Jon Wegener's Wooden Obsession
Thanks for the support, Scott. That inscription was burned into the wood.
The board was a four-foot-something wooden paipo that had been sitting in the corner of my friend Scott's office for way too long. Master craftsman Jon Wegener had made it for him as a gesture of gratitude for some previous project they'd worked on together, but as far as I could tell, it really wanted to be ridden. So I asked Scott if I could borrow it.
"Sure, no problem."
I took it out at the beach breaks in San Clemente. Odd and awkward at first, I started to figure out the old Hawaiian way of sliding waves. The board was thin and narrow and offered little flotation. Taking off on waves required more of a slingshot technique. But once it was up on a plane and you found the edge, the little sucker flew. Soon I'd graduated to T-Street where the waves were little longer. My black-ball beating sessions were getting better and better. I knew I was making progress when boogie boarders enviously eyed me paddling back out after a long ride.
I hadn't spent much time riding on my belly since I was a kid, and the Wegener paipo brought new life to my summer of surf. A few trips lined up; Nicaragua, Tahiti, New Zealand, the Maldives. Scott had said I could borrow it, and he never specified any geographic limitations, besides the paipo took up no room in my board bag. It had to come.
Jon Wegener's Wooden Obsession
Jon Wegener is the first name in alaia surfing. He's the modern-day father of finless surfing, credited for igniting the resurgence of these finless wooden boards ridden by ancient Hawaiians.
I diligently rode it at every stop. I got the best barrel of my Nicaraguan trip on it, but the session at the river mouth near Teahupoo was the best. Sliding two-footers over black sand with a bunch of kids, it spoke to what surfing should be all about, or what it actually was all about two hundred years ago. The smooth wood in the warm water, flexing and bending as it worked its magic down the line of the little peelers. And claim to fame, a couple of my rides even made the Billabong Pro Tahiti webcast highlight reel on a lay day.
Ever since a fateful stop at the Bishop Museum in Hawaii in 2004, Jon's brother, Tom, dedicated himself to sculpting paipos and alaias out of wood.
"There is a giant world in surfboard shapes and learning about them is a never ending journey," says Wegener.
Based in San Diego, Calif., the brotherly duo has almost single-handedly responsible for bringing back and popularizing the ancient Polynesian way of riding waves. A humble woodworker, he doesn't accept that description with open arms, but in 2009 Surfing magazine named him shaper of the year, and his boards continue to be sought after by everyone from Tom Curren to Rob Machado to Dave Rastovich and Dan Malloy.
X Games Surfing had the opportunity to pay Wegener a visit at his north San Diego organic board building facility, which is where many images in the gallery above were shot. We got a little sawdust on the lens, but just like borrowing my friend's paipo and taking it around the world, it was totally worth it.
Endnote: Scott eventually asked me to return his board, which I did, with the exception of a few missing splinters. It is now back sitting in the corner of his office.