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I make functional art — art that is designed to get wet.
Not the functional art of furniture designed to be used in a home, but functional art that rides waves. As an artist and designer, I feel the need to make this art have aesthetic beauty and purpose. Art that is to be viewed as both functional and fine art.
Surfboards are the supreme combination of form and function. Compound curves work together to create an elegant form that allows the rider to experience the power and intimately of the ocean’s energy. My boards are designed with the passion to match the challenge: Surfboards as a functional art (emphasis on the fun), made from the most eco-friendly materials, to be beautiful and durable without any compromise of performance.
Surfing with wooden boards is also a sustainable decision. As much as I can, I use woods that are either beach harvested or locally grown near my home in the Pacific Northwest. Building boards as I do, I choose to create surfboards that last a very long time using the Rolls Royce principle of building less, but making them last, which ultimately uses fewer resources and reduces the need to build replacement boards. That is what ultimately makes a lower impact on our environment. We can all do better and I’m trying…
Questions and Answers:
Question: Could you describe how they FEEL in and out of the water?
The true pleasure of having a hollow wood surfboard is the ride…
Imagine surfing waves on a board with a distinctive resonance in the water, similar to an acoustic guitar that has morphed into the perfect surfboard. The air core and tensioned wood skins of a hollow wood board allow for a unique energy transfer between the wave and the rider. The feeling of the wave is amplified on a hollow, it has a more alive feel. Once you’ve ridden a hollow wood board, foam boards feel dead…
A hollow wooden board feels a little heavier on land than that a foam board, but due to the board having an air core, feels lighter once it is in the water. The weight advantage of hollow board has the benefit of more momentum when paddling, catches waves easily and rides smoother. Hollow wood boards also allow you to ride further on a wave than a lighter foam board. If you are into “busting airs” you are better served with as light a board as you can find and that isn’t a wooden hollow, but if you prefer to ride smooth and flow on a wave, a Jensen Hollow Wood Surfboard is the ultimate surfing pleasure…
In the water, my hollow boards feel less flexy than foam. This is due to the carbon fiber that reinforces the stringer and holds the thin wood deck and bottom skins to the frame. Paddling on it has a tensioned skin feel to it. Like lying upon a super taught trampoline. There is a greater sensitivity to the water under the board, no foam to dampen and deaden the surface conditions that are transmitted through the board. Subtle, but its there.
The feeling while up and riding is a tough one to describe. You will be pleasantly surprised on your first wave with yours. It feels alive. The transmission of surface conditions through the board is heightened, like standing on a really firm drum. You feel the water texture in ways you have never felt before. These boards have the uncompromising ride characteristics of traditional shapes, with the added benefit of more drive and carry that the weight advantage gives you. Designed into the shapes are speed, looseness and responsiveness. You’ll kick out of your first wave with a smile on your face…
I’m really not trying to hype what I’m doing. I’m just sharing what I know and what others have confirmed to me about the ride and the feel…
Question: What makes them worth anything more than super-expensive wall-hangers?
Because my boards are built to be ridden. I don’t know about you but in my house my wife has her own decorating scheme and boards aren't part of it, no wall hangers and that’s just fine.
Question: You build some of the most beautiful, costly surfboards in the world. Why should I consider one?
I can't answer that question for you, maybe you can. I'm not a salesman. I provide information for you to make your own decisions. I do build boards, mostly for myself, and if you want me to build a board for you, I can.
Question: What qualifications do you have?
I have been surfing since '71. I currently live and surf in Washington State. My day job is a cabinet / stair carpenter (now retired), and a damn good husband and father. I’ve been building my boards since the mid '70's.
In 2001, before anyone else made a move to build contemporary hollow board, I did. Since then, the imitators, copycats and those inspired by what I’ve built have spread out worldwide. All that is great, but the fact is I got the ball rolling.
Another qualification that means something is that I have traveled the world and taught over thirty Hollow Surfboard Workshops worldwide in conditions ranging from open sided, dirt floor barns, to state of the art, federally funded industrial woodworking schools. The varied conditions teach me what works the best, and using my method, even the barn boards turn out as well as the million dollar schools. Also remember that in a lot of the classes there was a language barrier. A testament to the simplicity of the process.
The Surfers Path magazine (issue #67) has credited me with being " ...the consummate craftsman of the hollow wood board genre. Jensen's boards are quite literally 'works of art' and certainly the most gorgeous surfboards that are actually made to be ridden, anywhere..."... and Surfing Magazine’s 2009 Shaper of the Year, Tom Wegener has honored me by calling me "the Godfather of the Hollow Surfboard renaissance". Nice words and all, but it simply boils down to this, I know my stuff...
I usually dawn patrol when it's good. I also paddleboard (lay down and stand-up) year round. Once I even broke through the ice to access a local lake when it froze over.
Question: Your quiver?
I'm 6'3 "x 210#. My current quiver (all hollow wood) includes: a 5'6" bellyboard, a 5'10" fish, a 9'9” noserider, an 11’6” SUP, and a 12' prone paddleboard...I also bodysurf, handgun and paipo surf.
Question: Good waves?
If you only knew. Yeah, it gets good. Big thick beach / jetty waves and occasionally perfect cobblestone point surf. Mostly real early by myself before work, heading home when most everyone else is starting their cars for work.
Question: I'm sure many people are curious about any individuals and/or concepts that may have influenced your present ideas?
Great question. I guess I'm like most people and am influenced by just about everything I experience. If you were to look at the world through my filters, you would probably be led to where I am now.
The way I see it, we all have the desire to be original. To some, originality and fresh ways of looking at (and creating) things is the essence of who they are. Most people have a harder time seeing different ways of doing things. Either you have it or you don't. The common trait that some of the more creative people I have met is their mental deconstruction of everything they see. Then evaluating every component that goes into what is before them. Everything. An ongoing mental exercise. Can't really turn it off. It just is.
Originality comes in degrees. To some simply changing a color or pattern is original. Maybe building things 1/8" bigger or smaller is a huge change. To some, who have looked at the palette of existing material and design choices and rejected them because it has already been done before ad nausea, exploring alternative methods is the only option they see. I know I have had blinders on when it comes to making choices. Right or wrong, good or bad, it comes down to perception.
When I started my early wood boards, I wanted to be as outside of the foam board way of building boards as I could. Not because it was a bad way of doing things, but why would I want to be the next Rusty or Merrick, when I could be the first Jensen? Each of us has that potential. You just need to totally do your own thing with no regard to what anyone else thinks. There will be struggles and epiphanies. It might be a total failure, but you don't know until you try? Or it could lead you to be the one inspiring others for generations. Then once you are at that point, you can either keep you methods a secret or share and empower others. The evolution continues.
I firmly believe that some of the freshest ideas come from far away from the major surf industry centers. I thing a big part of my exploring hollow boards is the fact that I do not live near a major surfing Mecca. I think by living in Washington State, I'm less influenced by surfing's media and peer pressures or being forced into some little box that surfers are sometimes stereotyped into because of what they ride. Walk to the beach with a different board and feel the glares. Too many hate to see change. Just look at glassers who won't go to epoxy. Is it that big a change? It is sad to see that the surfing industry is more fashion than innovation.
A lot of people look at what I'm doing and see something way beyond what's out there and appreciate that there is creativity going on. Maybe it gives a ray of hope to those who see surf designs as stagnant. As for me, I'm just having fun and am looking forward to the next offshore day.
Question: How long does it take to build one of your boards?
It takes about a week, working before and after my real job as a carpenter, to get one to the point of the board being ready for glassing. I usually don't start one and work straight through it until it's done. There are multiple stages of construction which require glue or resin to dry before proceeding, so I do a little in the morning, let things set up, and work on it again after I come home. It works out pretty good. No hurry is more fun.
Most of the framework and skinning goes pretty quick, but building the rails can easily take a full day. Count the layers, each one gets glued with contact cement, and that stuff takes at least 15 minutes to dry to the point of adding another layer. After the rails are on, the shaping of the board is fast, because there is no deck and bottom work to do, just than some fine sanding. I just use a belt sander with 36 grit on the rails and use it as I would a planer. Watching the rails take shape is so very cool.
Question: What sort of rocker and thickness flow, bottom/rail contours do your hollow boards have?
No compromises. Concaves are possible. The rails are shaped, so anything goes.
Question: Are they all flat?
Question: How about removable fins?
Sure, I do it most of the time.
Question: Won't your boards swell up and explode on a hot day?
There's a vent in the nose (not a drain). A brass screw with an O-ring seals it while surfing. The rest of the time the vent is open.
Question: How tough are they?
Unlike foam the wood isn't thick enough to dent and it has an all epoxy glass job. The rails are like built up stingers. More than tough enough.
Question: Your boards, are they really hard to build or just insanely slow and time consuming if you're not all that familiar with woodworking?
The first one I built was REALLY hard. I was ready to quit when I couldn't get the rails on. It took three different attempts to find the right combination, and each attempt took days. So frustrating. But it was all worth it when I started to shape the rails and the beauty just came out. Then after I did the glassing, it just glowed. SO BEAUTIFUL! After that (and the first wave) I knew I couldn't go back to foam. The journey continues.
Finally, the following is from a surfboard forum and it sums things up nicely…
“All the words you can use to describe surfing a wood board end up sounding trite or clichéd. I think that’s why internet discussions about them devolve into photo essays. Almost anything I could contribute would be the same – it sounds stupid, but harmonic, resonant, and organic are really all I can say.
You obviously can’t actually feel the wood when it’s wrapped in a layer of glass & resin. But beyond the tactile, there’s definitely an emotional aspect to paddling, sitting, and standing on a piece of wood in the water.
You ever driven a Ford truck from the 50s? Slept on the dirt in wool blankets? Cleaned a big fish? Sipped 40-year old Scotch? Chopped down a tree with an axe? Like surfing a wood board, all of those kinds of things awaken something inside of us that the plasticine era has covered up in layers of shiny dross.
Of course, there’s also plenty of stimulation about driving a BMW, a reclining 1st class seat, expertly-prepared fresh sushi, a chainsaw, and a custom foam & glass board.
You may find the wood board isn’t for you, but I think its worth checking off the list one way or the other…” Benny
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Page updated: December 2022
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