June 23, 2018
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Maine’s Grain Surfboards teams up with Patagonia to host sustainable board-building workshop

By Aislinn Sarnacki, BDN Staff

Grain Surfboards of southern Maine is collaborating with renowned outdoor apparel and gear company Patagonia Surf to host a four-day class on surfboard building, Oct. 18-21, at Patagonia Surf’s location in Cardiff, Calif.

For the workshop, two instructors from Grain’s headquarters in York, Maine, will be travelling west to teach. Each student will build their own wooden surfboard and take it home at the end of the class.

Patagonia ambassador and professional surfer Keith Malloy will be joining the class to build his own board alongside the students.

Grain Surfboards, owned by Mike LaVecchia and Brad Anderson, combines modern surfboard shapes with wooden boat-building techniques to create beautiful boards out of sustainable Maine wood. The company sells completed boards, board kits and board accessories, and hosts board building workshops.

“We look up to [Patagonia] and read everything we can about them,” LaVecchia said. “We definitely admire them for what they do. They make products designed to last a long time, and when [a product is] retired, they take it back and reuse it and turn it into something new again.”

Started by a group of climbers and surfers, Patagonia — once a small company that made tools for climbers — has grown over the past 30 years into a worldwide business that makes clothing and gear for climbing, skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running.

Patagonia’s mission statement — “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to environmental crisis” — resonates with the principles of the Grain team in Maine, which is “committed to building, promoting and riding surfboards that have less impact on the environment and more impact on your surfing.”

Online, more than 50,000 people have taken Patagonia’s Common Threads Partnership pledge “to reduce excess consumption and give the planet’s vital systems a rest from pollution, resource depletion and greenhouse gases” by “purchasing only what [they] need, repair what breaks, reuse (share) what [they] no longer need and recycle everything else.”

In return, Patagonia “agrees to build useful things that last, to repair what breaks and recycle what comes to the end of its useful life.”

“Our philosophy is similar,” LaVecchia said. “We use all local material — 99 percent of the wood we use is grown in Maine and sustainably managed wood. And we try to use as much of it as we can. There’s very little waste. That’s something we put a lot of effort into.”

Founded by LaVecchia in 2005, Grain initially offered only finished, custom-build boards, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,000. But early on, he realized that only a select group of surfers could afford the product, so the Grain team built board kits (about half the price of a finished board) and began teaching board building classes (with tuition hovering around $1,500).

“We enjoyed the process so much, we realized it really made sense for us to offer it to other people to make it easier for them,” LaVecchia said. “To try and build a surfboard like this at home without any instruction — well, it took us a year to build our first surfboard. Now we have the process dialed in. We thought, why not help other people do it? In the end, our goal is to get more people thinking about the boards that they’re riding, what they’re built out of, the longevity of the product. When you build something yourself with your hands, it give you an appreciation for it that buying it in a store could never do.”

The Grain workshops are also an effort to bring back a certain surfing tradition. Prior to the 1950s industrial boom and trend toward plastics, surfers typically constructed their own boards with wood, LaVecchia said.

In the spring, Grain Surfboards’ launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to raise $38,500 for a mobile surfboard-building classroom. Now in the process of being built, the vehicle will help Grain staff share the process of building wooden surfboards with even more people. Essentially, they can now set up board-building workshops just about anywhere, be it a beach parking lot, private residence or school — granted they have permission.

For the Patagonia-hosted workshop, Grain plans to use its new mobile classroom for the first time, then drive north to hold three more workshops — two in San Francisco and one in Portland, Ore.

“One of our goals is to get out and work with people and get more people building boards and sharing this experience with people,” LaVecchia said. “We get a lot of people coming here to Maine, but in the colder months, it’s a little more challenging to get people to fly out here.”

LaVecchia and Anderson have been talking with Patagonia employees and ambassadors for years about collaborating to offer a board-building workshop. This year, with the help of Malloy, the pieces fell in place. For the workshop, Patagonia is offering the Cardiff venue to Grain for free.

Tuition is $1,750 per student, which includes the cost of all materials, supplies and selected pages of detailed instruction on glassing and finishing, an estimated value of $520-$820. Grain also throws in a “practically gourmet” breakfast and lunch each day.

Most people who take Grain’s board building classes don’t have any prior woodworking experience, LaVecchia said.

“Surprisingly, we get a number of people who don’t even surf,” he said. “The most important thing is to have an eagerness to learn and be patient and detail-oriented. Those people tend to do best.”

Registration for the workshop in Cardiff, Calif., is open now and is filling quickly. For information and to register for a workshop, visit Grain’s class website at www.grainsurfboards.com/classes. To learn about Patagonia, visit www.patagonia.com.

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