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Longboard Building for Those Who Didn't Get A's in Wood Shop
Part I, Finding the Right Waterski

You've seen all the great longboards they're making now and you're dying to get one. You've finally reached the point in your life where you can afford to plunk down a hundred fifty bills for a top-of-the-line stick. The problem is that an insurance bill is due, and the wife's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks, etc., etc.

Twenty years ago, it wouldn't have been a problem. You could have just made one in Mr. McHenry wood shop. But that was with a couple thousand dollars worth of tools at your disposal, along with the sage advice of Mr. McH., a wood-working expert who has the missing digits to prove it. Plus, even back in those days your projects didn't win any prizes. The knife rack you made has been sitting in a junk drawer in your mother's kitchen for years, and looking at it now, you can hardly blame her.

Before you throw your hands up in disgust, know that you can make a killer longboard as long as you know where to start. First off, do not go to home depot. Leave the 5/8-inch birch plywood for the guys with seven fingers. Your first stop will be thrift shops, garage sales and swap meets in search of a suitable waterski to turn into the longboard of your dreams.

Choosing the right waterski is going to have the most profound influence on how well your longboard turns out, more than anything else you can do or not do. First figure out what size your want you finished long board to be, say 45 x 8 inches. Get a piece of string and tie a knot in it at 8 inches and cut it at 45 inches. This way you don't have to carry a tape measure or take a chance on guessing and buying one that's inappropriate.

By and large, width is going to be a much bigger problem than length. Almost any waterski is going to be long enough to make a decent longboard, but most will be too narrow. You might be hard pressed to find an 8-inch wide waterski, but at least if you can measure it, you know how much of a compromise you'll be making.

Generally, the better the waterski, the worse it will work as a longboard. The Cut-n-Jump Competition model will probably be too narrow, especially at the tail. which will be your nose if you plan on having a kicktail. You're better off looking for a beginner's waterski. They're wider and have a more radically sloped nose, which makes for a good kicktail. Freestyle waterskis can work well, provided they're not too short. Their major drawback is that they don't have much of a slope on the nose.

Just about any waterski of a suitable length and width should work. Painted skis are usually made of some hard plywood, making them relatively light and strong. Hard-wood laminated skis will be strong, but much heavier. Then again they usually have those stringers of different colors of would, which look great refinished with a clear varnish. You might want to steer clear of fiberglass or other composite skis. I only say this because I have never tried to cut a fiberglass waterski. It might be fine, but it might also be a blade-breaking nightmare. With any luck, you might be able to find a decent waterski (or better still, a pair) for five or ten bucks.

Next time, we'll look at how you turn a waterski into a finished longboard. That gives you guys who want to follow along at home a chance to go out and find one yourself.

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Nose Wheelie, except where noted otherwise, was written and created by Chris Sturhann.
Copyright © 1997 Chris Sturhann