Paulownia is arguably the best and currently the most popular wood for alaias and paipos, but here in Europe it’s difficult to source and expensive.
The ancient Hawaiians managed to make alaias without paulownia, and so can we. Some UK shapers have tried working with pine and cedar, but these timbers are heavier than paulownia and not as resistant to the effects of continued immersion in salt water. So, after much research, I chose obeche (Triplochiton scleroxylon) for an alaia that Steve Croft of Empire Surfboards was to shape for me.
Obeche is a West African hardwood timber that comes from Ghana, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Cameroon. Although it’s slightly heavier than paulownia, it’s still a lightweight timber, plus it has a high strength to weight ratio and will flex like paulownia. The trees grow in sandy, alkali conditions, so the wood can tolerate salt water and dries out well, which explains its popularity in boat building. It also works easily and has an attractive, pale finish. The main advantage of obeche though, is that it is easily available in the UK and isn’t prohibitively expensive.
Warren at Woodstock timber supplies in Falmouth was a fantastic help and is a font of knowledge about all things wood. He’s also pretty clued up on alaias and handplanes, so is a great point of contact for anyone wanting to shape their own board.
The proof of the board is in the riding, and my obeche alaia floats like a dream.