Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Grain in Maine

It's that time of year again for the summer vacation. Instead of going to Florida like we typically do, Carrie and I decided it would be nice to head to Maine. We have both wanted to go for some time now, so we booked the trip and headed north. I have been following Grain Surfboards for awhile now thanks to Justin. The concept of building a board out of wood, which is sustainably harvested, is a great one. The boards have a unique character that's different from the foam boards -- wood last longer and it's easier on the environment. Wood, after all, can re-enter the environment in an organic way, whereas foam can not.

above: pulling into the Grain Surfboards shop

above: the Grain van

We stopped in at Grain's shop in York, Maine on a Thursday afternoon after making the five hour drive up from NYC. I called ahead first once we stopped to check into our hotel in Portsmouth, N.H. I ended up talking with Alison who gave me some pointers on finding the shop. Once we arrived at the shop, Alison met us in what looks like the lunch area in the front that doubles as a showroom for Grain's boards. Alison is super nice and hooked us up with awesome local restarrants. Thank you, Alison! You made our trip that much more fun.

above: parts of the inner frame waiting to be cut out.
We then headed to the back where the workshop is located and met with John, one of Grain's board-builders. He gave us the nickel tour of the shop and explained how the boards are made and how the classes are run. I very much want to take a class and build a board!

above: this board is in the process of have the rail strips glued down.
John is a very stoked individual, we talked about surfing in Maine and hand planes. I told him about the time I used a water bottle as a makeshift hand plane last year in FL. He was blown away by the idea... a little trick I picked up from Justin. I hope John tries it out one day. More on hand plains in a moment.

above: tools of the trade.

As we were going though the tour I felt a genuine sense of stoke from everyone in the shop. I don't know if it's because Maine is so beautiful, but everyone was so nice and really spent time with us and answered all of our questions. I'm glad it was our first stop in Maine because it set the tone for the rest of our vacation.

above: board with the rail strips glued down waiting for the top deck.

above: I didn't know this but Grain makes a Bonzer! This is one in progress.

above: shop wall art.

above: shavings on the shop floor.

above: the wood locker.

above: Sea Sled with some art applied with a burn tool.
I was already stoked out of my mind after looking at all of the boards and talking about hand planes, then came the Sea Sled! I about lost it. It's a bodyboard made of solid cedar with two deep channels on the bottom for grip. When the waves are small and hollow there is nothing better then ripping down the face on your belly!

above: a long fish and a sea sled.

above: a view of the glassing room

Just when I thought the tour was over, John invited us up to the glassing room. He pointed out how clean the floor is for a glassing room. That's because they use just enough epoxy resin to glass the boards and try to make the least amount of waste as possible.

above: a view of the glassing room

above: a view of the bottom deck before glassing.
Once the tour was over Carrie and I talked with Alison and John a little longer about things to do and see in the area. Before leaving they mentioned that if I wanted to come back and demo a board I could! My ears perked up and my pulse quickened... yeah I was stoked. The report was calling for Sunday to be the best day during our stay. We made arrangements to call ahead later in our trip to pick up a board.

I had my eye firmly on the surf report, Sunday called for 1-2 feet with poor-fair conditions. It was better than 1-2 feet with poor conditions. A south swell was mixing in with a south/west swell so there was a little more energy in the water.

above: The Grain Jack Plan.

Many miles were explored in southern Maine, and much seafood was consumed. Then Sunday arrived. The surf report was not looking good but I was determined to get in the water. After breakfast we arrived at Grain around 9:30 a.m. and met Nolan. With the waves being small I opted to pick up the Steamer, Grain's 8' mini-tanker. I was so stoked on the hand planes that I wanted to purchase one. However, Nolan mentioned they were all out but just about to complete a batch and offered a Jack Plane to take out along with the Steamer. I'm glad he did.

above: some bumps in the water
After loading everything up in the car Nolan was kind enough to look over the surf report with me and check out google maps to determine the best spot to catch the south swell. It looked like York beach would be the best spot. Thanks Nolan for sharing some of your local knowledge!

above: Suiting up. I was the only dude on the beach in a suit, but hey, I'm from FL and 60 dgree water is cold for me. At least for now.

After cruising up and down the beach I determined that the best spot was a little cove on the south end of York Beach. There were some rocks in the water that helped the wave jack up and create a better shoulder. We settled in on a spot and I changed.

above: going in to get an up-close feel for the waves and a look at the bottom.

While changing I continued to observe the waves and began to doubt that the Steamer would be the tool of choice on this day. The waves seemed to crumble off of the shoulder. I decided on the Jack Plane and swim fins to go explore.

above: waiting for a rideable wave.

I'm glad I had the Jack Plane handy for this trip. It's the one piece of equipment that I had the most fun on. I ended up hanging out next to the rock and waiting for a bigger wave to break over them. After getting a feel for the spot and the waves I was able to get on the shoulder, if briefly, and was planing across the surface. It's hard not to have a great time while bodysurfing.

above: paddling for a wave.

above: getting into a wave.

above: wave
After a few fun ones on the Jack Plane, I took my bodyboard out to see how it might fare before paddling out the Steamer. It was okay but the waves really didn't have enough force to get me going fast enough down the line, so after a few rides I came in and immediately took the Jack Plane back out.

above: getting into a wave.

above: getting into a wave.
By this time the waves were building slightly. I noticed a wave breaking in the middle of the cove that had just a little more punch. I swam out and patiently observed the situation to find the takeoff spot. After hanging out for a while I finally saw a bigger set coming in and quickly swam to the outside just in time to catch a bomb relative to the other waves. I was finally really able to project out over the shoulder and feel the rails dig into the face.

above: wave

above: a shot of the rocks

After a few more waves like that I was stoked and thought that I may be able to bring out the Steamer. Just as my hopes were up it was like someone turned off a switch. I waited and waited. Set after set came in but nothing like what I rode earlier. We were out of quarters and our meter was up. It was time to pack it in.

above: a grin from ear to ear from all of the fun on the Jack Plane
We arrived back at Grain headquarters and I was stoked! The waves were virtually non-existent yet I had a blast. I met up with Nolan and promptly put in an order for a Jack Plane. With the way the waves have been in NYC lately I know this is a piece of equipment that I can not live without. It's always at least head-high when you're bodysurfing. Before leaving we had a chance to chat with Mike, the founder and principle owner. We talked about hand planes and the surf community in NYC. He mentioned that they are going to do a class in San Francisco which I think is awesome, but it got me thinking, maybe one day they will do a board building class in NYC. Who knows, one can dream, and the future looks bright for Grain Surfboards. They were just featured on MSNBC. Check it here.
It was sad to leave Grain and Maine. The weather is great this time of year and so are the people. Thank you to everyone at Grain, you helped make our vacation the best yet. The next step is to come back and build a board!


  1. Ah man, thx for sharing the story and pics...looks like a really unique place. I'd love a wooden bonzer!