{ Category Archives: Swell Break at Headlends }

Experiments in Wooden Planing Hulls

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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.

 

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Update from Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge

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Rodeo Beach, viewed from the trail from Headlands Center for the Arts

Located on a barren bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in the Marin Headlands, the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) feels remote, like the edge of civilization, despite its close proximity to San Francisco. Founded in the early 1980’s, HCA occupies a series of decommissioned military buildings predating WW1, originally part of Fort Baker, with the bulk of activities clustered in two identical structures originally intended to house infantry.

One of the more compelling consequences of siting military facilities along remote coastline is that they ultimately serve to protect that stretch of coast from commercial development. Upon its eventual resusitation after closing as a military base in 1950, the Headlands has emerged as a major cultural and natural treasure, a beloved destination for surrounding urban communities seeking solace, recreation and inspiration. I designed my recent workshop at Headlands, Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge, to tap this desire for natural/cultural engagement by positing the potential for a former military base sited in close proximity to a major surf break to be repurposed as a research lab for the design and testing of surf craft tailored to a specific break.

The Swell Break project proved to be a huge success despite the inherent challenges of scope and time. Over the course of a Labor Day Weekend, in collaboration with my friend, sculptor/surfer Lawrence Labianca, we mentored 12 workshop participants in the design, prototyping and testing of a series of simple wooden bellyboards, designed to negotiate the break at Rodeo Beach. The project has been both a follow-up and distillation of my ongoing pursuit of collaborative, artisan-scale making informed by the unique characteristics of a bioregion, particularly when it engages boat-building, skate or surf culture.

Click here to see complete photo documentation by Hans Kwiotek.

Related projects include: Micro-Expedition, Deep Craft Atelier

Click here to read more about Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge.

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Bellyboards Galore

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Top and bottom view of my EggBellyboard in Western Red Cedar and Walnut

I’ve made a few bellyboard prototypes for my upcoming Swell Break project at the Headlands. The first batch are deceptively minimalist, egg-shaped, about 39″ long and 23″ wide, 5/8″ thick at the middle, feathering out to about 5/16″ at the edges. I cold-laminated two layers over a contoured block to arrive at the final shape; the bottom is claro walnut, and the top is Western red cedar. The next cold laminated version will use the same woods, but will be a bit longer, narrower, and with a concave tail for better speed and tracking in the surf.

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‘Fort Cronkite’, the point break at the Headlands off of Rodeo Beach

I shaped my second prototype from a solid blank of laminated pine I found at Home Depot. These 18″ x 48″ x 3/4″ pieces sell for about $18 each , which is perfect for a temporary, collaborative project involving extreme experimentation. I plan to work with the group of workshop participants to produce a series of bellyboard shapes with integral graphics that identify the boards with the natural and cultural histories of the site, suggesting a new kind of visual surf language.

Click here to read more about the development of Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge.

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Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge

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Swell Break logo/coaster by Headlands Center for the Arts

I’ve been tapped by the Headlands Center for the Arts in Marin County to head a workshop over Labor Day Weekend called Swell Break: Deep Craft on the Edge. The programming staff at Headlands were inspired by my Deep Craft Atelier at Storefront Lab last Summer, and the invitation originated as a way to follow up on my collaborative, pop-up board shop in San Francisco’s Mission District. The project has evolved in many ways since our first conversations in early Spring to dovetail with Headlands particularities of site and programming, but it promises to be another step towards my desire to develop Deep Craft as a bioregional product line.

 

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