In Defense of the Wooden Surfboard

Wood Surfboards
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I started Wave Arcade with the goal of creating an eco-friendly surf brand. I’m also a big advocate for experimenting with your surfing. So naturally, I became interested in more natural surfboard materials.

Wood and wood-like materials (bamboo, agave, cork, etc.) are some of the best ways to build more sustainable surfing products. Just like EPS boards surf a bit differently than PU surfboards, natural materials have their own unique performance characteristics.

If you’re interested in expanding your surfing experience and ability and you care – even in the slightest – about the environment, a wood surfboard definitely has a place in your quiver.

Are Wood Surfboards Any Good?

Wood surfboards, just like a traditional foam surfboard, can be anywhere between really good and really bad. It all depends on the materials and the production process.

So with the obvious out of the way – the answer is an emphatic: Yeah, wood surfboards are good.

Setting performance and surfing characteristics aside, wood surfboards can be made much more environmentally-friendly than their EPS & PU counterparts. Wood boards are also really cool looking.

Each one is unique by nature and defined by the wood species used, the grain patterns of each board, and the finish.

But, wood surfboards also have performance merits. Since wood boards are typically a bit heavier than a foam board, they’re going to feel different under your feet.

Depending on the construction methods, wood used, and finish – the performance characteristics of a wood board can be tweaked in a variety of different ways.

Speaking generally – a wood board can be great for drive, stability, push through slow or mushy sections, and long, smooth turns.

Types of Wood Surfboards

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Wood surfboards can be broken down into a few main categories that are defined by the construction method used to build them. Each method has an effect on the final look, feel, and performance of the wood board.

The methods range from solid to hollow, and wood-skinned.

Solid Wood Surfboards – Alaias

Solid wood surfboards were where it all started. A solid board is shaped from a solid stock of wood – typically a tree that was either cut down, fell, or washed ashore.

A long solid wood board is the heaviest version of a surfboard you can get. It can be hard to turn, but very stable.

Modern alaias are another version of a solid wood surfboard that can be really fun to ride and relatively easier to make on your own with only a few tools and materials.

If you want to learn more about the modern alai as well as the solid wood surfboard’s history, check out this story from Tom Wegener – a true master of the wood surfboard.

Hollow Wood Surfboards

Hollow Wood Surfboard Frame

Hollow wood surfboards are probably the most difficult to build out of all the wood surfboards listed here.

Hollow wood surfboards have an internal wood skeleton frame covered by wood planks.

These boards are more built than shaped, and they require a good amount of precision, measuring, gluing, clamping, and waiting.

The rocker, thickness, outline, and rails are defined by the internal structure. As the deck and bottom planks are glued together, the board takes shape. It’s a bit like putting together a surfboard-sized puzzle very slowly.

The end result can be something that both looks and surfs very uniquely.

This is the type of wood board your can find in DIY kits from various suppliers. Grain Surfboards is one of the best in class examples of a hollow wood surfboard company that provides DIY kits and classes for home builders.

Most hollow wood surfboards are designed and built like this:

  • A board is designed in a surfboard CAD program.
  • Another program is used to slice the design to create an internal notched spine stringer and rib structure.
  • The internal frame is either printed and cut out by hand or sent to a CNC router for precision cutting.
  • The frame and ribs are glued together.
  • The the deck is glued to the frame, plank by plank.
  • The rails are built up using a variety of methods.
  • The bottom planks are glued on.
  • The board is sanded clean, sealed, and glassed.

Chambered Wood Surfboards

Chambered Surfboard

Chambered wood surfboards seem to be a bit less common than some of the other wood boards described here, but have some really great benefits.

Chambered boards are made by shaping a wood blank just like you would a foam one, taking it apart and adding air chambers to each section, and finishing it with glass, oil, or some other sealing method.

Chambered wood surfboards can look amazing, and provide some great room for experimentation in terms of final weight.

You can mess around with the size, shape, and location of the chambers to find a balance between strength and weight. Depending on the wood and the glue used to combine the sections, you can also experiment with natural oils to waterproof the board – making for a super eco-friendly end result.

Wood-Skinned Surfboards

Wood skinned surfboards are boards that utilize a thin wood layer, veneer, or “skin” over some type of core – typically EPS foam.

These boards have the unique look and some of the flex properties of a wood board with the lightweight advantages of a foam board.

Constructing a wood-skinned surfboard typically involved a vacuum press to bind the different layers and materials together.

Danny Hess of Hess Surfboards has some beautiful examples of some wood-skinned surfboards.

Firewire also produces some wood-skinned surfboards in the Timbertek line.

Types of Wood for Building Wood Surfboards

You could really build a wood surfboard out of any type of wood, but some woods are going to be much better options than others.

If you’re aiming for ultimate sustainability and eco-friendliness, locally sourced, reclaimed, or upcycled wood is going to be your best best.

You can experiment with different species of wood, but you’ll want something that’s strong, light, shapeable, water/rot resistant, and easy to glue.

Some popular choices for wood surfboards include:

  • Paulownia
  • Balsa
  • Redwood
  • Cedar
  • Pine
  • Poplar

Agave stalks and cork are some other options to check out.

Depending on where you live and your budget, a combination of different woods and materials might make the most sense.

Honestly though, with a wood or natural board, there is plenty of room for interpretation and experimentation.

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