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Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine – Savant of SUP Soul: Meet Jason Thelen of Little Bay Boards

Aug 10, 2017 | Hype

Kate Bassett wrote this great article about us for Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine and MyNorth.com

To Jason Thelen, owner of Little Bay Boards, a paddleboard is not just a paddleboard, it’s a connection to things big and small and channels the life force of the big water.

A doll lies on the kitchen table, hair messed and tousled to look like dreadlocks. It’s well past dark, the house quiet, children long ago asleep. Jason Thelen shares a beer with his wife. They both look at the toy and each other, knowing something has to change. Soon.

Working crazy hours, Thelen barely comes home to sleep. A carpenter by day, he handcrafts hollow wood paddleboards at night, a “just sort of happened” new business. The boards are built in his dad’s 16-by-25-foot garage turned workshop, which is where Thelen was when his wife, Julie, called to say he needed to come home.

“She pretends it’s you, so you can still tuck her in at night,” Julie whispers, nodding toward their daughter’s doll. It’s late. Exhaustion settles around them like an old quilt. So too does a decision.

A decision full of risk and opportunity. Heart-centered and spirit-guided. Thelen will quit his job—a great gig building energy efficient homes with his father-in-law—to pursue this passion project: paddleboards.

Fast forward a few years. Thelen, now 42, retells the story like it was yesterday. His pale blue eyes tear up when he talks about the memory, his girls. “No father wants to be absent like that,” he says, leaning against a stack of wood being used to build out his new shop. “It was the hardest choice I’ve ever made to give up the security of a job I’ve had for 17 years, a job that was with family. But something had to give. When I started making boards to sell and we had extra money for the first time ever, it got a little intoxicating, you know? I almost forgot what mattered most. What started this whole thing.”

This “thing” is Little Bay Boards, a one-of-a-kind artisan operation crafting wood paddleboards. A business still anchored in family and the freshwater sea.

Thelen, who grew up in Petoskey (and whose roots date way back—he is a direct descendent of Chief Petoskey), discovered paddleboarding less than six years ago in Good Harbor. “We were with my brother-in-law’s family, and I borrowed a board and paddled way out into the lake. The sun was shining. I had a Corona in my hand and silence all around me. Being out there, totally alone, having this experience with the lake … It was soulful.”

By the time Thelen returned to shore, paddleboarding had hooked him.

“When we got home my wife and I started researching boards. I’ve always been a big fan of wood and started studying wood veneer surfboards. I bought a blueprint for a paddleboard and just went for it,” he says. “It was eight feet long, made for my daughter. From the very first time she used it—we were down in Glen Arbor—the board got a ton of attention. It was on the roof of our car, and when we came out of the grocery store there were a bunch of people standing around, and I thought, Great, somebody backed into us.”

It wasn’t an accident that stopped traffic. It was the board, with its spectrum of light and dark hardwoods, a floating piece of art folks were drawn to almost as intensely as the Great Lakes themselves.

“This started happening everywhere we went; people wanted to know about the board. My daughter was nine at the time and even she started giving the pitch. That’s when my wife asked if I ever thought about making another one to sell. Little Bay Boards sort of sprung up organically from there.”

Read full article on MyNorth.com

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