Apr 18

Balsa Beauty

 Looks good, feels good, surfs incredible. 

words: dave swan 

First of all, this board is drop dead sexy. If you’re currently single, this will fill any void in your life. Secondly, it is incredibly light. Indeed, I have never owned a board this light (and I presently have a 6’4” Sunova quad in my quiver that doesn’t even come close). Thirdly, the length and plan shape are just what I love and being a twin, it was the icing on the cake. With all that said, I confess to some trepidation when trying out this board for the first time. 

My surfing over the last five to six months has been limited to say the least. Regular readers will know I am accident prone way beyond the norm. Over the last half a year I have torn my calf twice, in two different spots, a grade two and then a grade three tear, just getting myself right from the first injury to do it all over again before I got a chance to surf (how do you even tear a calf twice when you don’t even have any?). Then, when I was finally right and heading out for a surf one afternoon, just before I ventured out I managed to fall three metres from a ladder onto a frameless glass pool fence somehow avoiding cutting myself in two but still managing to near sever my left ear off, split open my head and break six of my ribs. A trip to the hospital, five staples to the noggin, some crafty plastic surgery stitching to the ear and a can of toughen up for the ribs is what ensued and needless to say, I was out of the surf for another couple of months. Anyhow, this incredible board arrived as a cheer-me-up Christmas gift from none other than Mark Riley of Riley Balsa Surfboards. I was super keen to try it out as soon as my body healed. 

My first surf back was on a longboard to simply test all my injuries had healed, and the second surf back was on this beauty. Before I entered the water however, questions rolled around inside my head that, given the amount of injuries I had sustained, my extended absence from the water, and the fact my surfing was never flash anyhow, could still surf a board like this? This little fish quickly allayed any fears. Thanks to the EPS core it was super buoyant and easy to paddle out which in turn made it just as easy to paddle onto waves. A magic rail line with a tucked in tail enabled me to slot into the pocket of some little Sunshine Coast sliders. Thanks to the two hand-shaped wooden fins it had plenty of drive whilst enabling you to perform some nice drawn-out curves. The boards lightness further assisted in this area as it allowed you to whip it around. 

This board featured the Versa traction grip, and this was the first I had tested it. It was steady under foot, I didn’t slip at all and in fact noted no difference to wax. What I did appreciate however was not having to wax my board and the fact the board looks so pristine. This shape was also the first Mark had produced with a matte finish as opposed to a gloss polish. Not only did it look amazing, but I far prefer it to the polish. For mine, it complements the light colour of the balsa better than the gloss and you have more traction when gripping the rails duck diving and getting to your feet. 


Mark Riley has been shaping beautiful balsa boards for over 27 years, shipping them to his clientele around the globe. Whether it is a lightweight, high performance recycled EPS core and balsa skin surfboards such as this or a traditional solid balsa collectible, he shapes them all for their intended use, by hand. Fishes, longboards, single fins, guns, funboards and paddleboards, there is absolutely nothing he hasn’t shaped. Having ridden a number of his boards and now the proud owner of this little fish, I can testify they are the ducks guts and surf as good as they look. There is nothing better than having a functional piece of art that you can mount on a wall at your home or office and then take it down and surf it, and not just meander around on wave but really rip it to pieces (in my mind anyway). 

Mark’s high-performance range feature a recycled EPS form core with a vacuum-wrapped 2-3mm balsa skin glassed in epoxy resin. This not only delivers an incredible strength to weight ratio, it makes them super durable and arguably one of the most sustainably made surfboards on the planet. 



6’2” x 21 ½” x 2 7/8” 

  • Fully hand-shaped 
  • 100% recycled EPS foam core 
  • Vacuum-wrapped 2mm sustainably-grown balsa skin 
  • Solid balsa rails 
  • Cedar and balsa handmade nose and tail blocks 
  • Cedar feature pinlines 
  • Hand-shaped balsa and cedar fins 
  • Revered Gearbox fin system with matching wood covers 
  • Carbon footprint reportedly less than a quarter of a traditional PU surfboard