Tom Wegener created Alaia Surfboards and is known for his craftmanship. The California native moved to Australia about 15 years ago. Courtesy photo
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Waterspot: Wegener brings the past to life

My wife and I used to joke that if Tom Wegener ever went missing, we could re-create him from the impression his body made on our sofa. 

He slept there a lot through the ‘90s, whenever he cruised down from Palos Verdes to Cardiff in his “Sweet Dodge Van.” 

Tom was a gifted surfer with ideas that generally differed from the norm. There was, for instance, the “action robe,” a plain terrycloth body drape with aloha prints on the pockets. 

For obvious reasons it never made it to market. Then there was a series of narrow pintail surfboards he built with a wooden wide-based fin pushed to the tail. 

The board weighed twice that of most boards at the time and, had nearly no rocker and made surfing impossible for most. Nobody but Tom ever managed to make one of those lead sleds work. 

It seemed to those of us who knew him well that surfing was too easy for Tom, and he wanted to make surfing more difficult. 

A joke among his friends was that he was going to paddle out on a coil of barbed wire and once he mastered that, he would electrify the coil. 

Although his surfing ranged from good to brilliant, his most significant accomplishment to me was that he always had a smile on his face in the surf, something that earned him the nickname, “The Joker.”

By my reckoning, it’s been about 15 years since Tom deserted us for Australia. 

He moved to Noosa Heads just before it became a hipster mecca for longboarders internationally. There Wegener began building some very retro surfboards, along with an international reputation as an innovator. 

While he was a few hundred years late in inventing the Alaia, he, along with his brother, Johnny, were among the first in modern times to begin building those finless wooden crafts again.

Joel Tudor and Bonga Perkins may have inspired Tom’s descent into the vaults of Honolulu’s Bishop Museum where he gazed for hours upon ancient Hawaiian surf craft. 

Regardless, once Wegener saw those boards he had a vision that led to an obsession with building them. 

He set up a shop to build the boards and planted paulownia trees on his Noosa property, knowing full well that the trees take about 25 years to mature.

Tom continues to look to the past to inspire the future. 

The last time we spoke, he was keen on building Peruvian reed boats, which some ancient cave paintings suggest were used for surfing by Peruvians in the distant past. It is believed that the Peruvians were the first to colonize Tahiti before the Tahitians sailed to Hawaii, and made their homes there. 

Is it blasphemous to suggest that Peruvians may have introduced surfing to Hawaii centuries ago? Some people think so.

First or last is of little consequence to someone with Wegener’s temperament. 

He is concerned with one thing: fun. 

Moreover, when Tom Wegener looks at a modern three-finned ultra light Thruster, or a finless Alaia designed centuries before 1905 when George Freeth rode his first wave in Redondo Beach, fun is a word that illuminates the future while echoing the past.  

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