Mike LaVecchia picks up a hand plane and runs it along the edge of the cedar planks, showing how, little by little, he carves the wood into the rounded nose and gentle contour iconic of a surfboard.
The co-owner and founder of Grain Surfboards, a workshop in York, Maine, LaVecchia builds boards the old-fashioned way.
He constructs them out of wood, eschewing the use of foam and limiting the amount of chemicals used in the finishing process. “It’s worth putting in a little extra effort, a bit of extra investment for the payoff,” says LaVecchia, who stands near the first board he ever made—proudly hanging in the shop. “People will have a board they will feel close to.”
An hour north of Boston, York is where Bostonians come to escape the summer heat and humidity, and to surf. Flags on the north and south side of the hard-packed sand beach mark a zone where surfing is allowed on this stretch of the Gulf of Maine.
LaVecchia moved to York from Vermont to be a boat builder. He grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s intrigued by surfing, and made his own board after his work for a local builder slowed down 15 years ago. His friends were soon asking him to make them boards.
In his workshop, LaVecchia points out the raw cedar, that arrives in six-, eight- and 10-foot lengths. It is these planks that, through a series of steps—sawing, planing, milling, shaping, epoxying and sanding—are transformed into surfboards. The cost can range from US$1,900 to $2,400, and Grain offers workshops where participants learn to make their own board, and sells kits so surfers can build their own at home.
The cost is more than a foam and fibreglass surfboard, but LaVecchia says wood will last longer. “Wood has memory to it, so it can bounce back,” he says. “They are very strong, they don’t—unless you are throwing it on rocks—really show pressure dents and dings.”