Top and bottom of my latest bellyboard, laminated from cedar and walnut veneers.
I’m a purist when it comes to riding waves. Or maybe a minimalist. Or both. I grew up bodysurfing on the Jersey Shore in the Seventies, learning about tides and wind, sandbars and swell. We surfed beach breaks exclusively, daily, no matter the size of the wave, which rarely raised higher than overhead and generally capped out at chest height. Some used surfboards and boogie boards (which were just finding their way to the East Coast), but the break was never very far from shore and the set up was generally over a sandbar, where a bodysurfer could often stand to catch a wave unaided. With a little swimming over the gully, you could ride the bigger waves all the way to shore, catching the second break when the tide was just right.
I’ve continued to bodysurf since we moved to the San Francisco Bay Area over twenty years ago, adding a wetsuit and fins to suit the more extreme conditions. I’ve flirted with standing surfboards but have yet to get past the learning curve to really enjoy it. I also just prefer direct body contact with the wave, especially given my lack of dedicated time in the water. I began to research bellyboards as a possible alternative a few years ago, and have recently been making experimental prototypes as an extension of my skate deck manufacture. I use the same laminations cut from local woods I’ve milled and dried myself, molded over improvised forms and hand shaped for optimal hydroplaning and adequate buoyancy.
My latest design is a hybrid of traditional Hawaiian Alaia and Paipo shapes, informed by the hydroplaning experiments of naval architect Lindsay Lord. Measuring about 3′ 6″ long by 19.5″ wide, the board is composed of a sandwich lamination of two cold-formed layers; two 3/16″ thick, book-matched claro walnut veneers on the bottom, and three 3/8″ thick veneers of Western red cedar on the top. The specific gravity of the cedar, left to its full thickness, adds to the board’s buoyancy. The relatively hard walnut veneers are shaped to taper to about 1/8″ or less at the edges, making for a sharper edge and abrasion-resistent surface. The combined stability of each layer, combined with the slightly cross-grained lamination, prevents the finished product from undo warping or cupping.