I think I can get a foam board for about six hundred bucks! Why should I pay more for wood?
Despite the fact that it's tempting to, you can't really compare Grain boards to foam - they're really completely different types of surfboards. A challenge for Grain is to help surfers to see the choice to get a Grain board as beyond the choice of foam that requires a different mindset about the economics of your surfing habit.
Perhaps the key difference is that we don't intend them to be thrown away within a year or two. Unfortunately surfers have grown used to the idea that their $600 investment should only last them for a couple of years' worth of sessions. But we've done the math and when you look at what you're paying per session for a disposable board, versus what you'll pay for a board that could last for ten, twenty, thirty years or more, then Grain boards are far less expensive - per session - than disposable boards.
When they choose a Grain surfboard, we don't want people to think that they are getting the same board they bought time after time before. We want you to understand that you've chosen something hand-crafted, built to last, that surfs great and is worth keeping forever. That sort of quality is worth saving your pennies for. Besides... it'll save you from having to buy the same board again next year.
How does building a Grain board differ from building a foam board?
In almost every way but the glassing. First of all, the shaping process is completely different and much more understated when building a Grain surfboard. The shape of the board is mostly dictated by the internal frame. Surfers, engineers and shapers helped us to design our frames and, precision-cut on CNC machines, they reliably dictate a consistent, symmetrical shape.
A 'skin' of cedar planking is systematically glued to the frames using a pretty simple process, which includes application of full panels (nearly 24" wide) made up of 1/4" thick cedar planks and the application of a series of specially machined strips of wood lengthwise along the rails. It is after the wood skin has been applied that the shaping occurs as the builders trim off excess wood. This part of the process allows some latitude to the builder in hollowing out modest bottom contours and turning down or softening the rails.
Finally, the board is covered with fiberglass cloth and epoxy resin, and finished with a series of coats varnish for UV protection.
They look more like furniture than surfboards. Are Grain boards fragile?
No. They are much less prone to damage from normal use than is a foam board. They don't pressure ding, or spiderweb nearly as easily because the wood skin provides a sturdy support under the fiberglass. You won't make heel dents on the deck even though no heavy deckpatches are applied to reinforce the single layer of four-ounce cloth that we use on the entire board. If the boards get hit by a hard, sharp object, you may see delamination the size of the impact area that appears as a white cross-weave of glass fibers where previously, the glass was transparent. Usually, these impact areas are small and due to the rigidity of the wood skin, they don't tend to spread. They are easily patched in a manner similar to that in which foam boards are patched, only without the need for fillers, excavating foam, or increases in weight. Fin boxes do not generate stress cracks in the fiberglass because they are supported by solid wood on five sides, as opposed to soft foam. (Get more detail on dings in item 12 of this FAQ.)
And Yes. Hollow wood surfboards are like pressure vessels. They are built to be watertight which means that in use, the air inside also cannot get out. Take a Grain surfboard into cold water, and the air inside will tend to contract. Theoretically, in extremes of heat the board would try to disassemble itself - though we've never seen this happen in reality. We think that unless the air inside has a way to escape as it expands in the warm sun, it will stress all the internal joints equally until one or more of them gives. This is the reason that all hollow boards are fitted with vent plugs. Builders of Home Grown Kits have to make sure to remove their vent plugs soon after leaving the water, keeping it loose or out all the time the board is traveling or stored. Boards built at the Grain shop have automatic vents that don't have to be removed.
Because the interiors are untreated raw wood, soaking them has a similar effect to leaving the vent plug in. Wet wood expands and in a board that is encased in a semi-rigid skin of glass fibers, there is nowhere for expanding wood to go. Accidentally leaving your vent plug loose or out when you get in the water will allow the cooling, contracting air inside the board to suck seawater in. The board expands, internal joints are stressed and the rest is sad and predictable - but repairable.
How much heavier is a Grain board than a comparable foam board?
Real wooden boards are always heavier (out of water), but how much heavier depends on a handful of factors, and on how you compare the boards. For instance, foam boards can be tremendously different from one another in how they are constructed. Some foam and glass boards are built with less material to make them lighter and they are very fragile as a result. Others are much stronger; especially those with more resilient foam cores or epoxy skins. Some are stronger due to more layers of glass - or a heavier type of glass - and are naturally heavier.
But for strength and durability, most foam boards can't be compared to Grain surfboards. Our boards don't knee-dent or death-grip along the rails, and are harder to ding or break, so comparing their weights is a little like comparing the weights of balloons to basketballs.
But when we weigh our boards against boards of comparable shapes and reasonable construction, we usually find that our long boards are about 10% heavier, and as boards get smaller (below seven feet or so) they start to approach 20% heavier. We attribute this to the fact that a long board will have more internal space as a percentage of the total board volume than will a shorter board.
How does a wood board act in the water?
If measured in a lab you should be able to determine the fraction of an inch of difference a Grain board, floating at rest with no surfer on it, would be lower in the water. But when you do the math, board weight by itself is as significant as you would think - a board that weighs 15% more than another board, will weigh only 2% more when both boards have 160-pound surfers on them. Still, none of that is really relevant to the experience of surfing - which is all about how boards and surfers behave in a highly dynamic, propulsive environment. In the water, our boards do not have a noticeable heaviness to them until they are in trim when the glide kicks in - when "weight" turns to "drive". They never feel corky, but do have a different feeling of buoyancy when in motion than do foam boards - we think that the air space inside creates tension in the board's skin and frames that gives it a more lively feel than something that is of equal density throughout (like foam). The way weight is distributed in wood boards also helps them carry through turns better, which means it also requires slightly more energy to initiate those turns. Though they have a decidedly soft feel in some surf conditions, many surfers report a certain amount of chop dampening because, though the boards are more lively than foam, they do not rise clear of the water as easily as a light-weight foam board would. But once they are planing, their added weight generates more momentum down the line.
Can you build boards to my specifications of rocker, outline and rail profile?
Absolutely. However, because most of the board shaping is designed into the frame, this is a fairly time consuming process, so there will be some additional expense. We'll get your specs, then work up a rough outline and profile, emailing you screenshots from the 3D design software. You'll give us some feedback, then we'll make some adjustments and get to work on the rails and bottom contours (if any). See the FAQ Section on "Making Decisions About Boards" for more details.
It's our goal to keep you as involved in the design as you want to be, so you can feel free to give as much - or as little - input as you want. We apply all the knowledge we have of special design details that are important to wood boards, and in the end, you'll have a design that you - and we - think is perfect.
Can you create a kit to my specifications of rocker, outline and rail profile?
Sorry - we need to build a board before we can make it into a kit. Otherwise, how would we be confident that the kit was good enough to sell you?
How do you add boards to the Grain Board Line?`
There are two ways we add boards: one is when there is something we want to build. We are working on developing a number of new designs right now. The other is when a customer approaches us about a custom board. If we like the result, it can be added to our board line. We use several types of computer design software to assist us in the design process, and pass files to our CNC machinist to render into frames.
I love the look of Grain boards, but I would like a better idea of the rocker, contours and rail profiles. How can I get that?
One way is to stop by the shop. We usually have some boards there waiting for delivery or pick-up, and at the very least, we can pull some of the framesets, dry assemble them, and have a look. We are also planning to put cross sections and full board dimensions on the website. We donâ€™t have a schedule for that yet, however.
Can I use any kind of fin system I want?
Yep. Kits do not come with fins, but do come with fin boxes. Generally speaking, we use FCS for shorter boards and 10.5" center boxes for longboards. While that is what they come with, there is no reason you couldn't put in whatever system you like. Boards we build for you with glass-ons naturally have high quality fins, to your specifications if you have a preference, but all other boards and kits do not include fins, though you can find some quality fins in our store.
Do you do custom graphics?
Yes. We can add painted highlights, solids or patterns, apply your graphics, or laminate cloth onto the board if desired. What can't go on the board is another company's logo, or references to pros or "signature models" unless the board is actually a signature model designed by or with another shaper or pro.
What is the finish on a Grain surfboard?
Ultra violet light affects epoxy causing yellowing or, in extreme cases of exposure, oxidation and whitening of the glass fibers. We used to apply a coat of super-hard polyurethane UV-resistant coating in two to three coats as added insurance on boards built for customers. But we recently re-evaluated that decision because of the environmental cost of the sprayed two-part formula. For several years, we have put no UV protection on any of our personal or demo boards, and have noted zero negative impact. The epoxies that we use are formulated for marine use on vessels that sit out in glarey, hot sun all day, every day. Reasoning that most surfers will keep their boards in a bag when they're not in the water, we have decided to make the UV protection an option, and to instead give away a free hemp/recycled poly board bag with each custom board.
Kit builders often choose to apply a quality marine spar varnish in three coats, hand-wetsanded to 1500 grit, and polished with a buffing wheel. The result is a soft, satiny feel with enough reflective flare to make the wood shine.
NOTE: We often post pictures on the website of boards we are working on in the shop. Since they are not quite complete, the finish won't look quite like the finished board.
What about dings?
Two important facts: wood boards ding less than foam, and depending on the extent of damage, ding repair on wood boards can be very similar to repairing foam.
One simple benefit of wood boards is that theyâ€™re more durable than a typical foam board. You won't get pressure dings, heel dings, stringer rise, death-grip rail-dents, etc.
Also, dings in wood boards are usually not as dangerous to the health of the board, because the wood does not seem to absorb water in the same way that foam does. For one thing, it is rare for the wood fibers to actually be broken - even with sharp objects as the glass seems to distribute the force across an area of wood (because the glass is supported by the wood) rather than just pop right through as happens with foam. We also believe that the epoxy that has penetrated the surface of the wood is still protecting it even though the glass may have pulled away in the damaged area.
We typically see only three types of surface damage:
1. when boards hit something sharp with considerable force (like they fall against something pointed, or they go up on the rocks); or
2. when a point on the board (like the nose or a tip of a swallow tail) is smashed against something hard like a concrete floor; or
3. when something traumatic happens like they are driven into the bottom with a 250 pound surfer coming down on the middle of them.
We consider the first two to be â€œminor damageâ€, which are actually easier to repair than the typical foam board. The last can be thought of as â€œmajor damageâ€, requiring some woodworking expertise, but is certainly within the abilities of any good board repair shop.
Minor damage on a Grain Surfboard requires less filling because of the structural nature of the wood. In other words, dings tend to be smaller in area, and there is usually no need for big, stiff cabosil plugs. Minor damage generally presents itself as a small area of glass that has "popped" which means that it has pulled away from the cedar underneath because the cedar has been dented slightly and the glass can't follow the gradient of the dent. In most cases, a board with this type of damage can just be sanded in the area, and painted over with a little epoxy. When it cures, you fair it in like you would with any ding repair. The epoxy needs to be able to work its way through the fractured glass to the wood below to make a decent bond, but you will still see the glass fibers in the area of contact.
For a more cosmetically appealing repair, you might grind out the impact area and replace the glass with a glass patch just as you would with a foam board. Rarely would there be a need for any filler other than a dollop of epoxy where the dent is. If it is very small, it may not even be necessary to patch it with glass - you can just sand, file or grind out the fractured fibers, and lay in a dollop of epoxy big enough to seal the gap in the glass. Keep an eye on it in the ensuing years and if you notice any stress cracks, then grind out the fill, and repair with a glass patch as you would any foam board. It is likely that you won't ever see stress cracks because the wood has much more inherent strength than foam does, so the glass is not as much of a structural element.
For more traumatic damage, we are slowly developing a bag of tricks, which is still fun, because we just don't see alot of that kind of damage and we are still learning about best methods. Though we damage our experimental models on occasion (we are testing out new ideas all the time) we have only had two customers with traumatic damage. One took it to his local shop which did a terrific repair, and the other is in our shop now. There were three options for repairing the board we have in the shop, and the easiest one could probably be done by any surfer or surf shop that has repaired a substantially damaged foam board. Our customer elected to get the full monty, though...the board will look like new when it is done.
Why don't you guys have a stand-up paddle board? Why don't you get on the bus?
We thought about doing it at one point... we even cut out a frame and made an optimistic post predicting it would hit the water any day. That was 2007.
Since then, we have continued to get orders for other new custom surfboard designs that have taken all our attention. We're not sure that a wood SUP built with our method is even a great idea. And though we still get alot of queries about SUP/SUB's - primarily for kits - we still haven't gotten any orders for a custom. All of our kits have evolved from custom board orders, so until we get a custom SUP order, we probably won't be offering one. We predict that a custom SUP would be about thirty-two hundred bucks. Any takers?