Blog: June 2011

We are Reconcilers
June 24, 2011

Tim Dion, a professional surfboard shaper here in Malibu stopped by the shop today to check out what we were doing. Within minutes we had forgotten about the cups of epoxy curing in our hands as surfer wisdom poured out of his mouth. As it turns out, what we do in Camden and what we are doing here in Malibu are much more similar than ever realized. The area Camden now resides in began as prime waterfowl hunting and fishing grounds for the lenape people who would earn their keep on birch bark canoes. European immigrants (dutch, most likely) fell for the land for the same reasons and began imitating and re-imagining these double ended vessels to include sails, rowing and poling stations, birthing boats like the ducker, tuckup and railbird skiffs. As industry began to run our cities, Camden became a workingman’s mecca.. but not for railroads or automobiles... for boats (and phonographs and soup, of course). Ships would roll off of the New York Shipbuilding Corp. lines in south Camden to discover the unknown, map the uncharted, and devastate the non-compliant (sadly indeed).

All of these make me think that Camden has something to it... something greater than mere water access that causes people to build boats and fall for the rivers... as if the land itself yearns for it. Perhaps now it simply longs for a return to a home it once new.. the kind that was felt at the most recent boat launch on the Cooper River as 15 kids bounced toothy smiles off the most subtle wind swells. Malibu shares in Camden’s longing. Rumor has it that Malibu created surfing as we know it by being the first wave where someone turned down the face as opposed to simply riding towards shore. I believe it.. and if you were here, you would too. Surfrider beach (or Malibu Point as it was called during Malibu’s golden age of surfing beginning in the mid 20′s) has been credited with being the wave that has had the most effect on surfing’s popular image... that long, perfect, glistening tube... visible from miles up Malibu Canyon Road. Tom Blake’s legendary board (especially SUP) designs were built in driveways and garages all around this area through the thirties, forties, fifties and sixties until Malibu shifted gears. Once a wilderness for the redwood paddling adventurer, Malibu became a retreat community for those lucky few who could afford it. Though surfing is still huge here, we can feel that what we are doing here is something greater, something more important. It’s pulsing through the group of builders, growing in both numbers and excitement daily, and keeps us feeling as if we stumbled onto a goldmine. It seems that we Urban BoatWorkers, apprentices of the very boat that chooses us to build it, are once again in over our heads trying to reconcile a culture and a people to it’s land and it’s history... and I think it’s working.

This weekend we will sign our name on the board’s deck, not for vanity but for bookkeeping. These kids are making history in their city and 75 years from now when most of us are long gone these old school paddleboards may well live on adorning the wall of a themed local eatery or small gallery to forever tell the story of a bunch of wild locals who decided to go against the grain of their culture and honor, commemorate, their home. these boards may well outlive us... the most important boards I have are the ones that were made long before my time.

- Tim Dion

From Camden to Malibu
June 22, 2011

24 Hour Solo
June 15, 2011


I’ve always loved small boats and paddling, it’s the wild and natural places along with a quest for adventure that I long to share with my UrbanTrekkers.  Whether paddling on a North Country wilderness lake in a canoe alongside a common loon or in a kayak off the coast of Maine and only a paddle length away from breaching bottlenose dolphins and hearing their slurping inhale for precious air. 
This past year students at UrbanPromise built five beautiful wooden canoes and a cedar strip kayak, yearlong projects, that required commitment and a perseverance that was tested over and over again from both students and the volunteers in the shop.  Key partnerships with the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum, the home of Urban BoatWorks and the Cooper River Yacht Club has allowed us to build an amazing program of learning and discovery.     
This year had us on the water more than ever.  Beginning with the Maine trip and ocean kayaking we also had three paddle trips in the fall; kayaking the Barnegat Bay, Assateague Island, and the Batsto River in the New Jersey Pines.  In the spring we went white water rafting on the Nolichucky River in North Carolina and Tennessee, another Barnegat Bay paddle with diamond back terrapins and horseshoe crabs and finished our school year with the Senior Rites of Passage on the Saranac Lakes.
Each year the senior class of the UrbanPromise Academy has the opportunity to participate in a yearlong preparation of commitment and leadership training that ends with the 24 Hour Solo on a small island on Lower Saranac Lake.  Students spend four days paddling, portaging and hiking very challenging terrain moving from Upper, to Middle and finally to Lower Saranac Lake for their Solo.   The night they come off the island they share their journal entries and reflections from the trip.  Shanice, the class Valedictorian, summed up best when she shared from her journal…
 “I had just been left on my own island and I was putting up my tent, the black flies and Mosquitoes were all over me.  I was anxious, tired and hot, feeling lousy; it was then…when I saw two beautiful butterflies that I somehow knew I was ready…ready for my journey.”  She said she thought of her classmates back at school who chose not to be part of the Rites of Passage, and said respectfully of them, “they’re not ready yet for the journey; they are still being swarmed by the pesky black flies and mosquitoes”. She went on to say to her classmates around the fire, “we’ve been prepared for our journey”.
I believe there is something very special about a boat…”it can take you someplace you have never been before”,  but more than any place in nature, it’s what’s revealed in ourselves, that we often discover when we are so far from home and all that is familiar.  Nature’s wild places force us to adapt, to face fear, and call on courage; in the end we often find a new confidence and belief in ourselves that is truly authentic…we’ve earned a stripe and we know it. 
If you decide to come down to the boat shop this summer and check us out…you better call first, because you’ll see a sign hanging on the door that reads, “Gone Paddling!”
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