Running wooden surfboard courses where people come into my workshop and build their own stunning surfboards has been hands down the most rewarding part of making wooden surfboards. I’m constantly stunned at the surfboards people make, and I’m fascinated at how everyone – no matter whether they are a novice or experienced woodworker – has an inherent sense of craft and need to make with their hands. After five years of running courses, I still get goosebumps! Below is an updated picture gallery of some of the people who have joined me. Not everyone is there as on some occasions I forget to take pictures or lost them, but THANK-YOU ONE AND ALL!!!
Surfing wooden surfboards is one of the most satisfying parts of making and/or owning one. There’s nothing like feeling the wood under your feet or looking at the beautiful grain while you are waiting for a wave. Here are a few pictures that I’ve collected over the years. A huge thanks to all the photographers and surfers.
Ten years ago I made my first wooden surfboard. It was the start of a journey that has changed – and is still changing – my life, and it’s motivated me to write this post about wooden surfboard life lessons. What’s fascinated me along the way, as I’ve learnt and thought about what I do, is the process of craft, and what life lessons it teaches. It’s a concept that draws into itself a great deal, and I’ve come to believe that it can tell us much about who we are and the society we live in. Here are eight points I’ve noticed in myself and those that have built boards with me in the wooden surfboard workshops I run:
IT’S ALL CONNECTED: As we strive towards lessening our impact on the planet, and as surfers to ride craft that connect us to the natural energy of the oceans, I find myself marvelling at the connections between the boards I make and the oceans I love. In the grain of a piece of wood I see the origins of a swell starting in the deep ocean and fanning out towards us. Taking wood to water almost feels like I’m closing a circle – the storms bring us waves to surf, but they also bring water for the trees and help to form the growing patterns and grains that we marvel at. See the connections!
FEEL THE RHYTHYM: More philosophically is the connection between a sense of craft and the ocean. It’s almost as if the natural process of working with your hands making a timber surfboard is perfectly matched to the rhythms of swell passing underneath you as you sit on your board. It makes me feel at peace when I can find that same rhythm in the workshop as I can find in the sea. Both activities force me to slow down. The lessons are a sense of timing, a deeper patience and making the right movements at the right time.
TRANSFORMATIVE CREATIVITY: It’s amazing how people work with their hands, and the inherent creativity that we all seem to have. I see it time and again in the workshops I run. For many people it is a creativity that they rarely, if ever, get to express. Mostly the opportunity to express this is a passing satisfaction. Sometimes it can lead to the beginning of a hobby or the search for an outlet that meets this need. And sometimes it’s a cathartic experience and unlocks very powerful emotions about who they are and what they want to do. It’s that powerful. If you feel the need to create, on whatever level, get out there and do it. It could change your life.
SKIN IN THE GAME: I find it moving how much of someone goes into what they’re making. It’s almost as if the surfboard they make is infused with a little bit of their soul. That object is just an object, yes, but on another level it has meaning – it represents a place in their lives, something they haven’t done before and they care deeply about it. The board becomes a part of, or an extension, of themselves. They care about it and they care about the outcome. They have skin in the game. When it comes to bigger picture issues, like environmental protection, how can ‘skin in the game’ be used as a concept to involve people beyond the abstract? I’m suggesting that we need to find ways for people to get invested in causes, to care on a deeper level about the world around them.
SOUL SPACE: Many ancient civilisations saw the concept of ‘soul’ extending to all inanimate objects. Yet it often leaves me cold when I’m in an institutional environment like a bank. I look around me at everything that has been made with machines, clinically clean. I’m struck by what soulless places have been created. It’s hard to find that love and passion went into these environments, into the objects we’re surrounded with. Everything has been reduced to numbers. What would happen if, like some ancient cultures, objects were seen with passion and love. How might our spaces change? How might our outlook on the natural world change? What would that mean for us?
IT’S OURS TO CLAIM: Maybe there’s been a slow, insipid creeping of things that are done for us in our daily lives and work which means that we don’t have to think, or that we think differently. Sitting in front of a computer, we’re told by a computer programme when we do something that we can’t or aren’t supposed to do, getting into our cars we’re told to put our seatbelts on, we’re told when to go and when to stop. Making something for yourself claims back a bit of the space in one sense. In another sense, it establishes a relationship between your mind and your hands which is lost in modern society.
IT’S ALL IN THE HANDS: Anne Frank wrote that the final forming of a persons character lies in their own hands. I’d like to interpret that in a different way and say that through working with our hands, character is formed. I say that because I think there’s an undervalued kind of “practical intellectualism” that goes into making something with your hands. Confronted with a problem, you’re forced to establish a connection between your mind and your hands. You think about the approach to the problem and then you enact the solution that you hope will work. It’s great learning and it forces you to face character traits and biases that influence your approach. When your solution doesn’t work or the outcome is not as good as expected, you have to face up to the reasons for that, whether it be impatience, distractedness or carelessness. And if you want to get better, you have to change.
THE MOMENT IS NOW: When you’re making something with your hands, on nearly every level, you have to be in the moment making decisions for yourself – and if you get it wrong it’s hard and you have to learn. That teaches humility. It teaches you to slow down and to work in the moment, and that brings a kind of peace that we are seldom able to access in our busy daily lives. It’s very similar to catching a wave, that rare moment when time stands still.
Anyone that has been in my workshop will have seen and quite likely worked with some of the amazing Triton Tools that I have in my possession. Which is why you should seriously consider entering a competition that the brand is currently running and stand a chance to win some epic power tools.
By creating a simple plan or instructions and submitting it to one of the competition categories – Kid’s Project, Beginner Project, Intermediate Project, Advanced Project or Masters of Wood Project – you could win a Full TWX7 WorkCentre package with every module available (Clamping table , Router table plus TRA router, Contractor Saw and Project Saw). For the overall Masters Of Wood winner they get every Triton tool we sell in their country including the WorkCentre.
The competition is open to anyone in North America, Europe, Australia and South Africa. Read the full competition brief here.
From 20-25 February 2017 I’ll be back in the relaxed surf town of Cape St.Francis for a workshop that will share the stoke that comes with building and surfing your own wooden surfboard.
Those participating walk away from the course with their own handcrafted and very beautiful hollow wood surfboard.
Anyone interested can sign up for the scheduled six-day workshop option where you start out with a pile of planks and finish up with a one-of-a-kind wooden surfboard. If you don’t have the time for six days, don’t worry – then there is a three-day option that still gets you a wooden surfboard.
The workshop takes builders through all the theoretical and practical aspects of building a wood surfboard. We look at the different types of timber, the environmental aspects and the design dynamics underpinning wood surfboards. This is combined with the practical process of crafting a surfboard from a pile of planks into a one-of-a-kind work of art that can be surfed.
For more information, please visit the following page where you’ll find details of available boards, costs, and a gallery of previous workshop boards.
I’ll be in Cape Town central for a wood surfboard building course between 21-26 November. There will be a daytime build option, but also an evening option between 6-9pm every evening for those who work.
The final course for 2016 takes place from 5-10 December in Scarborough.
Those participating walk away from the course with their own handcrafted and very beautiful hollow wood surfboard. Have a look at this gallery to see some of the beautiful boards that have been made on courses that I’ve held.
Our wooden surfboard course takes builders through all the theoretical and practical aspects of building a wood surfboard. We look at the different types of timber, the environmental aspects and the design dynamics underpinning wood surfboards. This is combined with the practical process of crafting a surfboard from a pile of planks into a one-of-a-kind work of art that can be surfed. More information can be found here, or email Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org
Matthew Kramer was a participant of the first wooden surfboards course that I ran in 2013. Earlier this year I caught up with him for a surf – he subsequently wrote a very articulate account of what his wooden surfboard had meant to him over the years. It was published on Wavescape and I’m re-publishing it below. Thanks to Lee-Anne Curtis-Cox from Capture the Moment for the stunning pictures.
“When I paddled out at Llandudno for one of the first sessions on my freshly built wood surfboard I threw the board down onto the water in the shallows, slid onto it and started paddling, half expecting it to sink. It didn’t. In fact, it paddled nicely, the extra weight of the board making it glide swiftly and smoothly through the water.
I spotted Robby McDonald from Vudu Surf in the lineup and as I paddled over he turned to me and with his usual effortless wit called out, “What’s that you’re riding boetie, the old front door?” We had a good chuckle and pretty soon after that our attention was pulled back to the ocean and the task of catching some waves.
Since that day the “old front door” has had a remarkable impact on my world. I am constantly amazed and inspired by what this wood board can handle and what it can do. I’ve ridden this one board in a variety of conditions from mushy one foot Muizenberg to pumping Llands barrels and I have yet to find the limits of where it can work and bring me joy.
I built the board on a course with Patrick from Burnett Wood Surfboards and the experience of building my own board and then riding it is a huge component of the profound effect I have felt. I cannot recommend building your own surf craft highly enough and I feel it is something every surfer should do at least once.
Riding this board makes me feel I have earned my place in the sea. I feel initiated. I know the cost and the impact of getting to ride the wave. I know what’s inside this thing, just how much effort, love and attention to detail is engrained in its make up, and I’m going to take a great deal of care to ensure that it stays with me as long as possible. I also know that am going to make another one.
Like most surfers, I’ve ridden commercially produced surfboards most of my life and I’ve loved it. Surfing is a gift no matter how it comes to you. I think if everybody surfed there’d be a lot less road rage and nasty business out there. Who would want to be dropping bombs or delivering hurt when there’s a crisp offshore wind and the waves are perfect and you just know there’s a few with your name on them? Well I know what I would choose. I’ve ridden foam and fibreglass boards most of my life.
In fact in recent years I’ve been going through them at a rate. I ride them until they are finished, they reach a point where they will snap repeatedly and at that point it becomes cheaper to buy a new board and not have to keep paying for repairs. But every time I send another board to landfill I feel regret, not for the loss of a board but because I know that I am contributing to the mountain of toxic crap that is bleeding into the earth, poisoning and degrading our biosphere.
As wave riders we are ocean lovers by default. I have a love for the ocean that goes way deeper than just appreciating what it offers me as a surfer. That is something that most water men and women will understand.
The ocean offers us a very tangible and visible example of an ecosystem as a singular entity. The ocean lives, breathes, shifts and changes constantly just like any other organism. It’s easy to see it as a living being and I want to treat it as I would any other living creature, with the respect that it deserves. For me that means being mindful of my relationship with the ocean – what impact it is having and how I can work to better that relationship.
I understand that my actions alone will change very little in this world and any way, I’m over wanting to change it. I’m reminded of a classic line from Detective Velcoro, “My strong suspicion is that we get the world we deserve.”
I believe that Mother Nature will balance the scales one way or another with or without our help. For my part the question is, “what am I going to do to make it all OK for myself today?” And today the answer to that question is to engage in what I love with honor, respect and dignity. I’m putting that toxic shit behind me. I’ll use it where I have to, where I have no choice, but I’ll always be looking for an alternative.
And for now that’s good enough for me, knowing that the blind and unconscious use of disposable, poisonous crap for the sake of convenience is in the past.
I’m not a professional surfer. As far as my value system is concerned I now see that it is more important for me to ride a board that is made from materials that are biodegradable and non toxic than it is to shave five hundred grams from the final weight of my board. In the choice of saving five hundred Rands today versus five hundred years of leaching toxic chemicals into land and sea there is no choice. Besides, I’ve seen more improvement in my surfing while riding my wood board than any performance board I’ve ever had.
What I have learned from this wood board, apart from a better bottom turn, is that although there are limits to what we can do in this life there are options and sometimes the smallest decision can have a powerful effect. I am connected to the the ocean. I am a part of something greater than myself, and I now see that we can only truly care for something when we are a part of it.
It took building and riding a wooden surfboard for me to understand that.”
In 2015, I was very fortunate to have an incredibly talented group of photographers and editors make a short video about what I do at Burnett Wood Surfboards. The film contains some beautiful images of the land and ocean around where my workshop is in Cape Town, and it’s a story about the journey from making wooden boards in the workshop to intimately engaging with the cold Atlantic here on the southern tip of the great continent of Africa. Check out the video below:
This was probably my favourite board of all time. Ok, it’s hard to say that, so let’s put it in the top 3. It was an 11′ hollow wooden gun made out of South African grown redwood, from the Californian redwood species. The British apparently planted redwood in South Africa for ship building, back when they colonised the southern tip of Africa. I’m glad they did because it enabled me to make this board. It was bought by a German guy and has been shipped to Europe.
Burnett Wood Surfboards (and son) missioned down to Muizenberg where the Logjam invitational took place. As part of the event the organisers held a wooden surfboard heat, which wasn’t really a heat, but just a free surf. The waves weren’t great, but it was good to see all the wooden surfboards on display and see some of the folk that I’ve bumped into over the years.
This was a 7′.6″ mini-mal that I made for a guy who walked into my workshop on a Sunday afternoon. I was just shutting up shop so we could easily have missed each other, and he was going back to the U.S. the next day. I like the tones of the wood and the shape is always a favourite of mine.
This was a 9′.7″ hollow wooden longboard made out of redwood. The client wanted a really natural look, with lots of swirl and knots. I spent a few hours scratching around the wood pile to find the beautiful pieces on the bottom of this board. Pictured with me is my youngest son Noah, who often comes to the workshop with me, where he likes to saw and bang making bows and arrows and swords (no surfboards yet).
And finally, a 5′.7″ fish in Western Red Cedar and Obeche, with mother-of-pearl inserts on the bottom. I don’t often do these decorative type boards, but quite enjoy doing something different every now and then.
The evening wooden surfboard building course enables folk who want to work with their hands and build a beautiful, functional surfboard to do so without having to take leave.
Participants will work with beautiful wood, crafting their own surfboard from a pile of planks through to the finished wooden shape.
In the process they will learn about the age-old history of wood and surfing, the environmental aspects of wooden surfboard building and surfboard shaping generally. It’s a real opportunity for surfers to discover the joy of making something with their hands.
Participants will learn about the enjoyment of bodysurfing, the design dynamics that underpin handplanes and the pleasure of shaping something out of wood. Participants walk away with their own self-crafted handplane.
Places are limited so anyone interested should book without delay through contacting Patrick on email@example.com or 073 232 3043
For more information on the surfboard building courses, including the surfboard shapes available and pricing, please visit our courses page.
For more information on the hand plane course and pricing, please visit our hand plane page.