In a renovated stable of an old manor in the village of Mooste in Estonia a South African engages in manufacturing functional art by making exquisite bows by hand to the specifications of an array of clientele across the world.
A professional archer who won the South African championships in different disciplines 22 times in his life and a handful of international medals, Jaco Wessels gets to travel the world after turning a hobby into a career. Wessels has been fascinated with bows and arrows since the age of six when he got his first plastic set.
During an interview conducted while on visit to Polokwane last week for an extended visit to family and friends in South Africa, he recalls that a book on bow hunting changed his life at 15. Two to three months after joining the Iscor Archery Club in Pretoria where he studied geophysics in 1991, he got second position in the national championships.
In 1998 Wessels and two friends started making bows as a hobby while he was a carpenter in Hammanskraal, but went into the bow manufacturing business full-time ten years later. “It is my passion and I decided to rather do that than furniture.” Dad Flip, whose 80th birthday was the main attraction for the visit, quips that his son never wanted to do anything other than shooting and making bows. The younger Wessels has never looked back since.
His website contains reference to him becoming the first longbow archer in South Africa to be awarded the prestigious Protea Colours for 3D archery and thereafter he had the honours four more times, in both 3D and field archery. He has further managed to add five world medals to his name and a special medal from the International Field Archery Association (IFAA) for being an ambassador for the sport.
He took his business concern abroad after meeting wife Monika, a citizen of Estonia, in Germany in 2010 and relocating to her home country in 2014. She, too, is an archer of note who has taken silver and bronze medals respectively at IFAA World Field Championships in the USA in 2014 and last year’s World Bow Hunters Championships in Hungary. She laughingly attests to an estimated 20 bows lying around their house at any given point. They also have their own archery range on their premises back home which is solely for private use, they remark.
His line of business is such that he can conduct it from anywhere in the world, Wessels explains. In a heated workshop he works meticulously on each bow for up to 25 to 30 hours, manufacturing the instruments from synthetic material and wood which he predominantly gets from the Americas and Asia. Otherwise he uses rooibos from home, secured by his dad.
His clients are target archers who have taken top positions at international competitions and include Finnish three-time world champion Jarkko Lehtinen.
Flipping through the testimonials on his website, it is evident that the Wessels trade name has become synonymous with craftsmanship and quality in the archery industry internationally. Jaco Wessels is seemingly flying the South African flag high in a world of bows and arrows.
Story and photos: YOLANDE NEL