Jen Shore wanted a paddle board and her husband, Tim, was listening.
A careful shopper, he researched the fastest-growing water sport in Minnesota and came to a strange conclusion.
“I’ll build you one,” he said.
She rolled her eyes.
Nearly three years later, the Maple Grove bank branch manager is making his Minneapolis Boat Show debut with Shore Boards — a manufacturer of rare, handcrafted, wood paddle boards that sell for nearly $2,000 apiece. While the paddle boards are fully functional in the water, some of Shore’s early clients have treated them as glistening works of art.
“One of my first clients hung the board above a fireplace at his lake cabin,” he said. “But these things are functional. They really cruise.”
Shore, 35, had no woodworking experience when he set out in his Otsego garage to build a hollow board 11 feet, 6 inches tall. His inspiration and methods stemmed from Internet searches that found an obscure collection of stand-up paddle board and surfboard makers in Hawaii, California, Colorado and Maine. Shore taught himself their trade by trial and error.
Exhilarated by the project, he worked long hours at night with planks of western red cedar, pine and paulownia, a lightweight, rot-resistant hardwood that is both porous and proportionately strong. Most of his materials came from his local Menards store, and he made trips to Hobby Lobby for chunks of balsa.
Lacking tools at first, he was given an old electric table saw by his father-in-law, a retired carpenter. “He was teaching me how to use it, and I felt like I was in fifth grade again,” Shore recalled.
Now that heavy saw is the cornerstone of the Shore Boards workshop, accompanied by planers, sanders, other saws, benches, brick weights, resin mixtures, shelving, inventory racks and extra lighting. There’s no room in the heated, three-stall garage for anything else, including a pickup truck recently purchased for hauling materials.
‘First of the fleet’
Shore said the initial paddle board — now referred to as “first of the fleet’’ — took him 200 hours to build over 18 months. It’ll be on display at his 8-by-10-foot space at the Boat Show, but it’s not for sale.
“This was a labor of love,’’ Shore said. “Now I’m taking orders, clipping along at a rate of two boards a month.’’
Factories in China make the foam boards that dominate the market. The foam models are lighter and less expensive, selling for as little as $600 in comparable lengths and performance. So the first two questions fielded most often by Shore are: How heavy is it? How much does it cost?
His 11-foot, 6-inch boards run 35 to 45 pounds, about five pounds heavier than the foam competition. Shore Boards also makes a 10-foot, 6-inch length that weigh 30 to 40 pounds.
On the price equation, Shore said the best foam boards are only a few hundred dollars cheaper, but they lack the beauty and personality that his boards provide. He inlays custom, laser-cut wood designs on top and bottom. Corporate logos, family crests and tattoo replicas have been among the choices of his first customers.
“I want them to look at it as their own board,’’ he said. “It’s one of a kind. It’s theirs.’’
Shore’s maiden voyage on “first of the fleet’’ was on a glassy lake in northern Minnesota. He paddled out from the shallows early in the morning and was overjoyed with the board’s looks, speed, stability and anti-slip veneer. Then he sat down on it and soaked in his conquest.
Work and passion unite
As sweethearts at Coon Rapids High School, Tim told Jen on numerous occasions that he would own his own company some day. Shore Boards was it.
This wasn’t an indulgence, he told himself. He had a finance degree from St. Cloud State, a newfound passion for woodworking and the desire to be an entrepreneur. The pieces were in place to make money at something he loved to do.
“I want to get out there in the market and compete,’’ Shore said. “Nobody even knows that wood boards exist!”
His strategy has been to price Shore Boards at the low end of the custom wood board market while delivering high-end quality. He’s constantly looking for ways to drive down costs and reduce his hours by paying others for piecework.
For starters, he found an independent woodworker to produce paddle board frames from lightweight plywood. Arriving in his garage as numbered kits, the frames look like fish skeletons when assembled. The planks are shaped, fastened, planed, sanded and finished. Another contractor does the laser cutting, and an auto body guy helps Shore with the coating.
But even with only a trickle of orders, Shore has been too busy balancing the demands of his bank manager duties to make good on his promise to build a paddle board for his wife. That’s next, he said, along with many more moonlighting hours in the garage.
“Let’s put it this way,’’ Shore said. “My wife won’t let me quit my job.’’
Tony Kennedy • firstname.lastname@example.org