Be warned people, today The Surf Nomad is sporting some serious wood.
No, not like that! We are talking about wooden surfboards.
*Jeeze get your minds out of the gutter would you?
Sustainable Surfboard building can be sexy.
Of Course, we at The Surf Nomad know that wooden boards are nothing new, they have been around for thousands of years but the ones we are talking about are not just something that looks like your mother’s ironing board that has been hacked out of a tree and thrown in the water. These are precision made surf craft wrought by the hands of superior craftsmen who have turned their backs on petrochemical processes in favour of something more ecologically sustainable.
Each of builders that we feature here is from a different corner of the globe and has adopted different materials and production methods but they are all attempting to achieve a single goal. To build longer lasting surfboards that ride as sweet as they look and wont be clogging up a landfill in a year’s time. As far as The Surf Nomad can tell they are doing a pretty good job.
Going with the Grain
Hailing from the state of Main in the USA, Grain Surfboards create complete boards, as well as kits and plans for home builders. Their boards are of hollow construction with a skin of local softwood wrapped around a fishbone (aircraft wing?) framework that is then fibreglassed with Entropy Resins’ eco friendly Super Sap epoxy.
Check the face on Rasta in this video when he opens up his little care package from Grain. Stoked much?
On the opposite end of the North American continent, based in San Francisco is Danny Hess. The Surf Nomad first heard of Danny on www.Swaylocks.com an amateur board building community site. He used to build houses and now he builds boards and he has come up with a very unique construction method that he calls a Perimeter Frame formed “using a system of moulds and templates that consistently create each board’s outline, foil, and rocker”.
Putting into words how this process works is something best left to Mr Hess himself but suffice it to say The Surf Nomad reckons they look RAD. He uses Salvaged Redwood, Fir,Cedar for tail blocks, renewable timbers like poplar and cork for the rails with Fir, Poplar, and walnut for the deck and bottom skins. Like the gang at Grain his boards are glassed with Entropy Bioresins. You can see his floating works of art here on his website.
Check out this vid of Danny at work in the Shaping Bay and cracking a few frosty San Fran peaks.
Where is Vinny O’Halloran when we need him most?
If ever there was a guy that is going the way of the Surf Nomad it is Vincent O’Halloran. Located somewhere in the wilds of Ireland, Vinny has spent the last 5 years carving out the most amazing rides from beautiful, locally sourced hardwood timbers (much of which is from fallen trees that might otherwise have ended up in people’s fireplaces). The Surf Nomad found the following video on YouTube as we were researching this piece and when we saw it we had to find out more about this enigmatic Irishman. We managed to track Mr O’Halloran to his blog where we found what he said will be his last post dated Friday, 19 September 2014.
The Surf Nomad is not sure what has happened to Vincent. Just that he has stopped posting on his blog about what it would appear may have been a major breakthrough in terms of sustainable surfboard development. In his “final” blog post he mentions the unique concept he has developed for hollow wooden “monocoque” surfboard construction. AS we read his words it seemed to us that he is resigned to the belief that the surfing industry is on a path of greed fuelled destruction that his humble efforts are not capable of stopping.
We at The Surf Nomad often have similar thoughts to Mr Vincent O’Halloran. We have reached out to him via email hoping to hear back from him and find out more about his amazing, innovative board building methods but at the time of writing we had not received a reply.
Vincent, if you are out there reading this man just know this. The path of The Surf Nomad is a rocky one. Sometimes you have to walk it alone but rest assured as you keep on travelling you will come upon people that feel the same way you do. It may not be enough to change the world but it might give you some heart.
Watch Irish Surf Legend, Fergal Smith, Charging Aisleen’s on one of Vinny’s boards
Surfers in Ireland may have balls o’ steel but Mark Riley has balsa wood
Aussie Mark Riley based out of Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is a slightly different kettle of fish. He works in Balsa wood which he imports all the way from Ecuador and mills himself. His boards can be solid or chambered balsa or balsa skinned EPS foam. He also Supplies Blanks or “balsa sticks” for builders at quite reasonable prices if you feel like getting your hands dirty. You can read more about Mark’s work or order a custom board from his online store
Check out Tracks Magazine’s road test of one of Mark’s Fish here
Tequila? Rocking board!
Thomas Scott from Brazil Makes boards out of the same desert plants that provide us with the makings of Tequila. The Agave plant sometimes known as a Century Plant has a lifecycle that sees it grow to maturity bloom once and then die. When it blooms it produces a large tree like flower structure from its centre that can reach up to 20 feet in height. Once the plant has dropped its seeds it will wither and die leaving behind it the dead plant structure that Thomas uses for his boards.
When The Surf Nomad Saw this video we started keeping an eye out for flowering Agave and found a small grove locally that could provide enough material for several boards, the problem is that they are in an unreachable position on a ledge approximately half way up a 200 foot cliff. We haven’t had the balls to scale it yet but if we do end up getting our hands on the things rest assured we will let you know.
In the mean time check out Thomas in this short Documentary about his work.
The Surf Nomad believes that the surfing industry as it stands today is at odds with itself. As a pastime that demands close communion with nature, we believe it is one of most mind boggling contradictions that the very vehicles that enable that immersion in nature are so counter to everything that surfing stands for (once stood for). We don’t imagine that we are going to see wooden boards appear in the Triple Crown any time soon but that doesn’t stop us dreaming.
Until Next Time