Nothing says OB more than surf, sweet boards, and social consciousness!
In the following interview, OBcean Larry O’Brien, vintage body board collector, cave explorer, and aspiring eccentric shares one of his many passions: Creating boards from found wood and other materials.
Coronadoian “Paipo Mike” Shourds, builder of wooden body boards and recycled junk bikes since 1960, is also a collector and all-around creative person.
Terrie Leigh Relf: What inspired you to create your body boards?
Larry O’Brien: Back when I was in junior high school, carpentry was something taught in school, and sex was something you learned on the street. Making a three-foot plywood belly board was one of the elective projects for eighth graders. I didn’t make one, but some of my friends did, and then rode them. At that time, I was more interested in bodysurfing.
Nowadays, most woodshops have been removed from our schools, and I think there is only one that serves the citywide adult continuing education programs. So, woodworking has become something you learn at home or on the street. Fortunately, the Internet has been a real game-changer, and I think it’s been the biggest factor in the rebirth of riding wood.
I have no trade secrets. I freely share my designs and building techniques. I want people to make their own boards. We must keep the flame alive. I remain hopeful that someday we can liberate the glee club, and teach kids woodworking in all of the schools.
I’ve been a collector of vintage surfboards and belly boards for many years. It was only about ten years ago that I started making my own wooden boards. I don’t do it for profit. To me, they are ride-able art, and they also tickle my inner mad scientist.
Mike Shourds: I also started making wood boards back in 1960. My dad wouldn’t buy me and my brother a surfboard, so he gave us a ½” sheet of plywood and a jigsaw and said, “Make one.” Thanks dad! The beach was our playground when we were kids, so everything rotated around it.
Terrie: Larry, how did you come up with the name “beach toys”?
Larry: I might have got beach toys from one of my friends. I use it as an umbrella term to cover a wide range of surfcraft sizes and construction methods. There are many specific terms, like surfboard, bellyboard, paipo, alaia, lamaroo, bodyboard, handboard, handplane, and even Royal Egyptian Cubit Board. Calling them beach toys helps to keep it simple.
Terrie: Have you experimented with other recycled materials for your ride-able art?
Larry: I repurposed a large waiter’s tray simply by putting a bodyboard leash on it. It was a fun experiment. It still makes a good tray, and that can come in handy at the beach. A while back, I made a handboard (mini paipo) out of the lid from a toilet seat. I added a layer of cork to bring up the buoyancy. I even glued on the hotel label that says: “Sanitized for your protection.”
Last year, I made a bellyboard out of an old ironing board. It was one of those wooden ironing boards that fold down out of a wall cabinet. I added handles and a tailblock made from recycled wood. I must confess that I bought a new ironing board cover for it. It was an impulse buy. I couldn’t resist the 60s pattern.
I haven’t recycled any cork bulletin boards, but that is certainly a good source. I still have a bunch of cork that I bought used. It had been shelf padding at a retail store, so it’s repurposed in a sense, plus cork is relatively sustainable as it’s periodically harvested without killing the tree. Cork has several benefits when used in surfcraft. It makes a wood board float better, it offers some padding, and you don’t need wax on the deck.
Mike: I make them from all kinds of scrap wood I find on my walks with the dogs. I don’t repurpose broken surfboards so much any more because it requires chemicals like resin.
Terrie: What’s the most exciting wood you’ve worked with?
Mike: Probably the most exciting wood I’ve ever worked with is lightning-struck poplar. I get it from a guy in Illinois who has a small lumber mill in his background and recycles trees that would normally go to the landfill. He sells it cheap on EBay.
For the rest of this story follow the link to the OBRag.
Most photos by Mike Shroud; photo captions by Larry O’Brien.