What made you want to build a wood board in the first place?
Actually I wanted a race board, but I didn’t want to spend the money. I looked into it, and found a design, the CLC Kaholo, that seemed good and relatively easy to build. It is too wide to be super competitive, but I was able to get some good places on it, and it helped ensnare me into the paddle racing scene.
What was it about the Kaholo that was easy to build?
The construction process is called “stitch and glue”. To build it you cut all the panels out of a sheet of ⅛ in plywood, or order them precut, and then join them together by drilling 1/16 in holes and stitching the panels with copper wire. Obviously there is more to it, but this process allows you to create the rough shape of the board that is then epoxied together.
How many hours/days/months does it take to build a board.
The fastest I ever finished a board was in 5 months, but that one leaked and then I had to sand it down again, find the leak and apply glass/epoxy to fix it. Then I sanded it down one more time and applied another coat of marine varnish to protect it from sun damage. If one were able to devote even a half hour every day, knowing that some steps require a longer time commitment the project could be finished in likely half as much time.
If I’ve never done woodworking before and I have never worked with fiberglass can I still do this?
Definitely. I had never even taken woodshop in high school. I had never even used a circular saw or jigsaw before building my first board. I took my time reading and learning and watching videos, but my first board is over 5 years old, and it still paddles just as well as when it was first launched. On top of that, learning to glass aboard means you will be able to fix any dings that happen on your current epoxy boards as well.
How did it feel paddling something you made for the first time, or race it for the first time?
Its subtle. This is not to say that I don’t think about it every time I paddle out, or when I see the sun glinting off a board I made while it is on the car, but since the boards paddle so comparably to an epoxy/carbon board it is also easy to forget what you are paddling at times. When racing you get the added bonus of everyone complimenting your board all day.
What recommendations do you have for someone who wants to try and build a board?
Fair warning, it will consume you. You will start thinking of what your second board will be before you even finish the first. You will see trucks with wood planks on the freeway and think about how many boards you could make, or how many fin boxes could be made from the project balsa wood at hobby stores. Having said that, the best way to start is to go to the sites that sell kits. Read everything you can there. Once you have decided what you want to build find a book that describes the process. There are books both about strip building a kayak and building a stitch and glue kayak. Most of this will be applicable to any kind of craft you will build. Then order the kit and/or the wood. It will be a lot harder to put off after you spend some money and it is all sitting in the garage beckoning to you as you leave for work every morning.
What is the main building tip you wish you knew before building your first board?
No it will not be easier to “just sand it later.” Whether it is an overhang on a strip, and uneven surface between strips, two pieces of plywood that do not come together perfectly, or anything else it is worth it to stop, take stock of why it doesn’t fit perfectly and fix it right then instead of just gluing the piece on and sanding it down later on. Even if you build your board perfectly you are still in for hours of sanding. There is no reason to give yourself more.
What tools does someone need to do this?
Less than you would think. For a stitch and glue board/boat you would need a circular saw or jigsaw, both are nice though, a good handsaw (preferably a Japanese pullsaw), a block plane, epoxy squeegees (cheap plastic ones are fine and reusable), a drill, and a good sander. For a strip built board the tools are similar, but you could get away with not having a circular saw or jigsaw. You would, however, need a table saw. If you didn’t want to invest in a table saw, but still wanted to build a strip board several of the companies that sell kits/plans will mill the wood for you. While this isn’t the cheapest list of tools, most are useful in many other projects you may undertake, and with the exception of the table saw they do not take up much space.
What kind of kits and plans are out there to purchase?
There are far more options than many realize. Probably the most established one is Chesapeake Light Craft (clcboats.com) They have a huge array of sea kayaks, recreational kayaks, as well as SUP’s and prone paddleboards. The most competitive designs I have found come from Clearwood Paddleboards (clearwoodpaddleboards.com) This site has multiple different designs, several with different widths, of race, touring, and surf SUPs, including a brand new 23” wide design that is currently being built by Clearwood and you can follow its progress on their Facebook page.. They also have a 14’ prone. Others that look cool, but I have not built include Clearstream custom watercraft, Bjorn Thomasson Kayaks, and Splinter SUP.
What is the reaction to these boards when you are out paddling or at a race/event?
Awesome, but also incredibly varied.. As long as your board floats people will sing about how beautiful it is. I even had one come up to me on the beach saying he had seen my board on top of my car on the freeway and was so excited we ended up at the same beach so he could ask me about it. On the other end, however, may also ask you if its an “antique” (This has happened to me more than once.) At races you get both ends of the spectrum too. Many ask you about it, while some totally ignore it as a novelty that can’t compete. These boards actually can compete. A well made strip board can emulate most carbon fiber designs out there, and can still come it at high 20’s low 30’s for weight on a 14’ SUP. Keep in mind that they are hollow and have a less ¼ in skin on them. My 14’ prone that I built is mid 20’s. Stitch and glue boards can go fast as well, I have raced a stitch and glue SUP and done well more than once. The nature of stitch and glue, however, does increase the surface area of the board that is under the water.
Chesapeake Light Craft
Clear Stream Custom WaterCraft
Bjorn Thomasson Kayaks
Team Writer Bret Warner - Paddling truly got its hooks into me when I, on a whim, watched the 1999 Santa Cruz Paddlefest with my dad. I had kayaked a little before, but from then on the addiction was palpable. My first kayak, a purple and turquoise Necky Rip, came soon after. The following year I was that kid at UCSD who had a surf kayak in the common study area instead of a surfboard in my dorm room. I also taught sea kayaking all through college in San Diego, and up in Santa Cruz after I graduated.
When SUP came around, however, the paddling addiction became even more rabid. The garage started to fill up with different types of boards, and is now more than half full of hollow wood boards I have built myself,both for environmental reasons, and because it’s awesome to get to talk about how you built your own board when people ask you about it after a race. I love the paddle racing scene in California right now. Everyone is so stoked to be on the water competing, and the fierce competition is matched by the smiling faces when the race is over. I have gotten to paddle crafts that I never really considered before, and can see myself getting hooked all over again on something else: prone, OC-1, surfski,whatever, I just need more garage space.
Three years ago I founded the non-profit Stand up to Alzheimer’s. An organization that raises money and awareness for Alzheimer’s research through paddle races. This organization was born from lacking a tangible way of dealing with my father’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, but has now become a way, hopefully, for other to help cope as well. Visit us at www.sup2alzh.weebly.com.