Specific Gravity

surfboardthe surfboard originated in Hawaii, where local woods were shaped for specific waves

I’ve body-surfed all my life and have a natural feel for wave mechanics, but I’m finally getting ready to learn to surf on a board. Being a ‘wood guy’ with access to local mills and several decent breaks within a few miles, my first step will be to shape my own board. Luckily, my first surfboard will double as an integral part of our NOMO (non-motorized transportation) exhibition we’re developing as artists in residence at Kohler Arts over the summer.

Believe it or not, Sheboygan, Wisconsin has one of the best fresh water breaks in the world. So I’ve conceived of my surfboard as a freshwater longboard indigenous to the shores of Lake Michigan, modeled on the early surfboards native to Hawaii, which were shaped of local Koa and Balsa. Because freshwater is less buoyant than saltwater, I’ve been researching the specific gravity of Lake Region woods, looking for large trees with straight, clear grain and low specific gravity for maximal flotation and easy carving. I’ve discovered that American Cottonwood (Populus freemontii) still grows prolifically in the lowlands of Wisconsin, and with a specific gravity of around 0.31, is ideal for shaping a surfboard. The tree grows equally well along the Pacific Coast of Northern California, so I’ll make a prototype and test it locally.

To follow the development of our wowhaus artist-in-residence project at the JM Kohler Arts Center, please click here and scroll down.

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