Beaver Dam - The surfing cow in the Walk on Water Surfboard logo is a brilliant marketing tool that puts the Great Lakes on the map as the home of freshwater surfing.
The work of brothers Lance Athearn and Jesse Kaftanski, owners of Walk on Water Surfboards, could soon put Wisconsin on the map as the home of hollow wood surfboards. The pair are building them in the basement of their Beaver Dam home, 60 miles from the nearest break and a thousand miles from an ocean.
Surfing runs in their blood. Their dad, Jan, was in the Coast Guard and during his service picked up the sport. Oddly, Jesse and Lance said it wasn't until they lived in Wisconsin that they began to surf on a regular basis.
They joined the hardy group that surfs in Lake Michigan near Sheboygan, during a season that typically stretches from September to May.
It was the desire to build a board for their dad that led the brothers into business.
After some research, they discovered that the hollow wood surfboard was invented by water sports legend Tom Blake, who was born in Milwaukee in 1902. The Wisconsin tie appealed to them, and since they were working construction jobs they had access to scrap lumber.
So in 2007 they began a process of trial and error to build three surfboards. Each board took about 120 hours, a time they have since cut in half.
The process involves selecting, milling and shaping the wood, joining the materials and finishing the boards through sanding and coating. Each board is custom built for each user and use, with computer-aided design and manufacturing software.
"When we finished the first three boards, we thought that would be it," Athearn said. "It's such a unique design that people were intrigued by them."
They decided to put some photos on the Web and soon had customers.
Since then they have built 10 more and hope to soon have the opportunity to display boards at Rutabaga Paddlesports in Madison and EOS in Sheboygan. The pair said Madison is a natural market, as standup paddling on surfboards is growing in popularity.
While wooden boards are significantly heavier than the typical surfboard, Kaftanski said the weight is an advantage for Great Lakes surfing where momentum is needed. Wood boards also are more durable, and Kaftanski said they are more environmentally friendly.
Besides scrap lumber from construction sites, the brothers have used boards from old barns and said they recently dismantled an old corn crib for the lumber.
"Every board is unique," Kaftanski said. "Every board has a story."
The most recently completed board is one they are donating to Surfers Healing, a charity that provides a chance to surf to children with autism. That board will be auctioned in southern California, and they were told it might end up as a wall hanging.
They'd much rather see the board in the water.
"It's hard to let these things go," Athearn said. "There's a little bit of DNA in every board, whether it's blood or sweat or tears."