Kufanywa katika Kenya

Once again I came across another beautiful surf spot off East Africa, this time it was along the beautiful coast of Kenya!

I had already tried creating my own board, with the invaluable help of the local craftsman – see Mussage for my Mozambican journey there. The critical learning from Mussage was to chose a light enough wood…so it’s actually surfable!

Before kicking off, I spent time looking for both low density wood 1  and one that wasn’t being over harvested with adverse impact on the natural environment2. See these lists here and here. From this research I opted for Yellow-wood sourced locally in Kenya.

Comparison of Yellow-wood vs common Balsa wood

The second learning, also influenced by the challenge of weight/bouyancy, was to rather build a board using chambers so that it is hollow inside. i.e. A chambered wooden surfboard.

The process

  1. Prep work
    • Create a template for the surfboard design. I simply stuck three sheets of A1 paper together and then drew the outline. The outline was far less scientific than I had done with Mussage. I looked at pictures online of a Mini-mal and tried my best to mirror that onto the sheets. The end result was an outline of the surfboard.
    • Identify and source the wood to be used. I did this by researching the densities of the local woods, the population state of that particular tree (endangered, sustainable harvesting etc) and it’s strength. Yellow-wood emerged as the preferred wood to use.
  2. Find a local craftsman
    • I drove along Ngong road and looked at the type and quality of wooden items the fundi’s were making. It was here that I came across Jackson Gichuru, who actively tried to sell me on his products and ability to build anything I requested. I since learnt that his focus is on the design elements and finishing touches, operating from his mother’s shop, Usalama Furniture. Through Jackson I met the various other fundi’s (each with their own expertise/specialization) who were involved along the process.
  3. Order the wood
    • Get the dimensions of the wood being sold and it’s cost – place an order so it’s ready the following day, so you can begin the next step without further delay.
  4. Machine Planing
    • Once the wood has arrived, plane it down so all pieces are of equal thickness.
  5. Hand-plane
    • Hand-plane the sides, so they’re level and can fit together – This ensures they can have clean and strong bonded joinery (they get glued together)
  6. Chamber prep
    • Measure the thickness and length of the planks – this will be used to help guide the dimensions of the chambers. Then create the chamber template on paper and cut it out, so that you can easily trace the chambers onto the various planks
  7. Transfer template onto the planks
    • Place the planks together and trace the template design onto the board. This will be used as a rough guideline. Cut off the excess wood not near the template – will be easier to handle.
  8. Number the planks
    • I had 5 planks, so I numbered the center plank 0, and then 1L, 2L & 1R,2R respectively
  9. Rocker
    • Draw a nose and tail rocker outline on paper then trace the rocker outlines onto one for the planks. Cut the rocker sections off and use that plank as the template for the others. Cut the rockers on the other planks too.
  10. Center plank chambers
    • Trace the chambers on the planks and have the chambers hollowed out (I used a router)
    • All planks, except the two outside, get chambered all the way through. The outside planks (rails are only bored 50mm deep, leaving around 80mm of solid wood). This allows for sufficient wood to carve out the rails and keep rails strong. I used a marker pen to outline the chambers on both sides of the planks. Once one plank is done, use it as a template for the others (simply use marker pen to trace out the chambers).
  11. Final board outline
    • Place all planks together in a vice (not glued!)
    • Use the A1 paper template to draw the outline of the board across the planks
  12. Temporary join
    • Nail two planks across it’s width to the board – this will hold the pieces together whilst you cut the outline of the board without the need of permanent glue
    • Draw reference lines – so you glue them together in the same orientation/positioning!!
  13. Cut the outline
    • Cut the board out along the template outline – I used a bandsaw for this
  14. Remove the beam/pins and separate all the pieces
  15.  Outer  plank chambers
    • now that you have the outline, you rout out the chambers to the outer two planks (rails), knowing how deep you can bore and the placement of the chambers.
    • Note: I thought about staggering the chambers, so you have air passage throughout the board and can then add a single one-way valve for pressure control that will work for the full board (suggested for air travel)
  16. Glue the planks
    • Glue the planks together with strong adhesive (not standard wood glue) – the fundis sourced a strong glue and stuck the planks together. Leave to dry overnight.
  17. Revise template
    • Revise the template now that you have more accurate dimensions of the cut board. Draw the new lines onto the glued planks, including the lines to be cut for the rails
    • Cut the board against the new outline
  18. Finer shaper outline
    • Plane the edges for the finer shape of the board, creating the more rounded curves
  19. Tail plug
    • Drill a hole in the tail for the leash to tie onto (drill into the solid section of the wood only)
  20. Sanding
    • Sand down the board with low-grit (This is not the final sanding).
  21. Leave to dry
    • The wood is more than likely still wet, so leave out to dry. I left mine for 2months as I was out of the country. I was told 12 days was sufficient. Or take it to Don Boscow Boys Drying Centre in Karen. They can do it in the same day.
  22. Seal the wood
    • I used epoxy


  1. http://mojobob.com/roleplay/weight_chart.html
  2. http://ir-library.ku.ac.ke/bitstream/handle/123456789/11889/Assessment%20of%20the%20Impact%20of%20the%20Woodcarving%20Industry%20on%20the.pdf

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