Brainchild: A surfboard studio passion project rekindled in Montreal's Sud-Ouest

Where Mitch Martin gets back to one of the founding ideas behind Little Burgundy's September Surf Café.

J.P. Karwacki

J.P. Karwacki

May 15, 2024- Read time: 5 min
Brainchild: A surfboard studio passion project rekindled in Montreal's Sud-OuestPhotograph: Logan Mackay / @lognamackya

Seeing surfboards at the September Surf café today won’t be unusual for anyone who’s known the place since its beginnings in 2016, but for Mitch Martin and the handmade surf shop Brainchild that supplies those boards, it’s coming full circle.

September was born with two of Mitch’s passions: Coffee and surfing. In September’s first two years, he was making surfboards in a small cubicle of a space that was visible from the entrance, with only a window offering a view into whatever he was building.

Today, that studio space has since been turned into a destination kitchen slinging everything from some of the best breakfast sandwiches in the city to pancakes, but what that studio represented was the beginnings of a hobby-turned-passion project burrowed in the back of Mitch’s mind ever since.

“Part of me was always like, how do we bring the surfing back into this?”

Now he’s back at it in an off-site studio in Saint-Henri, and bringing boards back onto the floor.

“One day I said ‘let's start a new brand, and I'll make some boards’. Now we're displaying them at the café, and it's just a labor of love, not a money-making scheme by any means—something that adds to the culture of September.”

So now, whenever people ask about how September Surf got its name, it’ll hopefully be a shorter story to tell.

“Being in the ocean and on the beach all day, there’s a Zen element to it. It’s connecting with nature. There’s a sense of feeling like a speck in the ocean, it humbles you, and it’s therapeutic too; coming out of the water and whether you caught any waves or not... you’d always be in such a good mood.”
Photograph: 정Chanyoung / @chanington

Fascinations, obsessions

Making surfboards for a decade now, experimenting with different shapes to see how they work, Mitch got his start with skateboarding and snowboarding.

During a visit to see his brother at the age of 20 in Australia, he was exposed to surf culture. “I would just go to the beach every day to figure it out back in 2000, and I got bit by the bug: Whenever I had the cash, I’d go to places like Central America, Costa Rica specifically,” he says.

“Being in the ocean and on the beach all day, there’s a Zen element to it. It’s connecting with nature. There’s a sense of feeling like a speck in the ocean, it humbles you, and it’s therapeutic too; coming out of the water and whether you caught any waves or not—even if, say, it’s in Maine and it’s freezing—you’d always be in such a good mood.”

“It was around then that I just wanted to make surfing part of my life, and that whatever I wanted to do, I wanted to integrate it.” 
Photograph: 정Chanyoung / @chanington

Gnarly trajectories

Living in Vancouver, Mitch was exposed to making surfboards, renting a garage to experiment with foam and fiberglass. That turned into his first project called Learning Curves, where others could learn about the craft. Approached by the San Diego-based Shaper Studios, they partnered up to create what was then Canada's first public surfboard workshop, where people could create their own with provided tools and instruction.

Bringing the concept to Montreal, Mitch knew he wanted to import coffee culture as well: “While I was out west, I got into that West Coast culture from Seattle and Portland. The cafes had a vibe to them,” he says. “So, I blended the two ideas, placing a studio inside of a café.”

“The two, in my mind, go hand in hand. You know, waking up and drinking lots of coffee well before you go surf and after, especially when you're surfing on the East Coast and you gotta drive all day to get there.”

Flash forward, and it’s now one of more active social spaces during the day on its strip in Little Burgundy.

“Everything happened organically,” Mitch says. “All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be a library—that was one thing I noticed out west, that cafes were more lively, with less people plugged into their laptops.”

Video: @brainchild_surf / Instagram

Back at the shop

“My work now with September is much more sort of like administrative and behind the scenes, and at the same time I can jump in the workshop and work on a few boards while I'm at it,” Mitch says of his workshop on Rue du Collège near Saint-Henri’s RCA Building, a place that doubles as a spot to house merch for September.

There's a lot of ways and many types of constructions of traditional surfboards, but Mitch and Brainchild focus on Styrofoam and fiberglass. Working with what manufacturers call surfboard blanks, it’ll then be sculpted into a desired shape, taking anywhere from 10 to 15 hours to finish one.

“I'm really trying to make boards that are for the surfers of Montreal that are either learning or are intermediate surfers, so boards that will have a little more volume which will help them catch way more waves.”

“I just make boards that I like making. That's kind of also where the name came from, as each is very much a brainchild, where it’s doing this or that shape with this or that color; just messing around and seeing what happens.”

The boards Mitch will sell are often to people he doesn’t know, he adds. Montreal may have its one wave by Habitat 67, but the city can also serve as somewhat of a homebase for surfers heading out to the East Coast. These days, Mitch himself surfs in Nova Scotia, having his own plot of land by the waves where he’s set up camp and can wait for waves.

Photograph: Ravi Handa / @rizmoon

“The community’s growing in Montreal, and it’s great to see. There's a couple of shapers in the city, and we all know each other. You see familiar faces at the surf events and when you go surf in the river. There's a welcoming inclusivity to it that I enjoy.”

Photograph: Logan Mackay / @lognamackya

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