– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

HP Paulownia Surfboard: a green approach with Paul Joske

With the slow but steady expansion of surfer/shapers looking for greener methods of surfcraft construction, as an Australian I felt a bit left out as there didn’t seem to me a hell of a lot going on. In my mind (I was wrong) there was Tom Wegener, Chris Garrett, and a couple of others really making a go of it.

Recently, through the Musica Surfica film project, I came into contact with Tom Wegener, and through Tom met Paul Joske, of Valla Surfboards, near Coff’s Harbour in northern New South Wales. Derek Hynd describes Paul as the pre-eminent craftsman shaper in Australian surfing. He shapes to 1/64th of an inch by eye, takes 8 hours to do a board, and has done so for forty years. It is just his way -the right way or not at all.

Paul Joske - Valla SurfboardsAs you can imagine, Paul is an interesting chap and while up his way filming recently I caught up with him at his factory, got a tour, saw some wonderful boards and a lot of history. I also heard of his recent project to shape a wooden board and leave it unglassed.

Below is Paul’s account of its’ construction. While there I was lucky enough to see footage of the board on the ‘maiden flight’ and it works fine thanks very much. Six-foot reef point waves in Victoria’s deep south, and it put not a foot wrong.

So far I think the experiment continues to work well, and in Paul’s own words, here is how the board was made.

“Peter Fillmore from Apollo By approached me with the idea to build a contemporary surfboard from timber and as far as possible to use all natural materials for construction.

Peter knew that I had been experimenting with paulownia, (a lightweight, fast growing, plantation timber grown on the north coast of NSW where I live), and that I had previously built a
longboard from the timber. It had a coating of fibreglass to protect and seal the timber.

This was the first surfboard to be made from paulownia that I am aware of. The board was a huge success; it surfed well, was strong and looked beautiful.

Paul Joske - Valla Surfboards, paulownia board

My good friend Tom Wegener saw this surfboard and was impressed by the timber and started using it for stringers in his foam boards, and later building Fish and ancient Hawaiian designs out of the wood.

Tom didn’t glass these boards but experimented with a natural oil finish of linseed oil and gum turpentine. These boards were again a great success, the paulownia with oil finish standing up well to the elements.

This gave me the confidence to eliminate the fibreglass finish, but being a modern surfboard, with 3 fins and a leg rope attachment point, raised other problems.

Peter wanted the board as light as possible, (and as lightweight as
paulownia is, it is still a lot heavier than conventional foam and fibreglass) and each of the six pieces of wood were individually chambered before gluing together.

Paul Joske - Valla Surfboards

Ebony was used to fabricate the fin boxes and fins, and also for a bridge that was shaped and glued to the deck for the leg rope attachment. A breather bunghole was also made of ebony, and had a cork plug to seal the board when surfing. Linseed oil and gum turpentine was use to seal the board, and will need re-coating as required. The glue is the only thing that isn’t green on the board -if this prototype holds up, I’m sure I will be able to source some ‘green’ glue.

Another green plus is that no wax is necessary, as the deck is finished with a slightly coarser sandpaper, which gives a subtle but adequate grip.”

Story by Mick Sowry. Mick is the author of Safe to Sea and is also a filmmaker, among other things. His movie Musica Surfica is due sometime early in 2008.

• Category: board construction, environment

12 Responses »

  1. Beautiful looking board!

  2. the board weighs 5 kilos. the same board in foam and fibreglass weighs 4 kilos. we could have made it the same weight but i was a bit worried about compromising the strength. having now ridden it 4 times in fairly powerful 6 foot reef breaks im am reasonably confident that paul could chamber it out a bit more to get the weight just right. so far no back foot deck indentions. it goes great especially in windy and bumpy conditions. the oiled finish is also standing up well. contact paul and order one now!!!!!!

  3. How do you contact Paul for a board?

  4. You can contact Paul at the factory on 02 65688909 or email and i’ll pass it on to him.

  5. Amazing board, It would be great to get some video of a test run.

  6. Wow – thats incredible. So whats the deal with no wax? Are you saying that it’s not necessary – or that you can “get away” without using it? Personally I need lots of wax! I must have slippy feet. I guess if you’re wearing booties then wax isn’t needed…

  7. Amazing!
    I have used this timber myself for outdoor construction and had great results.
    This timber is so versitile,the only draw back is it is a soft wood , but in this case for a surf board the fibreglass would add the needed strength .
    i am not suprised to read about how well it handle in surfing conditions.
    Paul i take my hat off to you for your forethought!

  8. Have known Paul for 38 years and am also an old boardbuilder , Paul loves his equipment and his craft his whole life has been devoted to both his family and craft with the result of design ,selection of timber( he grew his own Paulownia) and construction ,being of the very highest quality, and with all that ,they work! If you love your surfboard you’ll love a wooden one. …….Cheers TIKI

  9. I am greatly interested if you have since gotten a chambered board of similar dimensions in the article down to approximately the 4 kg weight range ? Also how long is the wait to obtain a board made of similar dimensions ,again as in the article, and what would the cost be for a glassed version ? I must say this is the most excited I have been about a new surfboard for years, I must admit to being totally for green boards that actually flex under feet so you can feel the wave, totally unlike these epoxy “Tufflite” things that dont flex at all and give no wave feel , if anything, the stiffness tends to throw you out of balance on a quick take off , whereas the best board I have ever ridden had a balsa wood blank and was “alive” on a wave, something even foam blank boards cannot replicate ? Anyway am keen to get some feedback on tour progress thanks ! Good luck and keep up the great inovation, a typically Aussie pursuit is whats fantastic !

  10. Hi,

    I am thinking of making a similar board and I so I’m interested in how the oil finish has held up on this one. Has any water leaked into the chambers? Any info is appreciated. Thanks.

  11. Oh – I’m not sure if I’ll get an email if anybody posts here so please send me a note at ericbakuladavis [at] gmail [dot] com if you have any info on oil finishes on chambered boards. Thanks.

  12. Hey Eric,
    Your best bet for info on oil finishes it Swaylocks or the Tree to Sea forum (google them).