Surfboards: Going With The Grain

In a sport whose very existence depends on the beauty and power of the natural world, riding a surfboard that started life as pile of chemicals—as do the omnipresent polyurethane foam boards—seems a bit of a disconnect. A gleaming, gorgeous board that began its days as a tree feels like a much closer match to the surfing ethos. Perhaps that's why these wooden beauties are making a comeback after a half-century of foam dominance, with small companies like Hess Surfboards and RAYSKIN  leading the field. Even the great Laird Hamilton, king of big-wave riding, has sung the praises of wood for tackling monster waves. Here, a few things to consider before you saddle up on one:

Beauty. The boards speak for themselves on this account. What's prettier than a hand-carved and -crafted, shiny piece of wood slipping through crystal-clear water?

Tradition. Hawaiians crafted the first surfboards from the islands' local timber, and wooden boards remained popular through the early part of the 20th century. In other words, you'll be riding a throwback of sorts.

Sustainability. Instead of polyurethane, wooden boards are made from fast-growing trees like balsa and cork, or even reclaimed materials. And, in many cases the sealants used to protect them are less environmentally damaging, too.

Longevity and Performance. You may have noticed wood lasts longer than foam in the rest of the world, so why should surfboards be any different? Wooden boards hold up better to the beating that waves put on them, and have better tensile strength and flex than many poly boards. 

Expense. There may only be one negative, especially for poor, amateur surfers, and that's price. Entry-level foam surfboards will set you back a few hundred bucks; brand-name foam boards retail in the neighborhood of $700 to $800. You can expect to spend upwards of $1,000 for a wooden version—or, a half million for a luxe, New Zealand-made Roy Stewart model.