Based in Maine, the master craftsmen behind Grain Surfboards have been building wooden surfboards since 2005 as well as teaching workshops and producing surfboard-making kits for the DIYers among us. This summer they launched their GreenRail construction, combining their traditional wood building techniques with 100% recycled PET plastic. I sat down with Mike LaVecchia, founder of Grain Surfboards (virtually of course), to hear a bit more about their process for building a surfboard and what this new GreenRail construction is all about.
Mike said the material they use in all of their boards is Northern White Cedar.
“We actually design the process around cedar as it’s a nice stable, rot-resistant, weather-resistant material,” says LaVecchia. “As well as the fact that it’s kinda local and we know where it’s coming from, and it’s being managed at sustainable levels is all pretty important to us.”
It also works beautifully with the simple handtools they use as a part of their process. Their boards are super durable, but due to their hollow design, they’re surprisingly light, weighing only 10-20% more than a lightly glassed foam surfboard. Mike told me the idea of using wood came from how people used to build boards before modern materials like foam were made available in the ’40s and ’50s. Seeking to create boards that were more sustainably-made and longer-lasting than contemporary options, they looked back to the innovations made by Tom Blake, who pioneered the use of hollow wood boards. Mike and his gang riffed on this hollow surfboard idea, bringing in their own skills in woodworking and boatbuilding as well as the modern advancements in surfboard shape and design to create Grain Surfboards. He describes it as: “Traditional materials applied to modern shapes.”
Their shred sticks have always been pricey as far as surfboards go, normally clocking in at around $2,200. No expense spared in their sustainable creations. That said, any surfboard aficionado can recognize the craftsmanship – not to mention these boards will literally last you a lifetime. Furthermore, each traditional-construction board takes about 60 hours of manpower to complete in the shop, where they complete every step of the process, from milling the wood from rough planks, to glassing and polishing.
This is where the new GreenRail construction comes in. The rail, Mike tells me, is the most labor-intensive part of their traditional board-building process. Whereas they utilize cedar planks for the body of the board, the rails are built of many precision-milled lengths of wood designed to fit together to build up the shape of the rail. The recycled material used for the GreenRail construction is a thermoplastic, allowing Mike and his crew to form a rail much faster than their traditional process. It also cuts the overall board production time almost in half. According to LaVecchia, it performs and lasts just as well as their original construction, and Mike was excited to tell me how this allows them to take 100% recycled, single-use plastic and sequester it into a permanent and useful home rather than the bottom of the landfill or in the ocean. On top of that, all offcuts and waste produced are fully recycled, contributing to a circular economy.
This innovative new technique will allow them to offer their boards at a price point competitive with some of the best shapers in the industry, as well as keep boards stocked online, ready for immediate sales. As an environmentally-minded surfer myself, I’ve always been troubled by the toxic board-making process, and it’s exciting to see craftsmen like the crew at Grain Surfboards investing in new technology intended to make sustainably-sourced surfboards more accessible.