Paulownia: Treehugging for Grommets and Waxheads


A little while ago we wrote about wooden surfboards from New Zealand and mentioned that we'd found others we'd be getting back to you on. Here we are.

Tom Wegener Surfboards is, like most of these guys, a "small family-run operation." Tom makes each of the customs boards himself, using the plantation timber, Paulownia, a wood he originally used in 1999 for stringers in the foam boards he was making at the time. By 2003 he had worked out a full board made of the stuff. Apparently, where possible, all waste materials are composted on his Queensland, Australia, property, or is recycled.

The Paulownia story is an impressive one. The wood is said to be 30% lighter than any comparable American hardwood, falling mid-way between Balsa and Poplar. Some species can grow 30 ft (9 m) in three years and others reaching maturity at 75 ft (23 m) in about 10 years. Move over bamboo! And whereas bamboo regrows from its rhizome roots, Paulownia is similarly credited with rapidly regrowing, although in its case via coppicing from the same root, helping to stabilise soils.

Paulownia is also known as Kiri and Empress and the latter is the name taken by our second timber board maker, who also used this remarkable wood.

Also hailing from Queensland, Empress Surfboards' shaper (whose father made wooden surf skis in the 1950's) trained in cabinetmaking and worked in boat building design before co-founding the company last year. Their board (pictured above) is hand-made, without veneers, nails or screws. The solid wood boards are chambered (hollowed out), and finished with a cloth fibreglass and polyester resin for added strength.

Tom Wegener, also glasses the exterior of his boards, but does offer what he tags as his 'Plankton' models. These are boards with no fibreglass - finished with linseed oil only.

See also our guide for How to Go Green: Outdoor Sports for more on other eco surfing initiatives.

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