From Normandy to Newport, Paul Lefevre, the Frenchman behind Son of Cobra, brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and passion to the worlds of cars and surfboards. Currently based out of Costa Mesa, Paul has found a rhythm and paved a way for himself to not only build but innovate in both scenes.

We had the opportunity to spend some time and go for a ride with Paul to talk about how he came to be so proficient at what he does and how he balances aesthetic and performance in his craft.

Photography by Jack Antal
What was your journey like in building both surfboards and cars?
I was born and raised in Normandy and got into windsurfing when I was really young. I loved that world and also always knew that I had a crafty side to me. I went to art school in Belgium and while I was there, I taught myself how to fix, paint, and eventually build surfboards.

After art school, I ended up going to Australia for a year with a working visa in hopes of getting a job shaping surfboards. I worked all up and down the coast there, learning a lot, failing a lot, and eventually came to be known as the Frenchman who was good at doing all kinds of colors and resin tints on boards. When I was done working in Australia, I came back to France and worked for myself and a few others like Pukas Surfboards. Along that time, I met Matt Biolos from Lost Surfboards at an event. He wanted me to come out to California to start doing some work, so I did and eventually moved out here after that.
When I had my feet planted in California, I kept working for Lost as a shaper as well as a designer, doing illustration and graphic design for their clothing department, all in addition to shaping for myself on the side. It was fun, but it was a lot. When I got tired of that, I started shaping my own boards and building cars full-time which is what I have been doing ever since.

On the automotive side, I had always been into cars from a young age. I would get my hands on old Fords and learn how to tinker with them. I thought it was so cool to fix cars, put bigger motors on them, and just have fun with it. I also always wanted a BMW 2002 and got one when I moved out here to California. That’s when I started playing around with all kinds of unconventional materials and processes that I typically use for building surfboards and began to make the wide body fenders for the BMW with all of that. The connection between the boards and the cars is actually very strong when you think about it. That quickly turned into doing whole body kits for BMW 2002’s all out of carbon fiber and selling those parts individually as well.
Where does your seemingly perfectionist trait come from and what inspires that kind of work?
I'm really picky and I'm never quite satisfied with what I'm doing. I always see the little errors in everything that I make. I’m chasing the perfect curve, the perfect everything. That's why I spend so much time trying to get everything clean and well done; I can't do a rushed job. And there’s always room for improvement instead of just trying to pump out more products.

Typically, when you look at surfboard shapers’ catalogs, they have so many different models, but I am the opposite of that. I try to make my catalog as small as possible, and I rarely introduce new models just for marketing's sake. My shapes are constantly being refined and improved to be the best that they can be. The same goes with the cars, always something to improve.

“ shapes are constantly being refined and improved to be the best that they can be. The same goes with the cars, always something to improve.”
Was your educational background more or less influential in your journey than the actual work you were doing with your hands?
I feel like everything is connected and everything you learn throughout time gives you some kind of skill. At some point you're going to use it, you know? But a lot of the techniques I use with building car parts come from building surfboards. Like taping off a surfboard—you have to be very careful and very consistent, just like you would do it with the car. It’s all connected.
Where do you find the balance between soul and innovation in building both cars and surfboards?
Yeah, it’s important not to overdo it. With the cars, you want to have the balance of upgrading the car with the modern management systems for the injection motor, bigger tires, better brakes, newer everything, but hiding all that new-ness and making it look like it could have been built back in the day. It's every little detail that counts and it also depends on the function of the part.

It’s the same thing with surfboards. I’m not going to put FCS II plugs on the Classic Twin—I make wood keels here in-house for that board. But on some boards like the Round Twin, I collaborate with Futures for a twin set. It just depends. But with surfboards, we don’t necessarily need to re-invent the wheel. It’s still the same resin, foam, and fiberglass since the sixties. We just make it better with technique and refinement.

As a man of so many interests and skills, how do you maintain such a significant breadth and depth of experience and expertise?
I think it's all the desire to make things better all the time and pushing the limit. I'm not doing this to be a super profitable business, it’s more about having fun in what I'm doing. That's why I'm struggling all the time haha. But yeah, I try to do what I like, make it happen, and then make it better. It’s the mentality of ‘I can tweak that, I can make that turn better, I can make that ride a little lower...’ With my boards, they’re always changing, sometimes three or four times throughout the year. Nobody sees it but I am constantly tweaking things to keep improving.
It’s hard to find the time to do it all but I also don’t have to drive to work every day, I don’t party much, and I work a lot on the weekends. When you really love what you do, pulling 12-13 hour days doesn’t matter. I’m so excited about it all the time. And I feel like for me, cars and surfboards are so similar—it’s just the toy. I surf a mountain road in the car, and I surf waves on the board. They're both about making turns.

“...I try to do what I like, make it happen, and then make it better. It’s the mentality of ‘I can tweak that, I can make that turn better, I can make that ride a little lower...”
What are some of the things you admire the most about living in California?
The car and surfing culture here is insane and there’s so much opportunity. There are shops, old Porsches, and classic cars everywhere and it’s sunny all the time, so we can drive all the classic cars whenever we want. It’s not quite the same back at home in France. And here, everything’s so close and so easy. Also, all of the surfboard industry is here, so I feel like I have a much better chance of doing what I love here than in France even if the cost of living is higher and I have to work harder. It’s worth it.
What's the ideal day through the eyes of Paul Lefevre?
Usually, I like to start with going for a drive in the car and going to the beach to check the waves. From there, I’d maybe surf or go get a coffee and a pastry, then go do some work on the cars. It depends on the day.