What started as a project to make an affordable paddle board has turned into a budding business for Jason Thelen of Little Bay Boards.
“It really all started because I couldn’t afford to buy a board of my own,” he said. “Through Google and a lot of research I found out I could build my own from a kit and, after making my first one, things kind of went crazy from there.”
Thelen would constantly get questions about his board with it strapped to the top of his car wherever his drove in town. The attention eventually grew to the point he build a board for a friend, then a relative, then he started a Facebook page and it organically grew from there.
“Honestly; it was crazy,” said Thelen. “It grew up from about 10 people knowing about this into 1,000 or so within the first six months.”
Thelen now works under Little Bay Boards as the owner and artist and has been doing so for four years now. Although he is the mastermind and craftsman behind the boards it wasn’t without help that he found his niche and groove.
“Molly Kircher was a huge help in the beginning and supported me as a growing artist,” said Thelen. “I have always been crafty and was a doodler in school, was a carpenter, owned a furniture company and now this. It wasn’t without help though that I was able to create my version of the paddleboard.”
Kircher helped Thelen make a connection with Paul Jensen, the inventor of the modern day hollow wooden board, and together the two worked out a deal to help each other create boards. Thelen was able to pick Jensen’s brain for ideas and was then able to make modifications to his boards to eventually create a concept all his own.
“It’s interesting in itself and doing it all by hand turned me on,” he said. “The science that goes into it though is intriguing and was something I knew very little about at the time. One example is the science of water deflection. You have to know that the water you push away from the board now becomes your resisting force. You have to know how to curve the board correctly. There’s all these little things that go into making a board.”
Thelen spends anywhere from 32 to 120 hours working on a board. A lot of the time put into it is dependent on the design of the board and each board purchased by a customer can be customized dependent on the cost.
Most recently he has been working with students from Petoskey High School and plans on having that board completed by the end of the summer. He also recently started what he calls Boards for a Reason.
“I was having constant charities approaching me asking for a paddle or a board that could be donated for a cause. So far we have done everything from Wounded Warriors to things for local schools and I have done about two of those a year,” said Thelen. “I started Boards of a Reason because of this and it’s all patron based. People donate monthly and that goes into a separate fund to cover the costs for the charity boards. because of that we are providing boards to three or so charities a year now to help them out.”
Thelen is happy and proud of Little Bay Boards and the journey he has been on for the last four years. He can rest easy at night knowing he is creating eco-friendly boards and doing something to support his family while getting to do something he loves.
“I get to make art everyday and it’s just fun,” he said. “I listen to music, get to be barefoot and crank away at what I’m doing for the day. Yes there are challenges to it and I’ve never built the same exact board. There is a lot of reward to what I do and I’m really blessed to be able to do it.”
Follow Sean Miller on Twitter at @seanmillerpnr.