An 11′ hollow wood surfboard, a whale and a wave

Monday was the session. It was 10-12 foot at a Cape outer reef and the peaks were sublime. There was a whale lolling about in the channel so close at times that we had to paddle off the mark to avoid the risk of being tail whipped or have it land on our heads if a rogue 15 footer came through and cleaned us all up.

And then we got a beauty, two friends paddling in surrounded by mountains and sea and a faint mist. The wave grew as it felt the reef, we bottom-turned together and my 11’ hollow wood board found its drive. It felt alive under my feet and the rail took its line beautifully out of the bottom turn. Then I just stood there as the wave roared away its energy behind us and rocketed us out towards the shoulder. We grabbed hands momentarily as we slid off the back and then dived into the cold sea. Now that was something special.

Some boards aren’t just about one person, or the guy making it. There’s been a lot of people around this surfboard who have inspired me, encouraged me and advised me. To say thanks seems trite, but if there’s such a thing as meaning to be found in a surfboard then everyone who has been a part of the process has turned this into a very meaningful surfboard.

Hollow wood surfboards take many hours to make. But even by the standards of hollow wood surfboards, this 11’ gun is a project years in the making. The first hollow wood gun that I made was a 9’.6” single fin and I was so obsessed with strength that by the time the board came out of the sanding bay it felt too heavy and rigid. I surfed it once in 8-10 foot waves and then started to tinker with it in the workshop. Eventually I put it aside, unfinished, and stored the lessons it had taught me in the memory bank. That was about four years ago.

But the desire to build a functional big wave gun out of wood kept surging to the surface and at the beginning of this year I finally launched into the project with a great deal of excitement – and trepidation. Winter was coming, after all.

Excitement because the thrill of making and surfing an 11′ hollow wood surfboard was real inspiration. And there’s a particular wave in Cape Town that a board like this is perfect for. Trepidation because the rules change for boards this long. Construction methods used for small hollow wood boards are very sound – these boards are almost certain not to break. But things need to change when you make a surfboard that is 11’ long and might take a 15-foot lip square on the deck. I didn’t want it to be too heavy, but I also didn’t want to spend so much time making a surfboard and have it break up the first time it encountered heavy water.

In the end it is a beautiful surfboard. It has redwood rails and western red cedar and obeche deck and bottom lay-ups. It has strategic reinforcements on the inside and is double glassed, but it is not too heavy and within the acceptable boundaries for a big wave board of this size.

Now for some more swell. 

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