The first day of our May board-building class began Monday 6 May at Imhoff Farm Village in Kommetjie, Cape Town. Four guys, surrounded by paddocks of bleating goats, neighing horses and cool-looking camels got to grips with their chosen shapes – an 11′ longboard, a 6’4″ fish and two 6′.4″ eggs. Wood surfboard decks and bottoms where laminated, profiles cut and frames built and laminated to the wood. The consensus was that four very beautiful boards are going to come out of the workshop by Saturday when the course ends. The guys were stoked.
Tomorrow is a rail building day and it looks like there will be time for course participants to surf in between the glue drying. Yup, apart from building boards in a rural spot surrounded by mountains, we’re also close enough to cooking waves to allow for a surf in between the work.
Good news is that we have another course in June. Read about it here and sign up before it fills up.
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There are over 60 pieces of wood in the 5’4″ twin-keel hollow wooden fish in this video. This means that, at a minimum, over 100 cuts were made with different varieties of saws to get those pieces of wood to the right length and width. That’s to say nothing about planing the wood to the correct thickness, edging, hundreds of individual clamp applications, hand shaping of the rails, sanding through numerous grits of sandpaper, glassing, more sanding and final polishing. Take all of that graft away though, and essentially this surfboard was once a collection of rough planks on my workshop floor. And before that it was a tree, swaying naturally in the wind. Watching Alan and Simone Robb get to grips with the flex and flotation of wood, it seems like the timber’s memory of swaying in the wind has been given new life as the sway of the wind becomes the flow across the wave face.
For nearly a decade, The Empire in Muizenberg (check out website and facebook links) has been an institution, serving delicious chow and drinks to hungry surfers, tourists, bohemians, yuppies, locals, grannies, grampas and basically anyone who walks through the door.
Lately, there’s been a Groundswell hollow wooden surfboard hanging on the upstairs wall, complementing a longboard downstairs with a stunning resin tint and made by ‘berg shaper John Bramwell of Evenflow Surfboards. (It’s not only surfboards on the walls, by the way – there’s also stunning local photographs and interesting light hangings to have a squizz at while you enjoy your coffee kick).
Anyway, I’m stoked to have a board on the wall, but unfortunately it’s an order that’s awaiting pick-up and so I’m making a new board that owner Dave wants to have as a fixture on the wall, but also wants to take down from time to time for a paddle at Surfer’s Corner, a stone’s throw away.
Hard to imagine that the above pile of wood – recyclable off-cuts and near-rough pieces of different varieties of locally grown timber – is going to turn into a surfboard, but in about a month’s time it will be a 6’4″ quad fish with amazing wood grains to oggle. I’ll post pictures as it all comes together.
Just finished the woodwork on these two fish shapes. The one is a 6.0 and the other is a 7.4 – an interesting interpretation of the fish shape. This is the funny fish, destined for the stage with comedian Mark Sampson, as blogged about a few posts ago, but also certain to see some water time, knowing Mark’s enthusiasm for surfing. Mark, if you’re out there somewhere, there ain’t no surf in JHB dude!
Here’s a selection of hollow wooden surfboard shapes, from a 5.6 egg shape that is just about finished right through to a 9.6 gun. It’s a good time to post a picture showing all the boards together because this website was two years old in August and Groundswell Surfboards as a journey in wood surfboard making is now four years old.
It seemed crazy to start making and riding wood surfboards and four years later it still seems crazy, but maybe a little less so. The greatest thing about making hollow wooden surfboards has been the people that I have come into contact with. From the countless people who have stopped and asked about the boards at the beach and taken the time to chat about surfing waves and life in general, to those who know more than me and have offered advice and encouragement along the way (Annabel, Milan, Byron, Ralph, Wade, Robin, Patricia, Cees, Anja, Cath, Fred, John, Mark, Mike, Ray, Kev, Steve, Spike, Adrian, Chris, Andy, Lee, Justin, Kelly, Peggy , Stefan and many more) to those that have taken a leap of faith and actually bought one, I’m really, really grateful. Thank-you!
In between one day of blissful and glassy surf and three days of a snorting south easterly wind blowing into a solid swell, work began this week on the next batch of Groundswell hollow wooden boards. There’s two fish models and a 9.0 longboard coming up in this batch, although I haven’t started on the longboard and am still toying with the idea of making an 8.6 gun instead. Pictured here is the cut wood for the first fish. It’s hard to imagine, but in a few week’s time this is going to be a very beautiful surfboard.
The first day of building did not go smoothly. I neglected that golden rule of woodworking – measure twice and cut once. The result sent me back the drawing room.Then I bust a router bit, then a bandsaw blade and finally the belt that drives the bandsaw motor. And to top it off, the fruit smoothie machine refused to work. Sometimes it’s like that, but everything is still on track.
Here’s a shot of the latest fish model. It’s a 5.9 and although I haven’t weighed it yet, it’s very light for a hollow wood board. It was great fun on four foot reef waves earlier in the week. See the gallery for a larger image.
Up for the dawnie this morning. Started out on the Oregon pine fish in some 4-5 foot conditions, then onto a 6.5 Oregon and Saligna single fin and finally finished up on a 7.8 Obeche and redwood mini-malibu. About five hours in the water and great to surf the different boards and appreciate the different way they respond to conditions.
The fish is of course super fast – it’s amazing how it cruises around the sections. The single fin lovely and stable on the take off and drop and great to lock into the pocket on. A six-foot pointbreak and it’ll be a dream. And the mini-malibu, as my mate Byron calls it, the grand ‘ol daddy. But it sure is fun dropping into a ledgy 4-5 ft wave on a mini-malibu and then getting the rail in the face and cruising down the line.I’m definitely starting to appreciate the skill involved in walking a board and keeping it in the energy pocket of the wave for the duration of the ride.
When it comes to making boards, all of this got me thinking about the balance between speed and control when it comes to short boards and how this applies to different waves. The fish for example is super fast and it will generate momentum even in the smallest of waves, but sometimes you feel like you almost want more control ‘cos you are often past a tube section before you even knew it was there. On the single fin, with its thin tail, there’s a lot more control, but it doesn’t have the playfulness of a fish. It’s definitely a horses for courses kind of situation, to use an old cliche. More speed, less control. More control, less speed. So at least some of the process of making boards is about understanding that balance and then crafting a relationship between these two elements, speed and control.
On Wednesday I took collection of a wood order that will give me enough to make three boards. Now this isn’t just any wood. There’s a context to this wood and it’s been quite an emotional ride ordering it and then picking it up and driving home with it.
Wood is not cheap you see, and there’s a point when a hobby just becomes too expensive. And times are tough. So to stomp up a few thousand rand to buy wood to build surfboards can either be seen as foolish expenditure or an investment in a passion.
I wasn’t quite sure which it was myself.
But when I laid out the wood on my kitchen floor – the kitchen floor is where I lay out wood because its got a nice flat lino surface and the parquet flooring in the rest of the house is off-limits for surfboard manufacture by order of management – I knew I wouldn’t regret buying that wood. Even if it has cleaned out my bank account and I don’t know what’s going to come next.
It’s funny how times of uncertainty can bring on the greatest moments of certainty.
When I saw that wood laid out on my kitchen floor – the clear, yellow grain of Obeche contrasting with the fine, dark red grain of Californian Redwood – I could see the 7.8 mini-Malibu I’m going to craft out of that wood as clearly as if I had already done it. And it’s a beautiful board. You won’t be able to find one like it anywhere in South Africa, perhaps anywhere in the world.