“Surfboard Grade” paulownia planks

Surfboard Grade Paulownia Planks

What is “surfboard grade” paulownia?

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Surfboard grade paulownia is the currently available grade of clear, dry paulownia wood available from China. This is the grade I use for all of the Clearwood Paddleboards built projects that you see here on the Clearwood Paddleboards website. The planks are typically made up of two strips of paulownia glued into one plank, and all of the strips that I mill for customers come from this stock. In a perfect world we would have material that is not created from glue ups, but even with the glue ups this is super nice material that will yield a great finished product.

Paulownia plantation

Building a Lightweight Board

Building a Lightweight Board

Building a lightweight hollow wood board of any style can be a challenge but, in the end, not that hard if you choose the “right” materials. The very best wood for building hollow wood boards is a species of wood called paulownia tomentosa. Pauownia t. has the perfect blend of weight and structure. Availability of this species in North America is limited but it is available on a limited basis (I import and resell paulownia t. on my website at I always have it available for those hollow wood board builders that value a lightweight board. Paulownia tomentosa is approximately 2/3’s of the weight of many other commonly used species for strip planking hollow wood boards.

paddleboard construction tool closeup

Tool Requirements for Strip Planking

Tool Requirements for Strip Planking

Tool requirements for strip planking a paddleboard are simple; a basic set of hand tools and a few basic power tools are all that is required. The enhancement of our woodshops with a more diverse set of tools is something most woodworkers strive for, but strip planking is simple and the tools that you need to perform most of the strip plank build tasks are as well. What’s the most important tool in the wood shop for strip planking you ask? I’d say the sharpening stone! Block planes and chisels are used extensively in strip planking and sharp tools are a must. Hand tools such as a Japanese pull saw, a low angle block plane and a basic assortment of decent bench chisels will go far in getting your strip planked board built. The ability to keep your plane iron and chisels sharp is the key to success with chisels and planes, and there are many simple and inexpensive ways to accomplish this task. Dull tools don’t perform well, aren’t fun to use and can be dangerous.

building a strip planked paddleboard

Board Construction

Semi-monocoqueHollow Wood Paddleboard Construction Techniques

Hollow wood paddleboard construction techniques are common to many different hull shapes. The build method for all the boards I design is strip planking. Strip planking, for those not familiar with the process, is the application of strips of wood to a framework that is in the shape of the board (or boats, among other shapes). Many rowing shells were built before the advent of epoxy, fiberglass and carbon fiber technology in this fashion and were “state of the art” until modern plastic technology became the norm. The basics of strip planking in the case of paddleboards is slightly different than kayaks or canoes in that the entire framework stays inside of the board. The structure of a strip planked paddleboard is semi-monocoque, or in other words, a “torsion box” type of structure. A “skin” that remains attached to a subassembly, such as a light framework, is incredibly strong…think aircraft wing.

Sustainability in SUP and surfboard production

Sustainable SUP and Surfboard Production

Building a hollow wood SUP can be a great way to build a board with a low carbon footprint. Tom Blake started building hollow wood paddleboards in California the 1930’s and they were the standard surf rescue craft for several decades. The good news is that hollow wood SUP’s are now available to paddlers inclined to build their own board and they have become much lighter and more durable as a result of the use of epoxy resins, fiberglass cloth and paulownia timber. Hollow wood boards can now be built that weigh no more than, and in many case less than, fiberglass covered foam boards.

Paulownia 2

The SUP’s we ride when we go paddling are made in several different ways, typically involving fiberglass covered foam but the boards we ride on any particular day are probably not something we give a lot of thought to in terms of how they are made. Board construction methods and the question of sustainable construction is typically not something most paddlers think about. The idea of sustainability in the construction of SUP’s has been in the mix of industry topics for years, and now with the huge numbers of SUP’s being built worldwide, it might be something for us as to consider. Should we, as SUP paddlers be concerned about this?

Although not a practical choice for everyone, many paddlers have embarked on the path of building their own hollow wood board from paulownia timber which is plantation grown in Spain, New Zealand, Australia, China and many other countries around the world. The carbon footprint we leave in our wake can be reduced, and for paddlers wanting to build their own board, building a hollow “woody” is a viable option for limiting our carbon footprint. Paulownia timber for those of you not familiar with this species of wood, it is the wood of choice for building hollow strip planked SUP’s, and it is now available in the UK from Paulownia timber is the wood of choice for several reasons; it is plantation grown and can often be sourced without being shipped great distances, it has the highest weight to strength ratio of any hardwood on the planet and has beautiful grain character. Paulownia timber is also “reluctant” to absorb water and grows to maturity in approximately 15 years.


What makes a hollow wood board a “sustainably” built board? Most of us that live around the sea have seen and appreciated the classic wood boats we see that are still in good shape after decades of use. Wood SUP’s are similar; hollow wood boards can be used for years if properly built and maintained. Of course board shapes change, but quality designs with a fit paddler aboard will perform well and look great for a very long time. Plantation grown timber combined with some of the new epoxy resins such as “Super Sap” made by ENTROPY RESINS will produce a beautiful board with a low carbon footprint that is fun to paddle. Paddlers that are interested in building a hollow SUP have numerous resource available. Online forums such as are great sources for information on how to build a hollow boards. There are also teaching environments that are dedicated to the craft of building hollow boards.

Paddlers interested in building their own board but who are not ready to take on a project of this nature without guidance can now do so via several schools scattered around the world that have been set up specifically for the purpose of teaching the skills and build methods necessary in crafting their own hollow wood SUP. In the UK, James Otter at is now offering classes for SUP builders as well as Patrick Burnett in South Africa at In New Zealand, Ben Godwin is setting up a school environment for building hollow SUP’s and he can be reached at

Doug and Ben - Copy

Paddlers not inclined to build their own board can still reduce their carbon footprint when buying a new SUP. Recycled foam blanks are increasingly available worldwide and local shapers that have access to these recycled foam blanks can be a great option for “keeping it local”. A knowledgeable local shaper will be able to customize a shape that suits the size, ability and local conditions of a particular paddler with the added benefit that buying a board from a local shaper supports a local craftsman. A board that is shaped for a specific paddler will most likely be a board that will be paddled for many years thereby reducing the number of boards sent off to a landfill. Is sustainable board construction something we should be concerned about given the quantity of waste and mountains of refuse created globally? Is the contribution of our leisure activities make to this problem something that matters? We as individuals are the only ones that can answer these questions. The good part of the sustainable board construction story is that there are options available to us should we be concerned