12/30/2012 03:58 EST | Updated 03/01/2013 05:12 EST

Vancouver Island craftsman rides wave of popularity with surfboard design

NANAIMO, B.C. - Randy Weflen runs his palm over the curves of a wooden surfboard, feeling the rough edges that still need polishing.

"I have surfboards going all over the world now," says the Vancouver Island resident, as he eyes the board critically. "This one will be heading to Florida as soon as it's finished."

With mussed, sandy-blond hair and a laid-back attitude, the 30-year-old seems more like the stereotypical surfer than an up-and-coming businessman from Lantzville, B.C., a small community on the east coast of Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo.

Even his shop flies under the radar, with a "free beer tomorrow" sign hanging from his fridge and surfboard templates strung up along the wall.

To many area residents he's just another local kid who has returned home to live and work in the community.

He's captain of Lantzville's fire department and catches the odd wave during big storms at a local beach.

He likes keeping some of what he does under wraps, he says.

Many people have had no idea his shop is based in Lantzville. But this entrepreneur is fast becoming a recognized name in the surf industry, with his eco-friendly and custom-made wooden boards generating high demand.

The boards are made from cedar he pulls from the bush or local mills and are carefully handcrafted and designed by Weflen to last generations.

Already his shop has garnered interest from pro surfer Raph Bruhwiler, who now uses Weflen's Wefi boards, and the B.C. Ministry of Forests, which is using the wooden surfboards as an example of the benefits of logging in a new study.

Weflen, who was born and raised in Lantzville, never imagined he'd build a successful career in woodworking. At one time, he wanted nothing to do with the family carpentry tradition.

"Woodworking has always been in my family, and I just grew up around it," he said. "I wanted to do something different, like work in the marine or aerospace industry, but something kept drawing me back."

Woodworking has a long tradition in Weflen's family. His great-grandfather, an emigrant from Norway and furniture maker, had planned to start a new life on the Canadian Prairies as a carpenter.

He bought a ticket for the Titanic but missed its maiden voyage in 1912. He had to take a different boat but brought his tools and his Titanic ticket with him.

More than a century later, the ticket and old woodworking tools continue to pass through the family.

From the age of seven, Weflen's father taught him how to use the old hand planes and spoke shaves. But it wasn't until Weflen started surfing nine years ago that he discovered the heights he could take his passion for creating.

He started taking to the waves when he moved back to Lantzville from Victoria to continue his career in carpentry.

"Someone once told me that if you're not ready to change your life, don't try surfing. So I went surfing," he said.

Weflen started experimenting with creating his own boards as a hobby, wondering just how far he could take his skills with woodworking.

He used his great-grandfather's old tools, going through 60 boards until he found the right prototype. Each time he cut up his boards, he tried to create a higher-performing and lighter product.

Eventually he came up with an eco-friendly product that could compete with foam boards in performance but surpass them in durability.

He launched his company, Wefi, in 2005.

"It has definitely been a challenge to go from carpenter to businessman, but to be able to construct these boards and have a pro surfer try them, is insane," he said. "I never imagined it'd get to this point."

(Nanaimo Daily News)