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Surfboards shaped with bush knives

Saturday 9 May 2015 | Published in Regional


TIPURA – Surfers in Papua New Guinea are going back to basics and learning the traditional Hawaiian techniques of timber surfboard building.

The boards produced at workshops in Madang province earlier this month were made from locally-sourced balsa trees, and carved out using a combination of hand tools, axes and bush knives.

“It’s a bit of work, a lot of man power and a lot of sweat,” PNG Surfing Association president Andrew Abel said.

“You can imagine they don’t have the benefit of hand-powered tools and planers and things like that which would make it a lot easier.

“A lot of the village people were actually using their traditional axes and bush knives to carve these balsa wood planks.”

The training was offered by renowned Australian surfboard shapers Tom Wegener and Bryan Bates.

Members of the Tupira Surf Club were taught how to build boards in the alaia style, which were ridden in pre-20th century Hawaii.

The thin boards feature round noses, square tails and often do not have fins.

“They’re very difficult to ride but a lot of the lightweight kids had no trouble whatsoever in hopping onboard and ripping those waves up in Tipura,” Abel said.

Abel, who founded the PNG Surfing Association 28 years ago, said the workshop was a reminder that surfing in PNG dates back hundreds of years.

He visited many communities where village elders shared oral history of how young children had boards crudely carved out of ‘splinters’ from broken canoes and felled trees.

“So what we’ve essentially done is taken those ancient belly boarding skills and enhanced them with the modern surfboards of today,” Abel said.

“Our Pacific island brothers to the eastern part of the Pacific Ocean – in Hawai'i – have also been doing the same thing. But unfortunately over the course of the last hundred years that culture has been lost.”

Abel said he hoped the surfboard shaping training would be the catalyst for a new era in PNG surfing.

“It enables them – the local surfers – to capitalise on the balsa wood timber that’s in abundance in the jungles of Papua New Guinea that they can use to surf but also sell to tourists and raise money for their respective families.”