I put together a short video of my trip with Katya through Clayoquot Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island this past spring. This is a combination of HD footage from a Canon DSRL, a waterproof Nikon Coolpix, and a GoPro HD HERO2. We brought a small tripod on the trip to use for the GoPro time lapse clips. It was very helpful to use the LCD BacPac to frame the images, but it really drained the battery quickly and unfortunately the GoPro was dead in no time. I think next time I would bring either a few extra battery packs or a way to recharge through the USB connection, like the BioLite stove.
Our board is totally finished now and we’ve had the opportunity to take her out on a few casual trips. Isn’t she just gorgeous? My first impression is that she’s a little heavy -- at least 40 pounds! Factory manufactured boards seem to run anywhere from 28-45 pounds so she is at the upper limit but not far out of range. Be warned that if you decide to make one of these you may grow to envy those dudes who can carry their boards to the water across big parking lots under one arm without breaking a sweat!
Unlike a sea kayak, which has a cockpit and perimeter lines, a paddleboard doesn’t have a lot to grab on to, so hand carrying and cartopping a slippery, heavy board can be a serious issue. I forgot to mention that we cut a notch in the middle of the deck to use as a hand hold. This helps a lot, but what really helps is to use a carrying sling. The sling consists of a couple adjustable wide strips of nylon webbing that snap around the board with quick releases, and another adjustable padded strap that clips in between the other two that you wear over your shoulder.
I think the weight is actually real advantage on the water though because she feels very solid and stable, even in a rough chop. The extra inertia seems to help when paddling with a headwind too. We were concerned that the varnished deck might be slippery and even bought a few cakes of board wax, but it turned out not to be an issue. I felt like I had a good grip on the board with neoprene booties on, even in rough water when the deck was awash. I noticed the hard varnished surface was slippery and not very comfortable when kneeling on my bare knees though. The deck might feel slippery paddling barefoot.
The deck of a sea kayak typically does not see as nearly much wear as the hull. Unfortunately, the deck on a paddleboard is constantly exposed to the sand and pebbles stuck on the bottom of your feet and booties. I bet applying board wax might actually make the situation worse by making the sand stick to the board. I suspect our meticulously finished deck is going to look pretty scratched up before too long. Annual revarnishing is probably indicated. Wood Surf Board Supply sells a transparent traction film that protects the deck surface and provides a nonslip surface. Another idea is to use a matte rather than a gloss finish, which would hide superficial scratches. A matte finish would give it a hand-rubbed oiled look.
One small modification we definitely plan in the future is to install some simple deck rigging, probably just of a length of bungee crossed over the deck by the nose. This is primarily to hold a pfd on board when we don’t feel like actually wearing one on hot sunny days!
As I mentioned before, I haven’t been on a lot of paddleboards, but I can say that this board so far has been the best I’ve tried! Tracking is great, yet she still turns easily. Compared to Joe Greenley’s cedar strip board, she’s less responsive to changes in trim (adjusting your position fore and aft), which makes sense because she has a more volume at the ends.
Anyone who has built a wooden kayak is familiar with hearing plenty of compliments from admirers, and then getting into long conversations with people on the beach about boatbuilding as they are about to launch. Katya has been getting her first taste of that, sometimes talking so long she hardly has any time to paddle! So one final tip: give yourself some extra time when planning trips to field those questions, bask in the admiration of strangers, and share the joy of boatbuilding!
Remember those blocks of balsa that we installed inside the board by the tail? Those are meant to give structural support to the fin box. To install the fin box we needed to cut a hole in the bottom with a router. We purchased the fin box from Wood Surfboard Supply. The box is plastic and the removable fin itself is glass and can be adjusted fore and aft to fine tune the trim.
If you were thinking ahead you would have carefully marked where the balsa wood blocks were after the bottom was stripped so you would know exactly where you could install the fin box. We forgot to mark where the blocks were, so our hole extended about an inch too far aft and we had to plug the bottom of our hole with more small pieces of balsa.
To get a straight cut, we marked where the fin box hole should be, then set up a simple guide using a 1/2 inch board taped and held firmly against the bottom. Because of the curvature of the board, it was difficult to clamp a guide in place.The first few passes with the router were shallow, just used to define the area. Later we cut it the hole the appropriate depth (a little over 1 inch) using multiple passes, then cleaned it up with a chisel. Be sure to make enough room in the hole for a layer of fiberglass and thickened epoxy in addition to the fin box itself.
A lip about 1/4 inch high surrounds the grove in the fin box. This lip is there to keep epoxy from getting in the fin box during installation, and is meant to be removed after installation of the box. So in order for the fin box to lie flush with the bottom, the box should be installed so that the lip will stick above the surface.
When mounting the fin box it is important to have the fin in place, so you can tell that it is perfectly perpendicular to the surface of the board. Try to avoid getting epoxy on the fin. If you do, it will sand it off easily, but you might want to cover it with tape to keep the epoxy off. Also, mask the area around the box with packing or duct tape to protect it from epoxy. We brushed the inside of the hole with epoxy, put a layer of fiberglass and wet it out, then spread a layer of thickened epoxy in the hole before inserting the fin box.
After the epoxy cured, we removed the fin from the box, cut off the excess fiberglass and epoxy, and used a block plane to carve down the plastic lip of the fin box. Be careful not to mar the board with the block plane. After we carved most of the fin box down, we removed the masking tape on the board and ground down the rest of the box lip flush with the board surface with a random orbital sander.
The fin box kit from Wood Surfboard Supply also comes with a leash cup. It should be mounted on the tail of the board. It holds the leash which keeps the board from floating away from you if you fall off. The leash (sold separately) is attached to your ankle with Velcro. To mount the cup, we drilled a hole 1 inch in diameter in the center of the tail block on the deck, spread thickened epoxy in the hole and pushed the cup in. The area around the hole was masked with tape. After the epoxy cured, we ground down the cup edges flush with the board surface with sandpaper.
Placing a Vent
Simply letting the board sit in the sun for a few minutes will result in an increase in the internal air pressure, as I found out when moved our board from the garage to the yard. After just a few minutes in the sun, opening the vent released a long and dramatic rush of air. Imagine how much the internal pressure rises after letting it sit on top of a hot car for a few hours! I recommend installing a vent to equalize the external and internal pressures, and keeping it open whenever the board is not on the water. The board probably won’t burst at the seams right away if you forget to open it one day, but repeated cycles of high and low pressures will eventually lead to failure.
Ideally, you would have a hatch to drain the interior and allow air to circulate in case water gets inside. This is especially important when the inside of the board is bare wood and not sealed. If the inside gets wet the strips will start to warp and you would notice it as ridges running along the length of the board.
We placed a simple vent (also available from Wood Surfboard Supply) consisting of a screw and a neoprene washer at the tail next to the leash cup. The central spar effectively separates the left and right halves of the board into two separate air chambers so it’s important that the vent overrides the spar. The location of the vent at the tail was chosen entirely for aesthetic reasons. It is actually safer to put the vent at the nose where you can always see it, as a constant reminder to close it before you get on the water, but we felt that that would detract from the look of the nose. You may want to install two vents, at the tail and nose, to allow better air circulation.
Epoxy will discolor, turn brittle, and eventually disintegrate with prolonged exposure to UV radiation. It is important to protect it from sunlight with varnish. We coated ours with 4 layers, wet sanding in between with 300 grit paper. Before varnishing I scrub and rinse the board off to remove any dust and contaminants. I try to work in as clean and dustless area as possible. This can be difficult to create in a workshop after all the cutting and sanding that’s been going on. I vacuum the shop well, wet the floor down and let the dust settle for a couple days.
Prepare the varnish by filtering it through a paint filter into a clean container. Pour only as much as you expect to use. To improve the flow, I dilute it 10% with high quality paint thinner, the kind intended for actual thinning, not for cleaning. Once the can of varnish has been opened, it starts to go bad! To keep it fresh, you need to keep the oxygen off it. I keep a cylinder of BernzOMatic propane handy and blow it into the can as I close the lid to expel all the air out.
I like to use the roll-and-tip method for varnishing. A 1 quart can should be just enough for 4 coats on a board this size. I use thin foam rollers and a high quality brush. You definitely don’t want to use a cheap brush for this, because it will leave loose bristles behind. I pour the varnish into a pan, wet the roller, and roll a layer onto the surface, then I go back and tip it off with the dry brush. The roller gives you a thin, even layer that won’t run. The problem with rolling is that it leaves a lot of tiny bubbles. Tipping off with a dry brush pops all the bubbles. Start from one end of the board, and always work from wet to dry, to the other end of the board. Don’t go back over an area that you’ve already varnished: you will leave brush marks because it has already started to dry. When the varnish has completely dried, wet sand it down with 300 grit paper, preferably somewhere other than where you do your varnishing, and just enough to get rid of any drips and dust particles, then dry it, wipe off all the dust and repeat another layer, until the can is gone.
Exploring the nooks and crannies around Deception Pass on the warmest day of the year.