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an article:
"Frames of Reference"

Don Forthuber

(A similar version of this article appeared in Longboard Magazine, Vol.4, No. 4.)

As the skylights illuminate the minute uneven spots on a laminated redwood surfboard, Bill Hoopes looks carefully for flaws in his work. "I had seen several of Greg Noll's beautiful redwood boards at his son's shop in Crescent City, so I thought, 'Why not? If I don't tell anyone what I'm doing and make something ugly, so be it. I'll just embarrass myself a bit. But I had to try it: I wanted to shape a redwood board,'" he muses, applying some sandpaper to a flaw in one of his latest creations. "It's become so much fun that I cannot imagine what I used to do for fun when I wasn't surfing." He eyes the wood carefully as he shapes his twentieth board in a year's time.

His interest in wood and lumber is not a new one, and his arrival at this point in time in a shop surrounded by several classic 60's boards and old growth redwood in neat stacks is an interesting one. It does not seem unnatural that in Humboldt County, the heart of the redwood country, the redwoods are being preserved in this fashion.

Working in redwood and fir sawmills in the 1960's to finance college, Hoopes, 50, handled a lot of lumber, developing an appreciation for redwood and its rare qualities and beauty. Later, as a foreman of a wood re-manufacturing company, he worked with various woods and tools and learned to love working with his hands, creating useful and beautiful items. A few years ago, he began shaping Hawaiian-style redwoods between teaching English classes at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, CA, where he has taught since 1974.

Bill explains, "My first redwood followed 1930's drawings from Newport Harbor Union High School, where construction of redwood surf boards was common in the woodshop. Improvements have occurred as I have made mistakes and gained experience, spoken to oldtimers, studied photos and movies, and conducted research. The ones I build basically follow the measurements for Hawaiian boards mentioned in Dr. Don James' wonderful movie, Surfing in the Thirties[10 feet long; 21" at the widest point; 16" or so at the tail; approx. 3 1/2" thick]. Before I got into this board building too seriously, I took a board to Doc and said, 'Well, does this look like the ones you used to ride?' I knew I was on track when Doc said, 'You bet. This is da kine!' I guess that I wanted to give people who identify with this period of surfing or appreciate it a chance to have a bit of it for their wall. I have several old 60's boards, from my era, and they give me immense pleasure, so redwoods must mean the same thing to others."

Hoopes has branched out into hot curl boards, which were the next stage in the evolution of the surfboard after the squared off Hawaiin boards. [The old redwoods would not go down the line on a "hot" wave, so in 1934 John Kelly pulled in the tail section, creating a board that soon came to resemble the guns of the sixties.] He also makes replicas of Waikiki rental boards that were produced by Pacific Systems Homes of Los Angeles in the thirties. These are six feet long, 3/4 of an inch thick, 16" wide, and have a slight kick in the nose. "What I like best about the Waikiki boards is the clear connection you see to the shortboard today; when I find some curly redwood, it makes a beautiful six foot board from material that otherwise has no practical construction function, since it lacks strength."

To have a minimal effect on the environment, Hoopes seeks recycled lumber or purchases lumber from portable mills specializing in windfalls or logs left from turn-of-the-century logging shows. Bill explains that each piece of lumber is hand selected and finish-milled in his shop. Though he uses power tools, much of the work is done with a hand plane, sandpaper, and loving sweat. Varnished boards are sanded to 600 and finished with several coats of marine spar varnish, the way they used to do it. Wood chips are recycled and other scraps made into fins for modern and 60's boards or used in other projects.

Hoopes says that many thirties boards were bolted, doweled, and chambered. Today's glues eliminate much of the need for dowels and bolts, while chambers are desirable if one intends to ride the board. "Several of my friends and I plan to ride a floatilla of these babies at Moonstone [a well-known small wave spot on the Northcoast] this summer. One friend is having me make a him a chambered board. We should be able to take off and whisper, 'Comin' down' to any shortboard on the shoulder... instant respect, you know, like a Mazda wouldn't yield to a Mack truck? "

Bill and his wife, Chris, and their five children center much of their lives around the ocean...exploring, fishing, and surfing. Bill and his two eldest sons surf Humboldt and Del Norte Counties year- round (sometimes without a wetsuit...in the summer, of course!) and travel to the Islands as much as they can. He also edits a newsletter for the North Swell Surfing Association, established in 1965. But more and more often Bill can be found ankle deep in shavings as he works to bring out the fine lines of a classic wood board from the rough lumber milled out of a thousand year old log.

Born-Again Boards uses recycled wood whenever possible.

Background photo by Michael Kew.