There are just a few wakeboard companies left that still make wakeboards here in the good old U.S.A. Before it all heads over to China or the United Arab Emirates, we figured we better make it out to one of the remaining U.S. factories in order to document exactly what goes into the construction of a wakeboard. We knew that if we didn't move quickly we'd have to pay for international travel and that's just not in the WakeWorld budget.
So we managed to make our way from the WakeWorld headquarters in San Diego all the way to Lynwood, Washington to visit the CWB Board Co. manufacturing facility. Joining us for the factory tour would be the winner of our CWB U Built It contest, Adam Keiper, who is the one that actually performs most of the work that went into the manufacture of our wakeboard. With the help of the CWB Board Co. factory staff, including the mastermind of this project, CWB marketing guru, Jay Quam, we meticulously documented the procedures in order to give you an idea of exactly what goes into the construction of that plank under your bindings.
We had exactly one day to get a board built, so the first order of business was deciding which of the CWB models we would build. We went with Trevor Hansen's pro model, the Marius (don't ask me how to pronounce that), mostly because
that's the board with which our CWB U Build It contest winner wanted to go home.
Step one had us in the art department to make some slight "modifications" to the Marius top graphic for this particular board. Just for fun, we wanted to add something to the graphic that showed that this board was definitely built and owned by Adam, so we had the art department cross out Trevor Hansen's name and put Adam's name on the board instead. I'm sure Trevor is going to be thrilled with that change.
While the art department worked on that, we got started on the physical build with the help of Hua Do. She helped burn the bottom graphic from a paper printout made with sublimated ink onto a big plastic (I'm sure it wasn't actually plastic, but some material with a much fancier name) sheet. This required Adam to use a heated press that squeezed the graphic and plastic together with 140 pounds of pressure while everything was heated to over 400 degrees. This resulted in the graphic transferring from the paper to the plastic sheet.
Heat is definitely a recurring theme throughout the wakeboard build process and the next step is no exception. With bottom graphic in hand, we headed across the parking lot to the second of two buildings on the property. They had a metal mold that looked like the bottom of the Marius and it slid into a sort of oven. Adam took the bottom sheet and placed it on this metal mold and slid it right into the oven. We watched as the plastic softened and took the shape of the bottom of the Marius before hardening into what would eventually be the bottom of the board.
Now it was time for 29-year Connelly/CWB veteran Ed "Easy Ed" Clark to take over the tour. Ed was a great host for the day showing plenty of patience as we fondled just about everything in the factory that we weren't supposed to touch and berated him with questions about the various steps in the process. Ed, along with all the other employees we encountered, seemed genuinely stoked to be showing off what they do for a living.
The only process of the board build in which Adam wouldn't be participating was the creation of the foam core. Although Ed did take us through the process of creating a core with the huge molds, the core requires 24 hours of drying time. So in order get this build done in one day, we grabbed one of the pre-made cores off the shelf.
The mold itself looks just like a mirror image of the top and bottom of the board. It has provisions for the placement of the binding insert strip and, for the platinum models, the carbon dowel that adds strength.
Although we didn't get to inject a mold with the foam, Ed gave us a really cool demo of the way the foam expands by filling a plastic bucket with a little bit of the concoction. We were amazed to watch the foam grow up and out of the bucket, down the sides and eventually hit the floor before it dried. The whole process only took about two minutes and we were able to bounce that ball of foam on the ground like a basketball. I'm guessing that means that the folks doing the cores have to work pretty fast!
Once the foam core comes out of the mold, it's time to clean it up a little. There are a lot of foam scraps all around the edges where the top and bottom mold come together. To get rid of all these imperfections, the board is set on a table that consists of two vacuum-powered suction cups that hold the board in place while it's being worked on. A sharp knife and a sanding block are used to get the edges just right.
The surface of the board as it comes out of the mold is a little bit slick and shiny. Apparently this isn't a good thing when it comes to getting the top and bottom sheets to hold firm to the core. In order to get a more porous surface, the core is placed in a giant sand blaster and pummeled on both the top and bottom. It's not as pretty when it comes out, but it makes for a stronger wakeboard.
The next step involves fiberglass, scissors and staples. After using a pattern to cut the proper-sized piece of fiberglass sheet, it's wrapped tightly around the foam core and secured in place with staples into the foam. Extra strips of fiberglass are used for the fins and over the top of the inserts. The Platinum cores get a sheet of carbon fiber in addition to the fiberglass.
Now it's time to work on the top sheet that we had the graphics folks customize earlier. Dennis Hoyt showed us to the printer that prints out the sublimated image on a huge wakeboard-sized piece of paper. It was cool to finally see the "customized" graphic with Adam's name on it. Dennis printed off two copies in case Adam screwed one up. However, he didn't, so now he's got a cool piece of art for his wall at home.
The paper top sheet now had to be transferred to the PBT sheet, which will become the top surface of the board. Again, heat is a part of the process. The PBT and paper are run through a hot press and that's all it takes to make a pretty top sheet. The colors come out much brighter and solid than they appeared on the original print out.
Now that we've got our top, bottom and middle, it's time to put the whole sandwich together and create a wakeboard. To do that, it takes yet another mold and, yes, more heat. First the bottom piece is placed into the mold. Then they lather up the fiberglass-covered core with some kind of epoxy that I'm guessing is not too healthy based on the gloves and mask worn by the applicator. Needless to say, this is another step that Adam observed rather than participated in.
The sticky core is placed in the mold on top of the bottom sheet and the top sheet is placed on top of the core. The top of the mold is then closed down on top of the soon-to-be wakeboard and shoved in the oven. We watched some of the epoxy squeeze out from between the mold halves as the board cooked, but once it was pulled from the oven, it actually looked like a wakeboard for the first time.
Ed took the board to the band saw to remove the excess graphic around the edges. The get even tighter on the trimming he rolled the entire edge of the board through a router. Then it was back to one of those cool vacuum tables for some finish work. Adam darn near broke a sweat as he files away on the edges of the board to get that clean look you see at your local pro shop.
The next step would normally be to drill the holes for the fins. However, Adam rides without the bolt-on fins, so he opted to do without the holes for an even more customized look.
Adam's final stop was at the drill press to uncover the inserts that had been covered up by the topsheet. When the
inserts are originally placed in the core, they have little black plastic caps covering each hole. That way nothing gets into the insert threads during the board build process. All that has to be done at the end is to find those holes the drill down until the top sheet and plastic cap are removed.
In order to find the inserts and avoid placing a wayward hole in the wakeboard, they sprinkle magic...wait, no...magnetic dust on the top sheet. This dust gathers around each insert showing its exact location underneath the top sheet. Adam made 14 clean holes and he was done!
The only job left to perform on this brand spankin' new Marius was to have it spit-shined by the factory shine boy, Justin Nix. Sure Justin dabbles in marketing and product development, but that's only after he's finished his spit-shining duties.
Seriously though, Justin made his appearance at the most crucial part of the process. He was there to throw more free shwag at our contest winner. He brought out several pairs of bindings for Adam to try out (he finally settled on the
Zeus), a vest, rope, handle, clothing and all kinds of shwag. Justin just knows how to make people happy. In all the confusion, I somehow ended up with a couple of CWB apparel items as well, so Justin is my new best friend.
With a board still warm from the presses, the obvious next item on our agenda was to get to a lake and try that thing out. Amazingly, it only needs about a half hour of drying time before it's ready to ride. So Jay hooked up the CWB X-Star and we headed out to Lake Washington for the second half of our day.
Due to the unseasonably warm weather, I'm pretty sure 90% of the boats in Washington were on that lake on the Thursday afternoon. However, it was tough to complain about a day on the lake with great weather, great friends and a wakeboard you just built yourself.
As if this action-packed day weren't already enough, Jay didn't let the dark slow us down. He took us across Lake Washington to Lake Union (the two lakes are connected) and straight to downtown Seattle where we had a fantastic dinner. I can't remember exactly what I had, but I do know that it was wrapped in bacon, so how can you go wrong.
In fact, my visit to Washington with our contest winners and the CWB crew was like a day wrapped in bacon; just like a regular day, but way better! I want to thank our contest winner, Adam, and his guest, Collin, for being such cool guys to hang out with and for not screwing the board up too bad. I also want to that Jay Quam, Steve Bates, Justin Nix, Dennis Hoyt and all the factory workers at CWB that helped us put together not only a wakeboard, but also a very interesting and fun day.