Building Your Own Surfboard in Amagansett

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Brian Schopfer of Grain Surfboards in Amagansett. Michael Heller photo

By Michelle Trauring

Wood is forgiving. It’s soft, it’s shapeable, it’s visually intricate.

Every piece also has its own personality, a project it’s meant to be — at least in the eyes of builder Brian Schopfer.

Until recently, his visions had always manifested as furniture. But three years ago, during a trip to Maine, the Colorado native stumbled across Grain Surfboards, where he took a board-building workshop with his New York-based brother-in-law, Patrick Fleury.

Suddenly, wood had an entirely new purpose — one that got Mr. Schopfer away from power tools, ear protection and a respirator, and into the ocean to honor a once-forgotten craft from an era that existed long before the manufacturing of mainstream foam surfboards.

“These hollow wooden boards are beautiful, and there’s a sense of nostalgia with them,” he said, “but I think the biggest thing is when you build something yourself and then take it out in the wave and catch that first wave on it, it’s such a great feeling — and empowering.”

On the drive home, Mr. Fleury turned to Mr. Schopfer and said, “People really need this down in the city,” and so an idea was born.

They pitched a permanent workshop to Grain founder Mike Lavecchia and, this coming Memorial Day weekend, the Amagansett location will celebrate its second full summer with a slate of three-and four-day surfboard building workshops, with an emphasis on sustainability, quality and friendship, Mr. Schopfer said.

“Some of my best friends I’ve made out here are students in the class,” he said. “We build a board together and we got out surfing once it’s ready to go. I was building furniture for forever, but you’re in the shop by yourself. I do love wood and I still love that time being in the zone with a piece of wood, but when you’re building furniture, you’re just in your own little bubble. When we do this, it’s all hand tools, you don’t need ear protection and dust masks. We’re all talking to each other and you really get to know people after four days.”

For either the four-day or accelerated three-day workshop, students choose to build one of 16 hollow wooden boards, which are typically 15 percent heavier than a foam board—allowing for more momentum and stability, less spring and floatation, and a bit of a smoother ride. Most of them are available to test out in the surf beforehand, Mr. Schopfer said.

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