Crafting a Hollow Wood Surfboard from Old-Growth Redwood

By Byron Loker / Published by Byron Loker
Long inspired by the work of Grain Surfboards based in Maine, San Francisco's own Danny Hess, and my friend Patrick Burnett of Burnett Wood Surfboards in Cape Town, South Africa, I have always wanted to build my own wooden surfboard.

There are any number of plans and templates and techniques available online these days, however, I have never had the right set of circumstances to undertake such an ambitious project. That was until last summer when, after working as a videographer and photographer at Camp Thunderbird in Minnesota, I had the remarkable opportunity to begin making "The Redwood Thunderboard", thanks to my good friend Bill Wilson, the maintenance manager of the camp.

Bill kindly gave me free reign in his perfectly equipped workshop and he also suggested I "harvest" the material for the project from discarded camp sailboats. The boats were handmade in the 1950s by the-then maintenance manager, Arnold. After toiling a few planks off the old boats with a claw hammer, crowbar and some cussing, I found that the wood was as clean and good as ever, even after over 70 years of weathering in the North Woods.

I set to work in the fall and it took about two months to get the basic form of the board together and finished, before the harsh Northern winter set in and it was time to decamp to the sunnier climes of Southern California, where I was able to finish up with fiberglass and set my board to water.

Here are some photographs illustrating the journey. As Grain perfectly put it: "We love building surfboards. The process, the tools, the material, all come together to give a great sense of satisfaction. It’s the process that we’re passionate about—a process that's thoughtful—with sustainability, longevity, quality, and awesomeness built in." 

These sailboats were handmade at Camp Thunderbird in Minnesota in the 50s from old growth Redwood—making it about 70 years old now.

These sailboats were handmade at Camp Thunderbird in Minnesota in the 50s from old growth Redwood—making it about 70 years old now.

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The first task was carefully to prize off as many strips of Redwood as I could, without tearing them too much, and remove any nails and screws.

The first task was carefully to prize off as many strips of Redwood as I could, without tearing them too much, and remove any nails and screws.

Some running repairs to get planks ship-shape again.

Some running repairs to get planks ship-shape again.

This guy—I named him Chuck—kept me company from time to time as I "toiled" cleaning up the lumber under the beautiful North Woods sun, surrounded by tall, whispering pines. Nice work, if you can get it.

This guy—I named him Chuck—kept me company from time to time as I "toiled" cleaning up the lumber under the beautiful North Woods sun, surrounded by tall, whispering pines. Nice work, if you can get it.