WRITER | CANDIE CONAT
PHOTOS | LITTLE BAY BOARDS
Jason Thelen, the owner of Little Bay Boards, had no idea that by building his daughter one wooden paddleboard, he would end up launching a business. On his search for an eco-friendly paddleboard, he learned that most foam and fiberboard pieces would last no more than ten years before starting to break down. It was overwhelming to think about how terrible that is for the environment, so Thelen decided to take matters into his own hands, literally.
As an experienced carpenter who had worked on green homes, he was eager to find DIY plans and create a board for his daughter. The finished paddleboard was an amazing success, and when friends saw it, they began requesting boards, as well. Thelen happily obliged.
It did not take long for him to recognize there was an obvious niche for his wood paddleboards. People saw not only the value in the boards but that each one had its own character. Plus, they loved that it was something they would have for a lifetime.
Thelen continued to hone his board-building processes, first reaching out to professionals in the industry and creating relationships, and then setting out to establish his own distinct techniques.
These boards are, to sum it up, astonishingly beautiful. Created from wood that is locally sourced and sustainable, Thelen appreciates that he can drive to the exact area where the wood was harvested. The vivid colors are not obtained with stain; they derive from the variety of wood Thelen selects. He says that by spending a little extra time looking, he can find almost any color of the rainbow. From shades of pink and purple to dark reds, golden hues, black, and greys.
Little Bay Boards creates the most affordable hollow-core wooden boards on the market via their Locally Grown line. But affordability doesn’t mean the boards are any less remarkable. Since no two pieces of wood are ever the same, each customer is guaranteed to have a one-of-a-kind board that has special character. As Thelen puts it, each board dictates the amount of hands-on time required to complete, taking anywhere from 40 hours for a Locally Grown board to 120 hours for a custom board.
A proud accomplishment for Thelen is the creation of his nonprofit, Boards for Reasons. Two years ago, schoolteacher Chris Davis spent two weeks with Thelen to learn everything he could about making wooden paddleboards. He took that knowledge back to his school in Sterling Heights, where he created a program for the woodshop. The students built two wooden stand-up paddleboards that they donated to local causes. Through an interesting chain of events, they are now building one for Sir Richard Branson, British business magnate and philanthropist, to add to his collection. The program has been such a hit that, this year, the school agreed to expand the program so that all 120 interested students could take part. Thelen’s dream is to see the creation of programs like this in Northern Michigan as well.
In addition to the school program, Boards for Reasons creates paddleboards that local nonprofits use in their fundraising efforts. This past summer, Thelen created a board for the Little Traverse Conservancy’s Save the Trees event using scraps from other board builds. This very special board turned out almost like a wooden quilt, and the Conservancy raised nearly $10,000 from the raffle.
For Thelen, it’s all about creating boards that will be treasured for years to come while helping to save the environment.
Little Bay Boards
103 E. Sheridan Street
Petoskey, MI 49770
(231) 838-8451 l LittleBayBoards.com