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Monday, June 25, 2018

Crafted in Landlocked St. Louis, Shane Camden's Boards Catch Plenty of Waves

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 6:08 AM

click to enlarge Shane Camden with his handiwork. - COURTESY OF SHANE CAMDEN
  • Shane Camden with his handiwork.

The sand dunes of Rincon, the infinite blue of Java ... the murky waters of the Mississippi? When it comes to places that bring surfing to mind, St. Louis would probably fall very near the bottom of the list, with the Western Sahara or the middle of a volcano the only places listed lower.

This isn’t a jab at St. Louis; it’s just a basic fact of geography. It’s a landlocked, post-industrial city, located directly in the middle of the Midwest, with thousands of miles of land separating it from the coasts, where the water is, and where the people from other countries come to teach us cool things to do.

Shane Camden hopes to change this. The St. Louis native moved to Daytona Beach in his twenties and was converted into a full-blown outdoorsman. It was there that he first rode the waves, or at least tried to. “Me and my wife, plus some of the guys I was with, we hacked a couple of boards together," Camden recalls. “For our purposes and abilities, they were fine, but they weren’t pretty."

That passion quieted for a while, until a few years ago when Camden’s wife suggested they get paddleboards. Camden took it a step further — why not make them themselves? Camden still has the original board he made; it is impressive, colored like an old derby racer and very heavy looking.

That led Camden to begin selling boards he made in his home workshop, under the name of Timber Longboard Co. He now makes stand-up paddleboards, wakeboards, and of course, surfboards — all of which are environmentally friendly and recyclable.

“The majority of boards nowadays are made from styrofoam, which will sit around in a landfill forever if you throw them out," he warns. “We only use a recycled style of EPS [expanded polystyrene] foam and wood on ours."

He promises, "If you threw one of these in a landfill, it would be gone in a couple of years."

click to enlarge Camden's workshop. - IAN SCOTT
  • Camden's workshop.

Paddleboards can be used on any body of water (lake, pond, river, sea),  regardless of how gnarly the waves. The same is true of wake boards. Wake and paddle boards are what Camden consistently makes and sells the most of, which makes sense; there are countless spots to use these on locally, while surfboards require a beach with waves.

The business has consistently grown. Camden has run Timber Longboard Co. from his Webster Groves home for the last three years, or “seasons," to use outdoor sports terminology. He sells boards locally, to customers on the coasts and all the way to Denmark.

The business has been so successful that Camden quit carpentry and channeled all of his attention to his passion. “Last year we sold 17 boards, made 25, we consistently sell a board or two a month," he says. "Now I can focus completely on the boards." 

Camden is looking forward to the Missouri American Water MR340, a cross-state race for human-powered watercraft along the Missouri River from Kansas City to St. Charles. Several competitors will be using Timber Longboard Co. boards, including Camden himself. The three-day race begins on July 24.

“A lot of people don’t know that this surf movement is happening here,” Camden says.
click to enlarge Some of Timber Longboard Co.'s handiwork. - IAN SCOTT
  • Some of Timber Longboard Co.'s handiwork.
It certainly is a growing sport, attracting many of the “sunburnt pagans” that William Finnegan wrote about in Barbarian Days. Landlocked areas like Kansas City are developing ways to still get the surfing experience without the actual waves.

Surfing, and other extensions of boarding, have clear appeal for younger athletes, in part because they're something you can do alone. Surfing takes its practitioners to the depths of the water, as well as the depths of themselves. What lends it more authority than other solo sports (say, darts or yo-yoing) is that in addition to the great exercise you get and the beautiful scenery around you, you look cool doing it.

The world has taken notice; starting in the next Olympic games, surfing will officially be a competitive sport. This could propel it to the mainstream of American sports, similar to how snowboarding was received after its debut in the 1998 Olympic games.

“Balance is the key," is Camden's advice for aspiring longboarders, but it could also be applied to any area of life. “Don’t freak out, even if you’re three feet underwater, and never lose your cool." Oh, and don't let your distance from the ocean stop you from finding a place to board.

For more info on Camden's company, check out Timber Longboard Co's website and Instagram.

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