Benjamin Cantera ’22 learned to surf on the coast of Spain.
A high school student at the time, Cantera grew up in Maryland and had never gone surfing before. On a trip to Spain with classmates, however, he stayed at a surf camp and spent hours in the water, waiting for the right wave and, if he was fortunate to find one, feeling the power of the ocean as it pushed him along, hurtling him through space.
Suddenly, Cantera found something, a sport filled with grace, beauty, and thrills, that he didn’t know he had been looking for. He was hooked. “I have to do this again,” he thought to himself. “I have to continue to feel this feeling.”
When Cantera came home from Spain, the sport became a big part of his life. Two months after the trip, he began the process of making his own surfboard. A woodworking enthusiast, he spent hour upon hour gluing, finishing, and bending into shape his own 8-foot board.
This semester, Cantera brought his passion for surfing to Babson’s popular senior-led seminars, a program that allows seniors to teach a noncredit, five-week class on their interests to their fellow students. Besides Cantera’s surfing course, which covered everything from finding a good surfing spot to the basics of standing on a board, senior-led seminars this semester included offerings on leadership, design, and cooking.
“Sharing my passion for surfing is super fulfilling,” Cantera says. “There is nothing like catching a wave. It is a unique experience that I cannot relate to anything else.”
A Day at Sea Is Never Bad
Outside the Weissman Foundry on a recent Wednesday evening, Babson’s campus is cold and snowy. Inside, though, the talk is of oceans and waves and lazy days in the sun.
“I’m excited for this class,” Cantera says to the dozen or so seminar students gathered before him. Behind Cantera, resting against the wall, is a variety of different sized surfboards, including the one he built, its front covered in the wax that helps surfers keep a firm footing while they’re riding a wave.
While some in the class have never surfed before, others seem like the members of a secret club, happy to gather in the dead of winter and bond with others who know what it’s like to paddle out in search of exhilaration.
Will Davis ’25 is one of them. He likes how peaceful and in the moment one feels on the water. “It’s almost like a meditation,” says Davis, who enjoys surfing along Cape Cod. “Time passes, and you don’t even realize it.”
Rafael da Fonte Freire is an exchange student at nearby Olin College, but he felt compelled to attend the seminar once he heard about it. He loves to surf in his native Brazil and says the sport is addictive. “When you catch your first-ever wave, it’s ingrained in your memory,” he says. “It’s magical.”
To be a good surfer, he says, one must accept the fickleness of Mother Nature. You may wake up at 4 a.m. and hurry to the beach, in search of perfect waves in the dawn’s early light, but you may very well find that there aren’t many to be had that day. “That’s just the way it goes,” he says. “You only become a surfer if you are OK with that. If you are mad at that, you won’t surf for long.”
Time in the sun and water should always be appreciated, no matter how many waves you catch. “A day at sea is never bad,” he says.
Lasts a Lifetime
On this particular Wednesday evening, Cantera talks about the process of making his surfboard. He begins class by discussing the basics of boards, such as what they’re made out of (wood or a combination of fiberglass and foam), their key features (the “rocker” is the curve of a board), and the design of their frame (“They’re built like an airplane wing.”).
Cantera built his wooden board from a $800 kit he purchased from a Maine company that makes hand-built boards. Just because it was a kit, however, didn’t mean it was easy to put together. It took him about 60 hours to complete, and that was with the help of his younger brother and sister. “This is something that really challenged me,” he says. “It’s not something you should dive into if you don’t have experience working with wood.”
Woodworking was an interest of his dad’s, so Cantera and his siblings grew up with it. Their father once bought a Chesapeake Bay workboat and spent 10 years fixing it up. Cantera finds woodworking calming, not unlike the feeling of being on the water. “I love working with wood and working with my hands,” he says. “It allows me to be creative. Your possibilities are only limited by your ability.”
Cantera worked on his surfboard in the family garage. At the seminar, he describes gluing pieces of wood together and then using an army of clamps, dozens of them, to hold the pieces in place. He talks about having to steam wood to bend it in place on the frame, and in the classroom, he uses a clothes iron and a wet rag to demonstrate heat’s effect on wood. “It breaks down the fibers so they’re more malleable,” he tells the class.
And, he discusses giving the board an epoxy finish. “It makes it look shiny and flawless,” he says. “It makes it look like candy. You just want to touch it.”
The fruit of all that labor, his finished board looking sturdy and sleek, rests against the wall of the Foundry classroom behind him. One can picture it cutting through the water. “This board should theoretically last me my whole life,” Cantera says.
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