The art of making waves

The art of making waves

Mar 9, 2020


Trial and error has played a large part in the successful evolution of do-it-yourself Tree To Sea wooden surfboards on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula.

Designed to help preserve oceans for future generations, the eco-friendly surfboards are “unlike anything else on the market” – light, durable and using sustainable plantation-grown Paulownia grown and milled in Coffs Harbour.

Co-founder Rob Ivers said the two-day workshops of 2020 are a far cry from when he and long-time friend Gary Miller from Mount Eliza started a decade earlier with a series of informal workshops with mates before they were ready to take their concept to market.

Responding to the popularity of the workshops, Rob asked Darren Minchen to come on board as third partner to bring his expertise as a carpenter to the operation.

“When we started, we were the only firm in Australia where you had the ability to come and make your own wooden board. It was something new, something different that no one has ever offered before,” Rob said.

Inspired by the idea of Rich Blundell’s Grain Surfboards in the US – what Rob describes was “like a Tupperware party where you get friends that come along to your place and build a board together” – the duo loved the concept but wanted to improve it “to make it achievable for everyone”.

“Essentially, no matter what your skill level, you can come along and have a go. This weekend, for example, we’ve got a workshop and a lady wants to build a board as a present for her daughter. She has never touched any tools and has no idea what to do, but we find they’re usually good students because they listen and have no preconceived ideas,” Rob said. “Kids who come with a parent are also good to teach because they’re like a sponge and really want to learn.

“When we do run a workshop, everyone leaves with a board as good as what we would make because we ensure with an instructor-to-student ratio of 1:2 that they are properly guided and encouraged and end up with a product as good as we would make.

“The concept is still about nutting things out about how they’re going to work, and knowing the limitations of the medium you’re working with, knowing what it can do and how can we try to make it do stuff it doesn’t want to do, like bend with little or minimal force.”

The labour of love involved testing different board styles, fine-tuning manufacturing techniques and processes and sampling different materials before settling on the “amazing” Asian timber Paulownia, which was originally used in Australia for plantation shutters, the sides of caravans and boat structures.

“Once I looked at it, felt it and saw the really nice grain pattern, I thought ‘This is going to be all right’,” Rob said.

“It’s very light, very strong for its weight and it’s easy to work with. It doesn’t get splinters and doesn’t rot.

“It’s sometimes called the Phoenix tree because if they cut it off at the base and leave a stump above ground, it will resprout and grow another tree.

“In the early days the timber guys would laugh when you said you wanted to use it to make surfboards. But now 50 per cent of what they grow in Australia is used for making surfboards.”

Much like the evolution of surfboards from the redwood and Oregon long boards of Hawaii and California in the 1960s to the lighter, more manoeuvrable fibreglass-based boards, Tree to Sea has ridden the wave of surfing history to adapt their processes to incorporate extensive recycling and sustainable practices when crafting an extensive range of boards to suits all shapes and sizes.

The Tree To Sea team also takes great pride in its ability to renew cracked (or ‘creased’) fibreglass boards to give them “another life” and stop the weakened boards from going to landfill.

But Rob says he derives the greatest satisfaction from reconnecting people from all walks of life with the joys of working with their hands – a uniquely human formula that is not left to trial and error.

“For us, it’s not about volume. It's more about the enjoyment of the person making it,” Rob said.

“Some guys have said when they walk in and see a whole pile of wood (we start with timber that is 150mm by 6mm in various lengths) they think ‘OK, this might be OK to hang on the wall’. But two days later they walk out with this fantastic board under their arm and say, ‘I cannot believe we could turn these bits of timber into a fantastic surfboard’.

“No two boards are the same because every piece of timber is unique and every board is going to be different.

“You rarely see one of these boards sold. If someone comes down to make a board, it becomes a family heirloom. And when they're not using it, they can stand it in the corner of the lounge room and it becomes a work of art after they have put so much effort, time and love into it."