Why Wood?

Yep, we make our surfboards out of wood. 

It’s different to the industry standard of polyurethane foam, wrapped in fibreglass and polyester resin. 

The reason we make our surfboards out of wood has a few layers to it, so we’ll leave it to James to explain.

He’s broken it down into 6 sections, so feel free to skip to ones of particular interest.

  1. A Personal Connection
  2. Stewardship of the land
  3. Locally Grown
  4. Regenerative Forestry
  5. Performance
  6. All of us, connected

A Personal Connection

“Firstly, I believe we are all born as makers. It’s something fundamental to all of us as humans; to want to shape the world around us, in our own way. I was lucky that during my childhood, my creativity was supported, nurtured and celebrated by those closest to me, so I never stopped making things.

I grew up in the Chilterns, submerged in woodlands and my fondest memories are of hoarding sticks whilst out walking the dog, picking dried mud off of my knees and escaping into the hills on my bike. So when it comes to making things, it seems natural for me to have always been drawn to wood. I’ve experimented with metal work and enjoyed a number of hours working with clay, but I am pulled back to working with wood, always.

 

Stewardship of the Land

When you first start making things from wood, it is easy enough to go to a timber merchant, or even a DIY store and find some timber that is suitable for what you need, which is how I started making furniture, skate ramps and planters for the garden when I was a teenager. The problem is, that as you develop a deeper connection to the material, you start to question, what species is it I’m working with? where did the tree live? And how was the woodland that it grew in nurtured?

When you then start to explore the woodland and forestry industry to answer those questions, and see how timber is harvested as a commercial crop, its impossible to ignore the obvious impact that your making is having on the planet. When you see a tree being felled, a weight of responsibility crashes to the ground with it. You know that from the timber, you need to make something to the best of your abilities, you need to make something that is worth making and you need to make something that lasts.

The connection back to the land that I feel through woodlands resonates with a small turn of phrase that I happened upon in my grandfathers diary. He was a farmer, and he wrote about ‘stewardship of the land’, knowing that as he was using the land he owned, he needed to be conscious that he was a guardian of it for future generations. Sustainability it seems, runs in my blood.

So when it comes to sourcing our wood, the way the land is managed where it grows is fundamental.

Locally Grown

We don’t simply make surfboards out of wood, we make surfboards out of wood that we know to be sustainably harvested from a regenerative woodland.

I was studying a degree in furniture design and making at Plymouth University and spent all my time outside of the workshop exploring the South-West, sleeping in the car and surfing as much as I could, when I came across the idea of making a wooden surfboard. In 2008, there was an issue of The Surfer’s Path called ‘The Wood Issue’ and it lit a fire in me. It was one of those ‘how did I not think of this sooner?’ moments. A wooden surfboard to replace my foam board that was deteriorating all too quickly.

From there, I looked into what species grew in the South-West that would be suitable to making a surfboard from and it turns out that locally, there are two species that lend themselves; Western Red Cedar and Poplar.

I began finding local suppliers and sawmills who would let me know where the timber was harvested and led me to understand that cedar was much more commercially viable and available than poplar, so the first dozen or so surfboards were made almost entirely from cedar grown in Cornwall.

It soon became apparent though, that although I could get timber from Cornwall, the consistency in the quality of the cedar didn’t always lend itself to the application of making surfboards. Timber that might be great for cladding (cedars more common application), doesn’t necessarily make for great surfboards; because I was processing the timber into relatively thin and long sections, any flaws (normally by way of knots) would cause breakages and therefore wastage. So the way to reduce the wastage from our process would be to find cleaner, more consistent timber.

I widened my net.

I aksed a few of my friends, from time spent timber framing, who they knew who could supply good quality, locally grown cedar. This is how I found Nick, from Stourhead Western Estate in Wiltshire (though the estate sits in Somerset and Dorset too!).

Regenerative Forestry

Nick told me about the cedar he produced and some more about his woodland and it soon became apparent that he was doing all he could to manage his woodland in the most sustainable, if not regenerative, way.

He is a steward of the land.

I drove up to see him in 2010 and that’s where we’ve been getting our timber from ever since.

Nick uses a forestry management approach known as continuous cover, which aims to make woodlands dynamic ecosystems with a diverse structure including big trees, small trees, areas of dense regeneration, gaps and glades. They provide a range of habitats within a retained canopy, managed through regular thinning, which ultimately initiates natural regeneration. So no mono-crops and no clear felling, just bio diverse, healthy woodlands, always.

When we first started working with Nick, he said that a standard woodland of the same size would be planting 12-15 thousand trees per year, whereas he was only having to plant 3000 because of the natural regeneration. His aim was to have the woodland regenerating so he wouldn’t need to plant any new trees within ten years, and he’s getting close!

It’s really special to be able to work with people like Nick and to know that what we do, by using his timber, is promoting a move back to more healthy and natural woodlands.

It’s important to remember that just because a product is made from ‘natural’ resources, like wood, or clay, or cotton it still doesn’t mean it is any more sustainable. You have to bore down into how the land is actually being nurtured to know if your impact is a positive one for our environment. I’d like to think that Nick is going a step beyond creating a sustainable woodland, to nurturing a regenerative one.

Performance

When it comes to the making and riding of our surfboards, because wood is heavier than foam, we use a construction technique called skin-on-frame, which you can read more about in Our Process. This allows us to bring the boards much closer to the finished weight of a foam board so they feel familiar underfoot, but to ensure longevity of our boards, we keep wood where it is needed.

For this reason, wooden boards naturally lend themselves to twin fins, mid length single fins and longboards, where momentum and glide actually help the surfer to find smooth, graceful lines. We know that the attributes which make wood a good material for these types of boards are beneficial for other shapes too.

When we recently pushed the performance of our boards in a collaborative project with Alan Stokes, he mentioned that the momentum of the wood lent itself to his high performance twin fin shape. “Where I’d normally need three pumps to make a section, I was there in two.” and “I’ve never been able to complete a grab-rail down turn on a foam board because I get bumped out of it, but the wood just sailed all the way round.”

An often overlooked characteristic of any product is longevity. For me, it was one of the drivers to make my first board. Could I make something that was fun to surf in a variety of conditions AND that would last years, if not decades? Thats what we are constantly working to ensure, and we have boards that have been surfed by our customers for nearly a decade now that we know they are still going strong. We’ve put a number of boards through their paces too and have worked out ways to repair any dings we’ve put in them – another benefit to wood – so we are confident that our surfboards are some of the longest lasting ones you can buy (or make yourself).

So, now that we’re finding ways to push the performance of our boards, making sure that they last well into the future and making them from timber that benefits the planet, we think the better question to ask might be ‘Why Foam?’

All of us, Connected

Over the years of being involved in making surfboards out of wood, and sharing the making of our boards with our customers, it seems impossible to ignore the innate connection we all have to wood as a material. I know I struggle to walk past a wooden table top without running my hands along it and when people see our surfboards they always reach out to touch them, to use their hands to connect to the wood itself.

Seeing this impulse in all of us, made me appreciate that nurturing our woodlands, oceans and planet is actually something we all have a deep interest in and connection to. Sometimes, we can easily forget how important these are for us, and how connected we all are through them. I’ve learned that a care for our planet is actually deeply linked to a care for other people. Ultimately, the planet will survive, whatever way we decide to treat it, but humans may not. So for the survival of our species, we need to find ways to be kinder.

Kinder to ourselves, to others and to the planet and that’s what we hope to inspire in people through our surfboards and through our workshop courses.

It turns out that when you start making something, you can tap into the power of your own two hands, and wow! How powerful they can be!

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