Of boards & fins

If you are a lucky person, over the past few months while everyone has been staying put around the world - you were already in Nosara. If you are even luckier, you would have spent a few days at the woodshop with Marce Piña, owner of Piña Surfboards. There she would have guided you through the meticulous process of building your very own custom wooden surfboard. A very interested and slightly jealous Lee Bailly from Harmony Hotel stopped by for a tour and a quick chat one afternoon to find out more. This is that chat.

LEE: How did you end up in Costa Rica?

MARCE: When I was going through my last couple of years of school, which in Germany is kind of like college, everyone knew what they wanted to do, like be a lawyer or a doctor and whatnot. And I had no clue - I was like, okay, you know what? I just want to go to the other side of the world. That was my requirement. I kind of picked Costa Rica out of the blue.

LEE: How old.where you then?

MARCE: 19. And after three days in Costa Rica, I ended up in Nosara. To me, everything was so new, it was all kind of special. That's when I started learning how to surf. My roommate was Hawaiian, and she just took me out every single day. She was a super cool, stylish surfer. A beautiful woman.

LEE: What a great story. So.when was the moment you decided, "I'm going to make some surfboards?"

MARCE: So that was pretty interesting, because back then there was shaping here. Steve Dunham. He is a slightly grumpy, old, Texan who shaped really amazing surfboards. He learned the craft in Hawaii. Anyway, he had Ponchos, a little surf shop, and I was good friends with his daughter, Kelsey. She showed me the shaping room, and I thought that was the coolest thing. Even though I had just started surfing, I was like man, that would be the coolest thing to do.

LEE: Was he making regular foam and fiberglass boards?

MARCE: Yes. Which, you know, at that time it seemed like such a strange thing to me, having a this crazy mask on with the giant filters and stuff. I thought, this seems really intense and dangerous. And at that same time we were remodeling my husband's restaurant which was very fun for me. There was a whole bamboo part to the remodel and I got so into working with bamboo that I thought making a bamboo surfboard would be the coolest thing. So I was Googling and researching everything. And then when I got back to Germany, signed up for this workshop to make a wooden hollow surfboard. It just popped up on my feed and I was like, oh, it's in my town, I gotta do this. I signed up for carpentry school too because to me it was important to know everything about wood, not rust about surfboards.

LEE: Wherewas the carpentry school?

MARCE: Also in Germany. So I did that for 2 1/2 years and was super happy that I did that. I learned a lot and I'm also really excited to be able to make my own furniture, so this goes beyond just surfboards.

LEE: In' Germany where did you do, your workshop?

MARCE: Munich.

LEE: Okay and is that your hometown?

MARCE: No, my hometown is actually six hours further north, but Munich and Bavaria - that whole region is known for the best woodworking. So that was high on my list, I wanted to go there. learn from the best. And then from there, after school. I started building the first board. Another friend of mine, his dad had an old wood shop that they didn't use anymore, so I was able to use the whole shop by myself and started making boards there. I think I made like 10 boards there, and I did a couple of workshops with friends of mine. So those were my first workshops basically.

LEE: Where would people take these boards to surf?

MARCE: Germany is really close to France, so France, Portugal, Spain. Those are the biggest surf destinations there.

LEE: When you finished your first .wooden surfboard, where did you first put it in the ocean:

MARCE: In France, in Hossegor. And then we took a whole trip down, we went all along the northern coast of Spain and then down Portugal. we cid the whole van lite thing. we spent around 6 weeks just going down the coast and exploring all the waves. The second board I built, in my basement, was a longboard. It was actually the first board I built completely from scratch and programming it on the software program that I was new to. The first surf I had on it was actually here in Costa Rica, on vacation.

LEE: And was it magic? Is surfing your own surfboard totally different:

MARCE: You know I've been surfing only wooden surfboards now for the last 5 years and I feel like... you know it's such a pride thing too.

LEE: Im sure! You're like, I made this And it.works.

MARCE: It works! Yeah, Although now I look at the shape, and I'm like, oh my God, was I thinking?

LEE: So, what is the wood that works best for surfboards?

MARCE: Balsa is great because it's so soft and also flexible, so when you actually ride the waves sometimes vou feel it flex. You know. new boards have that in their modern technology but the wooden boards actually have that naturally. I'm also experimenting with a couple other woods here. I have some Ceibo that I'm drying right now.

LEE: I know that different woods have different fibers and the way that they're cut when the trees first fall can affect the wood. What other factors like humidity impact the boards here?

MARCE: It is a really crazy thing here, especially because you have such high humidity during rainy season. The wood works quite a lot. It expands and shrinks. Recently I cut a balsa tree. Well it actually fell. And then I went over there and cut it around two months later because it was so heavy. After I cut it, I brought it over to get it into the mill guy and he cut it into blanks for me and he stores the wood. It was a whole different process. I have to check on it once a week to at least get all the termites off. Because that is a huge problem.

LEE: How do you do it just by going there and physically removing them?

MARCE: I go around the property about once a month and I smoke them out. The make new nests though.

LEE: Ha. There's plenty of space for the termites to find places to live. Its not like you're kicking them out and they have nowhere to go. There everywhere

MARCE: AlL this yummy wood that they can chow on! Balsa ls actually kind o their favorite. Cause it's soft. It's so soft. I imagine that's really good for a termite. But yeah, that's a bit of an issue I have here, but you know, its not like in Germany where vou go to the hardware store and you Just buy the blanks of a balsa colonia wood. Here, you basically really start - not from seed - but from a fallen tree. You know, I actually made a deal for some trees on a friend's property. We made a deal that he'll get a surfboard out it. But you know, those trees are going to make quite a bit of boards.

LEE: Where I'm staying there's a bunch of balsas that are dying because they've reached their lifespan and are falling. So. I guess they are around years!

MARCE: 15 years is pretty old for them. And that's usually when it's like the perfect time to cut them because after that they'd die and they rot inside. Then you can't even use the wood.

LEE: What are some of the key things to consider when making a board out of wood?

MARCE: So there's two different, well, actually three different kinds of wooden board. Ha no, I can't say that, there's more. There are the Paipos and the Alaias, the boards that have solid cores. Then there are hollow wood surfboards, which are the chambered boards, and this kind o style with the skeleton on the inside. The chambered boards are basically big planks of wood that are glued together, then shaped as they are like a foam board.

LEE: I had no ldea. Okay.

MARCE: That's a whole different other process, and it certainly requires way more skill because you actually shape it out of the log and then vou have to shape the rocker. It's much different.

LEE: How do they out it when they hollow it out?

MARCE: They actually cut it on the seams where they glued it together. So they cut it right there by the lines and then they just hollow it out and put it back together.

LEE: Wow. Okay. I had no idea. So I learned something new.

MARCE: SO the hollow wooden surfboards with the internal rib cage, you program that with software. It's used by all kinds of shapers that print out their boards in CNC machines What I do in the end after programming the board is I convert it into another software program where it spits out the rib cage. And then I go from there, I start making the rib cage. The rocker in the rib cage. The volume is already set because as you can see, the rib cages are small on the sides during the center, then they get bigger. So you basically already have the shape right then and there. That's why it's such a perfect thing for workshops, because anybody can make a board with me.

LEE: And so when you say it spits it out and then vou have your skeleton, what do you mean? What form is it?

MARCE: It spits it out on my computer. I can print that out and transfer onto the plywood. Then I use the jigsaw and then the bandsaw. I route out the centerpieces. Then I punch out all the holes on the job press. Finally, I sand the edges on the belt sander.

LEE: So that's a process. How many hours does it take you to just do the ribs? Is that rib cage around two days?

MARCE: It takes me almost a whole day to do just the rib cage.

LEE: I love it. I hope I get to make one. Okay. Lets see. What other things do you consider when making a board out of wood. I guess besides rocker and materials?

MARCE: All the materials are super important. For example, I'm using quite a lot of different stringers. This one has the Espavel Roblo and is really nice because it still has a little bit of flex in there, which we really need. Teak is really hard because there's no flex to it. And then, of course you have to look for the grain, if there's knots or if the growth pattern was funky, you know, that can actually bend the wood in different ways as well. Yeah. So we have to be careful with what part of the tree we are actually using.

LEE: There's always that in every craft, right? There are all these intricacies that you don't even know exist until you get into them. It's pretty cool. Now how does riding style influence the types of boards you make, or the boards people make?

MARCE: So far I have all the guys do a board that was very similar to their favorite board. I mean, riding a wooden surfboard might not feel that different in the water when you're actually on it. The weight, of course, is a bit heavier because of the actual wood. But that can help a lot.

LEE: I actually like boards that have a little weight to them.

MARCE: Especially, you know, these beautiful days when it's off shore, like shoulder high and you want to glide, you just want to get in exactly. That extra weight helps you to get like perfectly right in there. The wind doesn't bother you.

LEE: I often reference it to like riding a beach cruiser versus like a road bike. Because once you get a beach cruiser going you're going, it just takes a lot more to stop it. And exactly, it just works to your advantage to get into the waves.

MARCE: I also always recommend flowy boards. I love fish shapes, fun boards. I love 'em because those are also the boards that I'm riding, but I feel like they march the style of the wooden boards.

LEE: When people come to shave a board with you, do they already have in mind what they want?

MARCE: Most do. Some I can pursue in a different way. At this point I have about eleven different shapes that people can choose from, but I can also customize any shape. I love sitting down with people and creating their dream board with the software.

LEE: There's so much innovation in shaping now. Have you ever gone back to surfing on a board that you haven't made?

MARCE: I have. I'm a member of a surf club and you go in there and they have three wooden boards in there, but then there are another 150 boards you are allowed to use. So to me that is super cool because when I'm trying to design a new shape it's fun to try out different boards and different volumes.

LEE: I've been watching some of the older surf movies, and I watched Fish: The Surfboard Documentary about when those were first developed by those shavers in California. There are also the asymmetrical boards made for a specific wave, thats always a right or always a left.

MARCE: Asymmetrical boards are a bit strange. Definitely. But you know what? I was talking to Grant about them. I'm thinking about making one too, because you know, there's certain point breaks here around Nosara where it would be pretty cool to have that.

LEE: I liked the point in Cara. It's a right but I am goofy foot so I like my lefts. I've never surfed on that point break but would love to.

MARCE: Yeah. It's really funny because I feel like on longboards, I love going right. And on shorter ones, I love going left.

LEE: I think because I just transitioned to a short board, I've been on it for about a month, including that week where we weren't surfing because of all the rain. And I love it. Today I finally got a wave that had a little bit of a face and since I've spent enough time transitioning now that I'm like, okay, I'm on my feet, this is what I'm doing. And it's so fun. Ok, so how long can you expect a wood board to last if you don't bang it up and take care of it?

MARCE: Well, difficult question, I'm still riding my fish that I built five years ago and it looks exactly the same. The wood got a bit more vellowish, but aside from that it has the same shine to it and there are no dings on it, no pressure dings. I feel that the wooden boards are so much more durable because underneath that fiberglass there's actually wood that can withstand any kind of collisions.

LEE: Do you keep your board in the AC or leave them outside?

MARCE: No. the outside is fine.

LEE: Anything else you want to add? Do you see yourself staying here and continuing on this path?

MARCE: I certainly do. I've been at the Woodshop space since January and I'm loving it so much. I love working alongside the guys in the woodshop and I love giving these workshops. It's a lot of fun to share this with other people and also to see how they get so into it. One of my friends actually said that it was one of his life dreams to do, and he loves his new board so much. That gives so much back to me, you know? Being able to share this is the coolest thing.

LEE: Yeah you're changing people's lives, you're helping them realize a dream and you're doing it actually in a really regenerative way. You're taking trees that are fallen and repurposing them so as far as environmental impact, you're way ahead of the curve.

MARCE: I feel that this is somewhat of a very important matter these days because we should be always trying to create things to last. So even when I make furniture, I choose the traditional joinery over screwing everything together. And it just looks prettier too. I told my friend Graham that built a board - this might be the board that you give your daughter in whatever years, and he said for sure, she's so stoked already, I think she wants it now. So I'm hoping people really do take care of these boards and appreciate them as much as I do.

LEE: Well you're invested, that's why it's so nice that people will have the opportunity to make their own versus just buying them off the rack. They're beautiful.

MARCE: I love just sharing this and teaching as many people as I can and my vision is to have in a couple of years, a lot of people in the water with my surfboards, that would be the coolest thing.

LEE: I love it, yeah get rid of all that foam.