Retired surfer dude Pete Harwood proves there's more than one way to ride the waves. Harwood has always lived by the water building surfboards. He no longer builds surfboards for riding but rather surfboard-shaped sculptures.
Pete Harwood has always lived near the water.
Growing up in Locust Valley, he started surfing when he was a kid and built his first board when he was just 17. “For me, there was always something about them,” the 62-year-old Harwood says about his passion for surfboards. “I just find them sexy.”
While working as a carpenter in the Hamptons—mostly for architects and designers, including Norman Jaffe—he built bookshelves, cabinets, and custom kitchens by day and made surfboards at home at night. At a career turning point, though, he stopped calling himself a carpenter and started using the term woodworker. “A carpenter uses only his hands,” he says, “but a woodworker uses his mind and heart.”
Harwood no longer makes surfboards suitable for riding, but he has been actively pursuing a new hobby, creating wooden surfboard-shaped sculptures. For him, the process is therapeutic. “The last surfboard I ever made was for my son, right before he passed away,” he says of Pete Harwood, Jr., who was also an avid surfer. “I started making these sculptures instead, and I think about him every time I start shaping one.”
Harwood begins with what he likes to call “user-friendly wood,” typically western red cedar or Alaskan yellow cedar in two-by-four planks. “When I’m at the lumberyard, I’m like a kid in a candy store—that’s my happy place,” he says. “I hand-pick each piece of wood, admiring its flaws and different lines.” In the basement studio of his home in North Haven, he “rips” the wood—or simply cuts each thick plank in half—to create a workable piece of thinner wood. Next, he traces a board shape from a pre-drawn template directly onto only one half of the board, so that when he cuts into it with his handheld jigsaw, the board will have perfect symmetry on each side.
For each board, he uses a combination of both light and dark woods that he rips into strips (called “stringers”) and glues to cover any seams, making them even more dynamic. To give each board a smooth, shiny surface, Harwood sands the board in the direction of the grain from top to bottom to get the piece to curve just as it would if it were an actual surfboard. “Usually the sanding takes just as long as the shaping,” says Harwood, who typically completes a board in about three weeks.
The final touches include spray-lacquering the board and creating a stand, which should be just as striking, Harwood insists. “I don’t want anything to detract from the beauty of the board,” he says. “Sometimes you have to do the mundane to get the sublime.”