“I couldn’t afford $1500 for a custom board. So I just put my heart into this one,” he told me as he pulled his board off the rack. As the board came into view, it looked almost unfinished until the light caught the glass. At first I assumed it was just an art project, something to hang on the wall and start conversation; then, as he turned it around, I noticed a coat of wax.
When I met Jon Ranta just north of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, he told me that he had a yardstick surfboard. At first I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right but then he showed it to me: I’d never seen anything like it. At 7’6” x 24” x 3.5”, it weighs around twelve pounds and is made entirely out of yardsticks from ACE Hardware – exactly 120 of them.
While moving back to the coast from Ohio, where he’d been landlocked for thirty years, Jon became the victim of a scam that left him with almost no money. Still in need of a surfboard, he decided that he would have to build one himself: “I kept watching YouTube videos on how to build your own wooden surfboard but everyone in those videos had special tools and materials that I didn’t. So, I thought I would just figure out my own way to do it and learned as I went.”
One day, while walking through the ACE Hardware near his home, yardsticks caught his eye. Realizing that “yardsticks are made not to warp”, he thought he might be able to use them for his board. Some research showed that the yardsticks from ACE were made of a higher quality wood than those at other hardware stores; additionally, at 1/8”, they were only half as thick as many of the other brands and therefore twice as light. After speaking to the manager at ACE and, after ordering a bundle of them, he got to work.
Using his skills as an artist, Jon drew the templates for the board by hand on heavy duty construction paper. The design is like that of an airplane wing: hollow with a center spar (stringer) going the length of the board and a rib every eight inches. Since the spar and ribs have holes drilled in them to reduce weight, there is a small, watertight box built around the leash plug so that the board won’t flood if the plug is ripped out.
With very little fine woodworking experience and using only a dremel, a multi-tool, bungee cords, sandpaper, and a bottle and a half of wood glue, he explained that he was able to complete the board, sans glass, in about three weeks. “I put in a few full days up front but then it was just a matter of working on it a few hours after supper each evening.” After doing some work at Tim Nolte Surfboards in exchange for a glass job, the board was complete.
I arrived at the shop a day after he’d taken it out for the first time. Jon excitedly told me how well it performed: “It floats on top of the water. It does not sink with me on it – none. I hadn’t really surfed in over thirty years and this was great in the little waves – it caught everything.”
The board is a conundrum: the rails are thick and boxy, yet the board looks sleek overall; squeezing it between the ribs causes it to flex slightly, though it feels very solid; the yardstick markings are visible beneath the shiny glass, giving it an unfinished, industrial yet somehow clean feel. In short, the board is fine art born out of practicality. But best of all: it works.
They say that necessity breeds ingenuity, and with the materials costing less than $75 for a board (not including the glass), he may be on to something. He’s already ordered another bundle of yardsticks and is getting ready to make another board – “probably a fish”, he says. Eventually he’d like to make everything from short boards to sea kayaks just to see how far the yardsticks can go and maybe sell a few in the process. No matter what happens, Jon has done something increasingly difficult to do: he’s created something unique in the surf world. That, and the board just looks cool.