The resurrection of the wooden surfboard

Pauwlonia vs Balsa Wood Surfboard Kits?

DIY? or Have a craftsman shape a wooden surfboard to your specs?

If you have been paying attention both online and in the lineup, you might’ve noticed an increase in the use of the wooden surfboard. Plus, the related posts in social media describing a revival in traditional shaping techniques.

Within surfing, the ‘retro’ scene is certainly nothing new or novel – particularly with relation to board design and fashion. And, has more or less occupied the general periphery of surf culture as a whole in the modern era.

For the most part, surfers are or have been viewed as typically environmentally conscious people. Especially so for those interested in the historical & vintage aspects of the sport.

With recent focus on movements like the ‘Fight for the Bight‘, environmental issues like the impact of mainstream foam-based surfboard production on the climate, have become reinvigorated, at the very least to a point of discussion.

The analytical consensus on wooden surfboards shows a reduced overall CO2 emission than Polyurethane boards. So, an assumption could therefore be made that the increased participation in surfing, and the generally accepted typification of surfers as eco-minded has resulted in a greater demand for wooden surfboards.

Thus, in this article we will take a look at a variety of available data on wooden surfboards to examine this trend.

The online traffic for ‘wood surfboards

Looking first at the volume – or amount of monthly searches – that ‘wooden’ or ‘wood’ surfboards receives, the numbers are comparable with typical queries driving towards ‘best surf wax’ and ‘where to learn surfing’, but are considerably less than the catch-all general query:

QueryAvg Volume (monthly)
Best Surf Wax100- 1k
‘Wooden Surfboard720 (US), 260 (UK)
‘Wood Surfboard590 (US), 40 (UK)
‘DIY surfboard’170
‘Surfboard33,100

If we then look at these trends over a 5 year period, it becomes difficult to attribute peaks and troughs to particular events – like mass protests for example – given that the relative volume is so low.

This means that fewer searches from web users are needed in order to drastically affect surges in popularity, as shown below:

‘Wooden Surfboard’ search trend: 2015-2020

The same trend can be seen with ‘DIY surfboard’:

DIY wooden surfboard search trend graph
‘DIY Surfboard’ search trend: 2015-2020

Trying to extract meaningful data from graphics like these becomes especially difficult. As in, the conclusion that general interest for wooden surfboards remained low over the past 5 years.

What we cannot determine is if there has been a general increase in interest, other than that seen in the first half of 2020.

Our related searches surrounding for the key topic within this timeframe were: ‘wooden surfboard kit’, ‘wooden surfboard decor’, ‘balsa wood surfboard’ , ‘how to make a surfboard’ and ‘alaia surfboard’.

Looking at the demographic responsible for these searches is mostly balanced between genders. Women were accounting for just over half of the monthly average searches, and the majority age between 25 to 44 years old.

wooden surfboard search demographic
Search Demographic: Wooden Surfboard

Likewise, comparing this against related topics such as the ‘do it yourself’ and ‘woodworking’, and without the addition of ‘surf’ to the analysis show roughly similar statistics, but with interesting weightings:

Search Demographic: DIY + Woodwork (stand-alone)

Does the current interest in DIY, and overall growth in womens surfing represent a good oppurtunity for small businesses that make or teach wooden surfboard shaping?

Search intent: ‘wooden surfboard’

So, we’re getting an understanding behind search intent for wooden surfboards as a topic. And, it can be shown through examining the suggestions that google offers as a solution.

Of these, just over 75% are keyword phrases in the informational category, meaning that the search query itself points towards knowledge about the topic – rather than where to purchase the materials needed, or board itself.

Search Query Type: ‘Wooden Surfboards’

An example of the typical search queries offered by google (not showing all):

Can you recycle surfboards?Informational
What wood is best for surfboards?Informational
How are wooden surfboards made?Informational
How do you build a chambered wooden surfboard?Informational
Are wood surfboards good?Transactional
Which seal do i use for wooden surfboard?Transactional
What are the best surfboards made of?Transactional

Targeting these – ‘people also asked‘ – suggestions are what wooden board builders can and should use as templates around which to create content, be that in text form, video or other.

For example, this article itself is an example of content aimed at answering an informational query, as Surfstraat is not a wooden surfboard shaper or manufacturer.

Rise of DIY & woodworking hobbyists:

Another factor potentially leading to a rise in the number of those making wooden boards could be through the intersection of woodworking as a hobby, and the wooden surfboard as simply another project to delve into.

Statistics backing this up are hard to come by, so this point should be taken with a grain of salt.

A “Survey conducted by National Family Opinion on behalf of Wood magazine found that approximately 5.5 million Americans actively participate in woodworking as a hobby.” – Wood magazine

Current numbers are unknown, although the viewership on platforms like Youtube. And, the amount of channels dedicated to woodworking, with many uploads centred around wooden surfboard builds have received an uptick in popularity.

Common Types of wood used For surfboards

Of the many different types of wood used in surfboard builds, Balsa, Pauwlonia and ‘recycled lumber’ are the most common. They are also often cheaper materials to use in production than foam, fibreglass and petroleum based products.

According to Green Light Surf supply: “Recycled lumber is the eco-friendly cost effective choice. Reclaimed lumber such as redwood and cedar are an excellent wood choice as they are often already light and dry. If you are going for a light board you will want to use soft woods like redwood, cedar, pine, paulownia, or balsa.”

Balsa wood, as described by Wood Magazine is a “light and buoyant wood, meaning raft.” It was also used “for generations before it was sold commercially throughout the world, Ecuadorians” who first discovered it, “lashed balsa logs into rafts to transport goods to market.

One of the reasons balsa wood is so commonplace among wooden surfboards is that it “is not listed as threatened ecologically according to the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) or the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
“, as mentioned in a study by the University of Wollongong.

Balsa wood roughly takes 6 to 10 years of growth before it is harvested.

Paulownia wood, mentioned in the same study, is “not threatened according to CITES or the IUCN Red List – and can be harvested in some cases after only five years. In some areas it is even considered an invasive species. Surfboard-makers in Australia are increasingly turning to paulownia, and some interviewed in this research had recently become involved in plantation cultivation of paulownia in Far North Queensland (which has suitable climate, rainfall and soil), in order to improve supplies.”

Shapers or DIY Kit Suppliers?

There are a handful of options for the surfer interested in wooden board construction and use. Most commonly, they involve either buying direct from a board shaper that either specialises in wooden boards or is exclusively a wooden board builder. The other main option is to purchase a DIY wooden board kit that the user then assembles and shapes themselves.

Foremost of the wooden board shapers worldwide is Firewire, although they do not exclusively produce wooden surfboards.

Their particular construction method differs from the typical hollow chambered wooden surfboards, where essentially the foam is shaped similar to a regular surfboard, and reinforced on the outside with wood layed on top.

Timbertek, the current technology in place since 2014, followed their Technograin technology from Feb 2013. Although boards had used timber in decking prior to this; a good explanation of the differences in Firewire’s construction methods can be found here.

Currently, 3 of the 17 different surfboard models listed on the Firewire website are available in the Timbertek Wooden construction method.

Where else can you get a wooden surfboard?

Other than the ubiquitous Firewire, there are a good number of shapers dedicated to making wood surfboards, either in solid construction or chambered bodies.

The below video shows one such shaper – Vinnie O’Halloran – in Ireland, where Fergal Smith’s riding attests to the quality of their build in solid, cold waves.

As perviouisly mentioned, there is also the option to build the board yourself, with or without the help of a pre-measured/cut template for the inner chamber, outline and fins.

The advent of the laser cutting machine, such as the CNC, has enabled many craftsmen to start small businesses in wooden surfboard construction.

Below is an example of an Australian based wooden surfboard kit manufacturer, and the chambered reinforcements that are used commonly in wood surfboards.

Pauwlonia Surfboard kit

Number of Shapers Worldwide

To our ability, we could find just under 80 shapers world-wide that specialise or solely make wooden surfboards or kits. They hail from countries all over the globe, and you can see our complete list here.

If you know or are a shaper of wooden boards that wee missed out as part of our list, feel free to let us know at surfstraat@gmail.com and we be stoked to add you to the list!

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