When the graphite tennis racquet was introduced in the early 1980s, the way the game was played had been irrevocably changed. Wood, which was heavier and less capable of imbuing pace and spin on the ball, had been rendered obsolete.
There was no going back.
While other sports — from skiing to boating to surfing — have undergone similar changes in source material over the decades, the reasons for the shift (cost, e.g.) were less performance-based. Accordingly, you can still find equipment that’s made the old-fashioned way if you know where to look.
Here’s a quintet of companies that still use traditional techniques to manufacture outdoor adventure and sporting equipment.
For the past eight decades, Rønning has been relying on “traditional craftsmanship and idealism” to bring the “wooden ski into the modern and diversified world of skiing.” Based in Norway, the family-run business produces skis that are sanded by hand, fine-tuned on a belt sander and then loaded into a hydraulic ski press. Sets of the birch/ash skis start at around $800.
Scrap Dog Skateboards
A San Francisco-based board manufacturer that strives to focus on sustainability without compromising on quality or craftsmanship, Scrap Dog handmakes all of its decks from 100% up-cycled hardwoods that were tossed away as scrap. The throwback design of the $220 boards harkens back to the good ol’ days, and each one comes with Penny wheels, trucks and bearings.
Image via Qajaq Rolls
Using a wooden frame comprised of steam-bent oak ribs as a base, the sole owner and operator of Frogtown Kayaks in St. Paul, Tony Schmitz, builds hunting kayaks one at a time. Each of the designs — which feature a painted or varnished polyester fabric skin sewn tightly over the frame — take about 100 hours to build and cost $1,500. “I spend a lot of time moving pixels around for work — this is the perfect antidote,” Schmitz says. “It’s almost like buying a bunch of lumber from Home Depot and building a Ferrari.”
By appropriating time-tested boatbuilding techniques and applying them to surfboards, the folks at Grain use sustainable softwoods to produce their handcrafted products. The Maine-based company’s building technique naturally produces artful grain patterns on every board and the custom offerings — meant to last for a lifetime — typically cost $1,800 to $2,200. “We have this nicely scented cedar, hand-crafted product, but we also use a very detailed technology to design the boards,” says Grain co-owner Brad Anderson.
South Street Boatbuilders
A Toronto-based design studio that produces custom-built skin-on-frame canoes in a traditional manner, South Street Boatbuilders “values authenticity, craftsmanship and quality materials.” With a line of watercraft that range from 11 to 40 pounds, SSB’s canoes are maneuverable and can best be controlled with the custom-sized paddles the company produces from salvaged urban hardwoods.
Main image via Grain Surfboards