I’ve been dying to find out more about Wefi Surfboards and their brilliant-looking cedar boards. Now if I can only get Randy to build me a paddle board – I’m set.
I’m a small town boy born and raised in a little community called Lantzville located on central Vancouver Island. I grew up in a family of carpenters yet I still tried to dabble in other industries while I was growing up. But my natural roots brought me into some fine woodworking skills. I ran my own business building furniture and curved staircases.
But then one day I tried surfing. That night after my first day in the water I had to build myself a board for the wall. That turned into a board for the water. This turned into a lot of boards being built and cut up trying to figure out the best way to construct these hollow wooden beauties. And from that stemmed some interest locally. That’s when I started Wefi surfboards.
How long have you been surfing? Are you a short or long boarder?
I started about 6 or 7 years ago. Didn’t get to go that much at first. But after some time I started making it a bit of a regular hobby of mine. Although as the orders keep coming in, it makes it harder to get. Haha. As for boards, I do enjoy cruising on a longboard. But I do dabble on a shorter board when the days are heavy.
Where do you surf and what are the typical conditions at you spot?
I surf mostly in Tofino. It’s located on the west coast of Vancouver Island. It has many great locations throughout the area so conditions dictate on where we go.
The best wave you ever caught…
The best wave I ever caught was my first wave. That’s when the addiction set in. haha. There have been lots that come close after that for sure, but that #1 wave was one I still think about. Wasn’t a ride to be filmed or photographed at all. But for me, it was a ride that changed my journey.
What inspired you to start building your own boards?
I think to start it’s that natural passion woodworkers have in them. And after learning some history of wooden surfboards and feeling that sensation of wooden surfboards under your feet, it was enough for me to build myself a few. But hearing from other feedback and their own experience on my boards when they tried them out, always inspired me to lay some glue down and clamp more cedar.
How long does it take to build a Wefi Surfboard?
That kind of depends on the detail the customer wants. But on average from absolute start to absolute finish, about 2 weeks
Why use cedar, and how do you source it?
Western Red Cedar is naturally durable and light in weight. Because of its resistance to decay and insect damage, the wood of large, fallen trees remains sound for over 100 years. Even after 100 years, the wood can be salvaged and cut into boards and used on these boards. And being that it grows right here in our natural elements, I found it a prize to use on these boards. I obtain it from a few of our local salvage mills.
How about your boards durability?
In the last 5 years I’ve only had one board come in with a rail punctured. It is only a matter of drying the board back out and gluing in some new cedar and reglassing the area. Wefi boards are prone to some damage but not anything drastic. You might crack some fiberglass off of rocks or have an area split as well but that takes a lot of force to do so. To be honest, I haven’t had much in the way of repair. The boards are stronger than foam boards without the epoxy glassed coatings. Their strength is in the wood. The glassing adds the extra strength but is mainly serving its purpose to keep it water tight. And with the wood boards you don’t get the death grips, heel dents, or any other kind of pressure dents you would get on foam boards.
What surprising feedback have your customers told you about your boards?
Two comments that are most common is the ride itself and the look…they all say how much more you can feel the energy in the wave. The feel and ride is something you can’t always get out of a foam board.
The second is the look of the boards. All our book matching we do with the wood on these boards tells its own story. It’s almost like its own fingerprint. No piece of wood can be replicated. They all get lost in the grain while paddling out, waiting for a set, or sitting in their living room.
What’s your most coveted tool or machine in your shop?
A friend of mine, Chet Frost a local kayak builder, brought a tool by the shop one day. Since then I replicated one and it is my bestie in the Wefi construction process. It’s called a 5 degree scraper plane. Western red cedar is prone to easy tear out. I find when using a scraper plane to bring down the rails on the boards it allows a lot of room for accuracy.
You have a blank check, what tool or machine would you buy?
Hmmm. Hard question to answer. Haha…I’d have to say a CNC cutting table
You’ve said your process for making your boards is like kayak building – how so?
Kayaks and canoes are built with a bead and cove system. For Wefi boards to keep a hollow rail and lightweight construction, we use this method to achieve shape bends and transitioning rail shapes. So many many many clamps and some wood glue shared with a bit of steam bending makes for a nice smooth edge on these boards.
How have your boards evolved since you created the first one?
They have definitely evolved in design and shape. I’ve changed gluing procedures and some resins, but the overall construction hasn’t changed too much except for backing locations to accommodate fin boxes and tail and nose blocking. Ide have to say the one thing was fiberglassing technique was something I had to learn about and how it reacts with different woods.
Amazing finish you get on these boards.
It’s all in the glassing procedures. We offer two types of finishes. A polished epoxy finish or we can spray a 2 part UV protected clear coat after the fact. Though epoxy resins are prone to UV damage, our marine grade epoxy does resist some levels of it, and the boards that have been around the shop and in the sun for a few years have shown no signs of such issues.
What’s been the biggest challenge in starting your own line of surfboards?
A fun challenge is taking the few generations of foam board riders and trying to get then to see that wood boards still have their place. Having to adapt between the creative side and the business side of Wefi surfboards was challenging at first. Every day I learn something new with this company and I think that’s what makes me enjoy this job more and more every day.
Most popular board in your library?
Definitely the 5’10 fish. Having feedback from some local riders as well as some in Central America, I built that board 6 times before I had it right…And it’s probably my favorite board to build as well.
How long do you think one of your boards will last?
If you take a cedar stripped kayak or a cedar stripped canoe, they can from 20 to 100+ years depending on the maintenance and care. The wood won’t change form. Even after years of heavy use, you can reglass the board again to bring it to new. But in the end it really does depend on the owner of the board.
Every surfer I know wants a lighter board. Can you make yours any lighter and not compromise strength?
Currently, I build them as light as I can without interfering with their integrity. But as we build we are making notes and testing a few research boards to see how light we can make them and testing there lifetime. But in the end, the buoyancy of these boards mixed with the little bit of extra weight makes a great combination. The weight is only noticed on land.
Paddle boards are becoming popular here in the U.S., any plans on producing a Wefi version?
Wefi has made an 11’6” SUP. The problem is cost. Bigger boards, more material, and a lot more labor. The cost of one could be 3 times the price of foam SUP. But it’s still something Wefi surfboards might offer in the near future
You have some major toxic-chemical issues with foam boards, was that a consideration in you going with wood?
At first it wasn’t. Our only hazards are saw dust and Epoxy. The Wefi shop has dustless sanders which keeps the sawdust and epoxy dust down to a minimum. That shared with a respirator, there are no hazards. The epoxy we use has no VOC (volatile organic compounds). And it is only hazardous to your skin. But gloves combat that quite well ;) Polyester resins used in many foam boards (and the acetone to clean up after it) are significant VOC emitters. Most eps foam/epoxy boards are hot coated and gloss coated over the epoxy laminating coat with VOC emitting polyester resin
Coldest weather you’ve ever surfed in?
I think that day in December it hit -5 degrees in Tofino. It snowed that day too…pretty cool to surf in the snow. Might sound crazy, but don’t knock it till you try it.
Favorite surf spot in Canada?
Chesterman beach in Tofino B.C.
Biggest misconception about Canadians?
Well first, we don’t all live in igloos, and all own dogsleds eh. In fact we rarely get snow on Vancouver Island.
The surf culture in Canada is growing fast! We’re finding new surfing locations every year all across the country. East coast and West coast. And new companies to entertain the Canadian surf culture are opening and growing all the time.
– randy on the coldest day he ever surfed
Complete the following: If I could surf anywhere in the world it would be …”
If I could surf anywhere in the world it would be somewhere I’d stumble upon that no one else has seen or surfed.
When you’re in the shop, what bands/music do you listen to?
Anything loud. Each type of board has its own sound track. Well it seems that way. But I accommodate whoever is in the shop…most of the people that come by to hang out or help out bring their own music. A lot of indie rock, some Manu Chao.
What do you do when you’re not building boards or surfing?
Outside of Wefi and surfing I do a lot of hiking as there’s an unlimited amount of trails and landmarks to explore on Vancouver Island. I also spend a bit of time with the local volunteer fire dept. I’ve been there for 9 years. I spend time helping out with community events and training.
What’s next for Wefi Surfboards?
Well waaaaay back in the day, if you wanted to surf you had to build your own board. That is what Wefi wants to offer next. As we keep building our boards to fill orders, we are designing up an instruction plan to have people become one of us in our shop for a short time and build their very own hollow cedar surfboard. We also plan to expand our board library and continue to research and develop newer building techniques.
+ Related: Wefi Surfboards
+ Photos/Nicaragua: Adam Dewolfe