Blood, Sweat and Wood at Maine’s Grain Surfboards

Some of the world’s best wooden surfboards are being made in York, Maine.

The woods of southern Maine are an unlikely place to find a surfboard manufacturer, but that’s where Grain Surfboards calls home. Grain has been producing wooden surfboards in York, Maine, since 2005 — and it shows in the well-worn shop. It’s stuffed to the brim with precision-cut surfboard parts, wood stock, wood planes, finger planes, spoke shaves, saws and drills. The smell of fresh-cut wood and glue wafts through the air. Wood shavings overflow from bins and line the floor around the work stations. The entryway to the shop consists of a kitchen, dining room table, a small rack of merchandise and a display of Grain surfboards. It feels less like a commercial surfboard manufacturer and more like your savvy neighbor’s DIY workshop.

Wooden surfboards might sound strange, but foam-based surfboards, the most common construction today, are a small blip in the overall history of surfing. In the sport’s almost 250-year existence, fiberglass and foam surfboards only occupy a mere 69 years. Before the foam era, surfers made their own boards from what wood they had available. Grain is taking people back to the roots of surfing, making wooden boards with the help of modern technologies. “We call that ‘re-evolution,'” says Brad Anderson, Grain’s co-owner, with a chuckle.

Grain Surfboards started out life in the basement of fellow co-owner Mike Lavecchia’s home. He had only made a handful of hollow wooden surfboards when a profile of the company was published by a small New England-based magazine. Shortly thereafter, the famous Clark Foam, one of the largest producers of foam surfboard blanks in the country, closed its doors, dealing a huge blow to the foam surfboard industry. When Grubby Clark closed his doors, the operation was worth $40 million, but environmental hazards and run-ins with California’s environmental agencies were leading people in search of a “greener” solution. Around the same time, the Associated Press picked up a story featuring Grain, and word spread. The timing of the story was a perfect storm for the small startup. “At that same time [as the closing of Clark Foam], being born on the coast of Maine is this little enterprise that is about exactly the opposite,” Anderson said, comparing his company to Clark Foam.

“We love working with our hands. We love wood and we love this process.”

That’s not to say that Grain Surfboards is purely a product of circumstance. Both Mike and Brad come from wooden boat building backgrounds, which provided them with the skills to build hollow wooden surfboards. With symmetrical knots, contrasting wood stringers, beautiful glassed-on fins and the Grain logo burned into the deck, the finished products are the work of masters. “We love working with our hands. We love wood and we love this process,” says Lavecchia. While foam boards are quicker to shape and can be reproduced in mass quantities, he and Anderson have always put the craft above expediency — and the same principles apply to the raw materials they use.

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Grain has long had a commitment to using locally sourced products. Originally, they used western red cedar because it was easy to come by at the local hardware store. After some research, Lavecchia realized that Maine white cedar, a rot-resistant and lightweight variety, could be sourced locally from a family-owned, Maine-based business called Portage Mills. Portage Mills sustainably harvests Maine white cedar, which was an important factor for Grain. Recently, Grain partnered with Lie-Nielsen tools, a company based in Warren, Maine. “When the opportunity came up to partner with them, we were thrilled,” Lavecchia says. “LN makes all of their tools here in Maine, which is always important to us. Their factory is state of the art and they employ local people, which is also awesome. But most importantly, their tools are just incredible to work with.”

Although Grain does make custom boards, they prefer it when customers take a class in Maine and build the board themselves. “There’s so much more satisfaction and appreciation for the thing if you did it yourself,” says Lavecchia. The DIY aspect of Grain surfboards is an integral part to the company’s mission. “We’re living in such a commoditized world,” says Anderson. “It’s starting to feel cheap just to have things.” It doesn’t hurt that the finished product is also durable: Some of the boards in the entryway to the shop were built up to eight years ago and have been surfed consistently. They look brand new and will outlive a foam surfboard many times over.

You can feel the DIY “maker” spirit in the shop. It’s in the air, the sweat and the wood. After sitting in on one of their board building classes it is easy to see why. The guys simply love to share their passion for making wooden surfboards. The enthusiasm and attention to detail that they show in the shop is infectious, and it’s something they attribute to the whole team. “This sounds super cheesy but I get inspired by everybody that works here,” says Lavecchia. “People get pumped and I get inspired by that.”

“I call Mike an enthusiasm vampire,” Anderson says. “He’s a love sucker.” You can feel that spirit in every nook and cranny of the shop. But most importantly, you can feel it in the surfboards.

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