An Early Timber Wave Slider

As a young boy on a camping holiday with my parents, I remember catching my first view of a surf beach on the North Cornwall coast in 1964. Yes, we do have surf and sand beaches in UK (the sun is occasionally seen also).

“What are all those people doing in the surf,” I asked my Dad, “Surfing son!”

Tent pegs have never been knocked in with such enthusiasm as beach reconnaissance was subject to camp being fully established (including rain drainage ditches).

A poor unsuspecting slider was shortly thereafter apprehended and asked around three hundred questions before they could proceed. Wow! This looks like fun, lying on a bent piece of plywood surfing the wave.

Well, my hard earned and saved holiday money soon transformed into my first belly board, three foot long a foot wide and around three eights thick (say 5 mm ply all grain running longitudinally) for a skinny grommet like me. Adults were half a foot longer, same width and maybe half inch thick. These sliders were used generally in water up to waist deep and on a good ‘summers day’, in those times, quite literally thousands of sliders would be enjoying the surf. We grommets became more ambitious and realized that a pair of fins allowed green waves to be chased (we eventually glued up our own neoprene suits so we weren’t so blue around the gills after our forays into the surf).

I was sorting out some timber stock recently and came across a couple of species, Indonesian Red Cedar and African Obeche. These off cuts were around a foot wide, quarter inch thick and twelve feet long. Significantly, both species are light in weight and two colours contrasted for a cute looking finished item. It was amazing how my mind jumped back to those happy summers and Arthur my foreman was soon heard muttering ‘boss doing a foreigner’ as I powered up the wide belt sander and had the stock prepared for laminating.

I remember the boards having a turned up nose to stop nose diving on the wave, therefore, the laminating would require bending the tip of the laminations and the thickness – or should I say thinness – of the laminations would have to allow such a bend. I decided to make a simple mold or jig to ensure I could apply plenty of clamping pressure to ensure a fair curve and 100 percent contact between laminations to allow good adhesion and a strong and stiff finished board. Having a powerful bandsaw at my disposal and plenty of timber, manufacture of the jig was simple and made by splitting one piece of twelve by three with the appropriate flourish on one end. For home based manufacture, I have thought of a few ideas. Using several pieces of three by one and a jig saw; once you have cut say six identical pieces, fasten the top and bottom set together with cleats and you are then ready to press your first board. If a medium sized bandsaw is available pieces of four by three suitably cut and cleated will work in same way, probably three would be enough.

My first trial saw 4mm thick laminations and no glue, just a dry press to evaluate how things were progressing and it quickly became evident that a relatively tight bend in the nose needed thinner laminations or to soften the timber.

Both options seemed interesting to test. Thinner laminations was simply a matter of resanding the stock to 2mm which when dry-pressed allowed a full bend and contact. Those readers who can access veneer from a plywood mill will be able to proceed this way.

So simple steam bending, taught to me by an old timer, Clive Caporn (now presumed building timber boats in heaven) still using our thin 4mm laminations: the stock is separated and a chalk line applied along the point of maximum bend and a large jug of water is boiled and the contents carefully poured along the chalk lines. The laminations are then pressed in the jig (no glue). The next day the jig was opened and the pre-bent laminations (still wet) were again separated and put to dry out of the sun. We used a two pack epoxy glue (Techniglue, nationally available via ATL Composites. See there ads in this magazine). We used cling film to prevent bonding jig to board. Allowing an overnight cure the “board” was removed from the jig, sanded and sprayed with a single pac cheap varnish.

The boards have subsequently been well tested by yours truly and provided interesting beachside conversation. Several younger surfers did not realize that ‘belly boarding’ had been around before foam and fiberglass! Well, have fun and for those thinking of building larger floating objects, there are many good lessons in this process that you will use in boat construction. For more ambitious readers we carry stocks of long grain balsa wood cut specifically for Malibu sliders!