve experienced beautiful things come together, from places you wouldn’t expect. Let the scene grow as it is – organically. As for Tattva boards – I love surfing & skating and beautiful craftsmanship. My boards are more personal – If you want a regular skate deck, then you can always go onto flipkart and buy the cheapest board available. But you come to me if you want something more organic, something with soul – like I said earlier, perhaps an extension of your own self!
Today Spandan and his hardworking team are immersed in creating and promoting Tattva and their carefully crafted products. They are slowly building up quite a fan following and have lots of new projects and collaborations in store for the future, although they’re keeping them secret for the time being.
Words: Shireen Jamooji