“Know Your Rights” is a semi-regular column featuring profiles of and conversations with East Coast surfers whose love for the ocean fuels their passions, in turn inspiring a deeper connection to their communities and making the right coast the best coast on which to live.
Since Hobie Alter and Gordon “Grubby” Clark began developing foam surfboards for mass-production in the early 1960s, surfing has been a lot less natural—and a lot more synthetic—than many of its adherents might wish to admit. Prior to that, though surfers from Tom Blake to Bob Simmons to Dale Velzy introduced modern enhance(advance)ments—adding a fin, hollowing out, glassing—surfboards were hand-built from natural, veritable wood.
But while mainstream surfboard shapers and brands continue to push toward more space-age constructions, there’s a resurgent interest—mostly among custom shapers and backyard/garage tinkerers—in surfboards made from trees. From San Francisco’s Danny Hess to Coastal Maine’s Mike LaVeccia, innovative craftsmen have proven that wood boards can be both aesthetically intriguing and functional.
And it was after coming into contact with the crew from Grain Surfboards—LaVeccia’s traveling, wood board shaping road clinic—that St. Augustine’s Drew McCormick first created a surf craft from lumber. While living in Encinitas, McCormick attended a Grain surfboards demo and was immediately smitten.
“I was fascinated,” McCormick recalls. “So I went home and did a little research and started working on a board of my own.”
Working with everything from cedar to balsa to paulownia over the years, McCormick refined his process and adapted it to shapes he’d preferred to build and ride previously—mainly classic single-fins and other shapes of the alt-surf variety. After opening Cambium Surf Shop on Anastasia Island last year, McCormick has less time to craft wood boards. But through the array of diverse, classic shapes and a well-curated variety of hip surf labels, Cambium’s connecting to an open-minded, though previously underserved clientele.
We caught up with McCormick, who walked us through his wood board shaping process and talked about the roots of Cambium, why he doesn’t like the word “alternative,” and what he loves about surfing in Northeast Florida.
Where, when and how did you start surfing?
I grew up in Atlanta, skating year round and water skiing in the summer, getting a taste of the freedom and overall joy that comes from something bound to your feet. My first experiences in the waves would be in Chincoteague, Virginia riding boogie boards and learning the art of body surfing from my dad. Around ten or eleven years old I got my surfboard, it was like this six-foot 1980’s thruster with a Rasta airbrush job. So we would spend a few weeks in Virginia every summer at my grandfather’s house, and make it to St. Augustine a few times a year. I officially moved to St. Augustine in ’96, soon after I got my first longboard, a 9’4 CC Rider, and was in the water every chance I got.
When did you start shaping?
I tried my hand at shaping and glassing a few poly boards, with some success in the shaping but definitely not on the glassing side. The first few were mainly single fins. Then I started seeing some boards that I was interested in but couldn’t find around here, so I would shape those for myself and then hand them off to my buddy Kevin Mileski (BPC) to be glassed.
Can you talk about the process of shaping a wood surfboard? What’s different from shaping a PU or PS board?
The process is a lot different compared to foam boards in that you basically start with nothing, but a pile of wood. Each board has to be cut down into the right dimensions, then you have to build the inner frame work, from there you attach the frame to the bottom panel, build up the rails so you can attach the deck, and finally you have a blank. After this long process of cutting, gluing, clamping and a lot of sanding you end up with a blank that you can fine-tune. I use a lot of the same tools, but it’s really a labor of love as it takes days—or weeks in my case—to get a finished board.
How’d you come to open Cambium?
Opening a shop in St. Augustine has been on my mind ever since I lived in California and was able to see the variety that’s out there. I knew that I wanted something different from the typical Florida shop just filled with rows of white thrusters and clothing brands that you can find on Amazon or any store from here to Kansas. I wanted my focus to be on the people, companies, and makers that were still into surfing and its culture at its purest form.
How’d you come to be interested in alternative boards? Does Cambium have a shop philosophy?
I hate the terms “alternative,” or “retro.” I mean an alternative to what? The thruster? It just never made sense to me. These board designs never went away, people have always ridden longboards and twin fins, but now they are just better. More modern design elements in rockers, rails and even fin designs. I’ve always felt that Florida is ten years behind whatever else is trending in California or Australia, and people reply that those boards don’t work here. But they don’t know, they’ve never even ridden one. But to each his own, that’s the beauty of surfing. You can be whoever you want and ride whatever you want.
What’ do you love about the community of surfers in St. Augustine?
Surfing in NE Florida is great! If you get out and look around there is actually a great variety in waves. There’s also a great variety in the surfers, as well, which always keeps it interesting. It’s also very easy to find waves all to yourself, which is a relief. I’ve met tons of great people through surfing, and have had a lot of help over the years from all of the very talented local shapers. The dream is alive in St. Augustine.