Pioneering surfer and board manufacturer from Bayonne, France; inventor, in the late 1970s, of the computerized surfboard-shaping machine. "He was one of the sport's foremost innovators in shaping and design," fellow surf industrialist Gordon Clark said of Barland in 1993. "For many years, any person seriously interested in surfboard construction was in regular contact with Michel."
Barland was born (1929) in Bayonne, grew up in the nearby beach resort town of Biarritz, and in 1957 became one of France's original surfers. A goofyfooter with a taste for big waves, he placed runner-up in both the 1960 and 1962 French Surfing Championships, and won the 1962 European Championships.
Barland graduated from the Brejuet School in Paris (now ESIEE Paris) in 1954 with a degree in mechanical engineering, and returned to Bayonne to work in the family-owned machine shop. In 1957, he built his first surfboard, out of plywood, and soon after constructed the first European-made polyurethane foam board. The following year, along with fellow French surf pioneer and cabinetmaker Jacky Rott, Barland launched France's first boardmaking operation. Some boards were sold under the Barland label, some as Barland-Rott. A Barland Surfboards retail store opened in Biarritz in 1979
In 1959, Barland and wealthy Peruvian surfer Carlos Dogny founded the Biarritz-based Waikiki Surf Club, France's first surfing organization.
Barland became the European licensee for Clark Foam in 1968, and for decades to come the foam-making giant regularly incorporated Barland's design and equipment advances. He also worked on injection-molded boards and boards made from Styrofoam and epoxy resin.
The Barland factory was often used by traveling boardmakers while visiting France. Nat Young and Wayne Lynch both took their Barland-made boards straight from Europe to Puerto Rico for the 1968 World Surfing Championships. Renowned shapers Mike Diffenderfer and Tom Parrish also set up temporary shop in Barland's factory.
In 1979 Barland began to design a computerized shaping machine, and five years later he was able to key in 50 variables, press a button, and 13 minutes later have a mechanically shaped surfboard blank that required just a few minutes of additional fine sanding. By 1984, 1,500 boards had been made under the Barland Computer Pre-Shaped label—Barland himself designed and built the computers and board-shaping machinery. Not until the following decade would the rest of the world's boardmakers fully embrace computer-driven machine-made boards.
A quiet, intense man, congenial at times, Barland disliked long journeys, and traveled overseas just once during his lifetime. He died of a stroke in 1992 at age 63.
Surfer and boardmaker Philippe Barland, one Michel's eight children, has fronted Barland Surfboards since the 1980s. In 2015, Barland made two glossy black-and-white surfboards for Chanel, one of which was "ridden" by model Gisele Bündchen in a Chanel #5 commercial directed by Baz Luhrmann.