It seems strange that a region renowned for its surfing culture routinely sees old surfboards find their final resting place at the city dump. Architect and designer Lawrence O'Toole is giving new life to Kauai's favorite pastime. O'Toole knew he was onto something after a conversation with an old-time surfboard shaper. "He mentioned that back in the '70s, as smaller boards became fashionable, they would take old long boards and reshape the foam into smaller outlines," O'Toole says. "To do this, they would strip the fiberglass off the old board, reshape it, recolor it and finally re-fiberglass it so that it would be good as new." That bit of insight and an encounter with an eye-catching mid-century Scandinavian side table—"The soft rounded edge reminded me of a surfboard"—were all the inspiration he needed for his colorful OTables.
The tables blend as well indoors as they did outside in their previous lives. O'Toole breaks down the creative process for us:
I collect old boards from the landfill transfer station on the north shore of Kauai. I've asked the attendants to set aside boards on their way to the dump. Next, I choose the most suitable boards to recycle and bring them to the surfboard shaper's factory on the west side of Kauai. The shaper peels back the existing fiberglass so we now have just a raw piece of foam that can be reshaped to our specifications. (A note, foam that is not painted before fiberglassing will yellow in the sun and with age. We have found that if you sand down the foam just an eighth of an inch the foam is bright white and just like new.) The new top is shaped using various saws, planers and hand sanding. Shaping is a true art that takes years to become an expert craftsman. The finished foam shape is then recolored and fiberglassed so that the piece is as good as new.
It's not as easy as grabbing a few used boards and bringing it over to the shaper. "In general, most surfboard shapers are more interested in making surfboards than furniture," O'Toole says. "So it did take a while before I found a few willing to experiment on the table tops."
A future OTable awaiting a final sanding and polishing.
Aside from the surfboard, the OTable features a stainless steel base—intended to be almost invisible—created by an expert craftsman on the east shore of Kauai. "I wanted the foam tops to read as if the were floating with bases seeming to be no more than a surfboard leash holding them up from below," O'Toole says. From the clean base and the nostalgic table tops to the product name, attention to detail is the most biggest pull of the OTable. "The tables are named after a muse by the name of O and for the circular shape of the initial series," O'Toole says.
Check out the OTable and O'Toole's other projects here.