TRADITIONAL CRAFTED BOARDS DATING BACK TO ORIGINS FROM THE HAWAIIANS AND FRENCH POLYNESIANS, WOODEN BOARDS MADE A RESURGANCE INTO THE SURFING INDUSTRY IN THE MID 2000’s. ALBEIT NOT QUITE LIKE THIS.
It was somewhere around 2009 when I was first introduced to Paulownia wooden boards by my good friend Chad Waldron. He’d been filming and working on some projects with some of the Central Coasts best waterman, Heydon Bunting and Kerry Down’s. They were shaping some really cool traditional template Alaia’s inspired by Tom Wegner. These boards were shaped using Paulownia, a wood that has an amazing strength to weight ratio and also offers a little flex. It’s extremely buoyant which makes it ideal for surfing, it glides perfectly across the wave face and is ridiculously fast as it cuts through the water.
Kerry brought one of his boards into Todd Quigley’s QCD factory to see about getting one done as a Bodyboard template with all the features they’d used on the Alaia’s, round rails, narrow and a little concave. The boards were still around 46”+ so they were difficult to ride although it gave you a completely new feel for prone riding. You draw different lines to that of your foam board, using the waves’ speed and energy to control your surfing. It’s difficult in the beginning but you appreciate the style of surfing so much more.
Once that first board was done, the guys were pretty stoked on it, more so as a novelty project than anything that could be created into something more like what we use in foam design.
Chad had then got his hands on some blanks and over the next couple of weeks he was working on a personal film project and shaping his own boards. He’d asked me to help him with the fine details of curve development, shaping and sanding so we got to work on it at his North Avoca home. Chad was producing his board as an Alaia fish and also a square tail board which was really cool to ride and experiment with.
Throughout the whole process I thought that we could actually cross process the traditional designs and the rail angles of today’s modern Bodyboard, thin the boards down significantly to create more flex and with adjusted rails we could make a board that was crazy fast and could still turn and manoeuver like a foam board. A lot of people were convinced that it wouldn’t work, it would be near impossible to float or turn with the angles I’d talked about.
I started shaping my Paulownia Project in late 2009 after sourcing the best quality wood in Australia. I built an open-plan shaping bay at my place on the beach at North Avoca which our landlord was amped to see taking shape as he was an old surfer himself. He was stoked to see some traditionalism (so-to-speak) taking place in his backyard. It’s one thing to try and explain your vision and conceptual design to people but I find the best way to show them is just do it, get in and get it done, focus only on what your attempting to achieve and your results will speak for themselves.
The boards I shaped during the Summer were narrower then your normal foam board, it doesn’t need to be as wide as you’re creating the same surface area for width when your planning on the wave face, once you paddle into the wave Paulownia lifts and glides, glides extremely quick. I created a rail angle that was hybrid of a Bodyboard and Surfboard, rounding the top rail into a perfectly cut 45º bottom rail which is what allows the rail to cut deep into the wave, creating hold as my Paulownia boards are flat bottom, no channels and no concave. The rail is what does all the work and the synergy created between the measurements of the board, the curve and rails is phenomenal. When you transition from rail to rail the board actually generates speed through each transition, making it drive in and out of turns.
The first sessions we had on the boards were in fun to average Summer conditions on the beach breaks around home. From the very first surf I knew I’d made something to be super proud of, something in all my years in board design and surfing that I hadn’t felt before. It felt great. Michael Novy was one of the first pro guys to ride the boards and we had a concept of taking it out Crackneck and Indies as the principles were right in generating a lot of speed and getting deep. It also helped that our legendary mate and world renown surf photographer, Luke Shadbolt wanted to shoot a feature of the board for Le Boogie Magazine.
We had a swell pop up in January 2010 that looked pretty ideal for getting some shots on the boards with great conditions with all the local boys, Heydon, Nick Rushton, Mike Wells and a few others trading waves out Indies before Novy jumped on board.
This seemingly fun swell quickly turned from fun 3ft to solid 8ft in what felt like maybe an hour. Shit went next level real quick and Novy managed to stroke into a bomb with the first sets before Nick eventually lost the board on a solid one, sending it directly into the rocks with 8ft bombs detonating her into several pieces. A sacrifice well worth it when we were able to check Shadbolt’s photos when we got back to shore.
The image of Novy went on to become a cover shot which to this day is one of my all time favourite images, and on a board that most people thought would never work. It’s funny how sometimes you just have to believe in what you’re doing, regardless of what anyone says or thinks. That’s progress I guess.
I started shaping them for a lot of the top pro guys in Australia and very limited numbers for general orders, guys that rode for other companies were pumped on them although not documented due to their contracts. To this day though I’ve never seen anyone surf better then Thomas Robinson at the Noosa points on one I produced for him. The footage is floating around somewhere, not sure who has it or maybe it’s been lost. I may never know or see it again.
I placed my Paulownia Project on hold for a few years due to my commitments to foam and international travel as we were developing a new facility and production lines. I had all intentions of returning back to the program when the time was right and this year I’m doing just that.
Words: Jarrod Gibson