I know about as much about chambered wooden surfboards as Mary Poppins does about Quantum Dynamics. That said, one is never to old to learn and after a brief chat with John Hamblett one of the top board builders at Grain surfboards I felt myself wanting to learn more.
Why was I talking to John Hamblett?
Simple, whisky (the stuff you drink) and wooden surfboards have had a baby, or rather, at the risk of sounding pedantic, we will call it a love child. Glenmorangie (a single malt whisky from Scotland) and Grain Surfboards have made a series of surfboards together. If you are wondering how that’s possible, let me grease the gears in your mind.
Founded in Maine, USA, and boasting a whole load of positive eco vibes, they have worked with many famous surfboard shapers to duplicate certain board models but using locally sourced wood. Realising the eco value of their product to the surf world, Grain now run workshops to allow anyone to come and learn their techniques, helping to spread the knowledge of building more planet friend wave vehicles. Not content with this they also offer kits which the skilled among us can use to construct their very own wooden board in their garage.
How is a Grain Surfboard made?
Today’s wooden surfboards are a wonder of engineering and skill. All the boards are first designed on a CAD (Computer Aided Design) machine, the ‘ribs’ and ‘keel’ are cut to precision forming the internal structure, kind of like the framework or the skeleton. From there, locally sourced wood is matched for the deck and underside of the board. The whole process is very involved and every piece has to be millimetre perfect.
Founded in 1843 in the Scottish Highlands by a man called William Matheson, this prestigious brand produces a number of award winning single malt whiskies that vary greatly in price and palette. The original range of Glenmorangie whisky is aged in casks that are hewn from purpose grown oak grown in the Ozark mountains in the USA. They are left to dry out for two years and then leased to American Bourbon companies for four years for their product to age. The casks are then transported to Scotland and used for their originally intended purpose of maturing Glenmorangie Single Malt Whisky.
Some other whisky makers keep re-using their casks to obtain the spirit character they look for and indeed sets them apart. At Glenmorangie, their casks are used only twice, for their ‘first full’ and ‘second fill’ respectively. The Glenmorangie original is then balanced out of these fills.
What to do then with their empty and perfectly good whisky soaked casks?
The Grain / Glenmorangie Baby (Beyond the Cask)
As you may have gathered by now, these two companies have one massive connection. The wood. With Grain being the pioneers they are in designing and producing wooden surfboards and having a long and successful collaboration history with other brands, it just seemed like something that should be done.
Grain have used their nous with dead trees and keen visionary ethos to make some surfboards out of used Glenmorangie whisky casks. I know, what an awesome way to recycle some historic wood that otherwise would have been wasted.
The boards themselves, of which have been twenty five made, is based on the ‘Thin Lizzy’ Grain model, one that is a proven shape and would appeal to most people. The dims of the board are 6’0” x 23 3/4” and is about 49 litres. That’s a big, short, board.
One of the ‘love children’ (boards) has been tested at Thurso in Scotland and by all accounts of the supplied video, works well.
After talking to the shaper ‘John Hamblett’ there were a few surprises along the way, after leaving the old barrels to dry out in the Grain workshop for four weeks, they got to work cutting the wood. Even after the drying with heat lamps, there was still a lot of whisky left in the wood and the machine vacuum was sucking out what could have only been neat, prime Scottish whisky. I have been told the smell in the workshop was that of single malt wonderment and must have provided an interesting working head space.
As the casks are made of oak, which is heavier and denser than the normal cedar wood used in a Grain surfboard, the team decided to make the panels for the deck and base of the board thinner to allow for the same overall weight and performance. They used 4oz epoxy layers top and bottom and entropy resin (the most eco that does the job) before the finishing polish.
The boards (I guess like all Grain boards) are well thought out, look positively stunning and by all accounts are sublime to ride. If you want to grab one of these boards which will not be repeated anytime soon, you can get your mitts on one for a cool five thousand dollars. What can I say, money is relative and if you like nice things and have the cash. Why not.
As always it’s nice to learn new things about other ways to construct wave riding vehicles that are so necessary to our unique pastime. Must dash, Miss Poppins is having trouble with this one z(t)=z0+v0t+½at2, as I said, you are never to old to know or embrace new things.