The Legend of Lumberjack Surfing

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The following text accompanies an installation I made as part of the NOMO Exhibition we’ve designed and curated as the culmination of our residency at Kohler Arts. Over the past few weeks I’ve made fictional, yet plausible sculptural elements that support the idea that surfing has origins on the Great Lakes. I will provide more detail soon about the NOMO Exhibition, but here’s a preview of my “Legend of Lumberjack Surfing” installation:

The Legend of Lumberjack Surfing

“There is a little known legend that surfing has early 19th century origins on the Western shores of Lake Michigan, separate from its more ancient roots on the islands of the South Pacific.

When timber rafts were floated down Wisconsin’s rivers to be shipped to far off urban centers, large slabs of wood occasionally broke loose along the lake and washed ashore. Enterprising lumberjacks and boat-builders often rescued the timbers by drifting them offshore, standing atop them and paddling them to beachfront workshops, occasionally attaching sails to ease the journey. When the surf was heavy, the maritime lumberjacks beached the timbers by riding waves to shore, steering with a long wooden paddle. Over time, the activity of riding waves became an end in itself, and the ‘lumberjack surfers’ learned to shape the rough sawn planks for better performance in the waves.

By the early 20th century, the ‘lumberjack surfers’ adapted wooden boards to ride on land by attaching crude wheels to their undersides, thus inventing an early form of the skateboard. Many of these ‘trapper’s skateboards’ were made from stretchers originally used to tan wolf hides. By the middle of the 20th century, experimental skateboards were commonly made from discarded, wooden alpine and water skis, which were rapidly being replaced by fiberglass.”

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pike longboard

Another part of the NOMO Exhibition at Kohler Arts features longboard skate graphics I designed collaboratively, like the Northern Pike Longboard (above) drawn by Mary Whitehall and Zak Worth. The burnt/etched deck is part of a series depicting fish native to Lake Michigan


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