The sweet smell of resin fills the air. Drawers full of propeller concepts, cable arrays, batteries and tools line workbenches. Stacked to the side is the fruit of 10 years of work: the world's best motorised surfboard, built, backed and ridden by Aussies. It's not just going to change the surfing world forever, it's going to save lives too. Come with us on a hands-on tour of the revolutionary Power Board.
This week, thanks to AHM Insurance, Gizmodo Australia is travelling around the country to find the best adventure rides invented and influenced by Aussies. From foldable boats to water jetpacks: we’ve got it all.
Chris Preston (pictured top) is the inventor of the Power Board (powerboard1.com), and like most inventions, it was born out of necessity.
A builder by trade, fisherman and surfer for pleasure, Chris has had a pretty good run in life, but when he blew out his knee after years on the job, he knew the dream was starting to crumble. Pile on a shoulder reconstruction only months after the knee operation and Chris had a shocking realisation: his dream of surfing had been taken away.
Thanks to the surgery, Chris could no longer jump onto a board and muster up the strength to paddle out beyond the fierce waves that make for great surf in order to ride them back into shore. No duck-diving, no wave riding, no surfing. The mind was willing, the body unable.
Refusing to accept defeat, Chris came up with an idea that would spawn a decade-long quest to build the perfect surfboard. One that would allow those who had been taken out of the water to surf once more. The Power Board was born.
The Power Board is a surfboard with a motor hidden inside the board itself with and propellor stashed inside one of the fins for perfect propulsion in the water and on a wave. Rather than being controlled by a wrist-worn remote like some powered surfboards, Chris devised an ingenious soft button that he concealed inside a Power Board that would be activated whenever the rider laid flat on the board itself.
It's also situated in such a way that when you stand up and ride the sweet tubes you can tread on the button for an extra boost of thrust out of a rapidly-closing barrel. It runs almost silent in the water, lasts for ages and charges faster than any of the competition's solutions. Plus, it's 100 per cent Australian-owned, built and backed.
Chris works out of a garage-style factory shop outside of Maroochydore in Queensland. He used to live and work in Sydney, but when he needed surgery, he packed up and moved up north for a quieter life building his dream board.
He tells us that when he started, he was clueless.
"I had a guy teach me electronics at first, and now he works for me. There isn't anything I can't do with electric surfboards now," he says.
Right now, the electricity draw on the Power Board means that speeds are artificially limited to 11km/h as a top speed. If Chris had it his way, he'd take the limit off and let the 6000 RPM motor do its full job of taking the rider up to a maximum of 80km/h.
"Sadly, Waterways [agencies] around the country wouldn't be too fond of that," he says with a laugh. 11km/h is more or less the speed limit on public waterways around the nation, and anything faster would make the Power Board illegal.
The pioneering new battery technology on the Power Board means that it can charge in a fraction of the time its competitors can, too, so you can get back out on the water in the time it takes to share fish and chips with your mates over lunch.
Water is pulled through the front of the propellor tube and then pushed with force out through the prop itself. To cool the motor, Chris worked out a way to pull water through the board from the propellor tube and out through the top. At speed, the board has its own little tail much like a jetski.
Safety is a priority for Chris, and as a result, there's an engine cut-off if something gets caught in the prop, the electronics are short-circuit-proof so they can't fail or shock the rider if they're slightly exposed, and the charger for the board is designed so that it automatically turns itself off so as to not overcharge the battery or risk overheating it inside the sealed compartment.
The Power Board starts at $4100 and ranges right up to $4700, and each one is hand-build in Queensland by skilled Aussie engineers, as well as the guy who invented the technology itself so quality is assured. Once you order the Power Board, the build time is up to four weeks to get everything perfect before it's shipped straight to your door.
The road to the perfect powered surfboard hasn't been without bumps along the way, Chris tells us. Not only does the US-based competition want to know his secret sauce, but so-called "traditional" surfers are outright rejecting the presence of technology on their beaches.
"I have had guys come up to me and swearing at me because they don't think it's real surfing if there's a motor in the board," he tells me. He recounts a beef he had with a local surfing enthusiast club where senior members of the community demonised the board without even seeing what it could do.
Someone even trash-talked the Power Board in the surf to Chris, not realising who he was or that he was riding it at the time. Little do they all know that this board is actually about to start saving lives.
Australia has some of the most picturesque surf in the world, however it's also some of the most dangerous waters on Earth. According to National Surf Life Saving (PDF), drowning deaths rose last year by 25 per cent on Australia's beaches, and with the summers only getting hotter Down Under, lifesaving resources are being stretched to the extreme.
Performing one rescue means that a lifesaver has to jump onto a heavy longboard and paddle out through intense surf often plagued by rips and strong tides to save a drowning soul. When they return to the beach, it takes time for the heroic men and women to regain their strength before attempting another rescue, meaning that lives may be at risk due to the limits of human endurance. That's where the Power Board comes in.
Chris has taken one of the Surf Life Saving longboards and ingeniously retrofitted it to work with the in-fin motor technology and the soft button which he has strewn around the board for flexibility's sake. The results are phenomenal.
Surf Lifesavers on the beaches around Chris' workshop have been testing the retrofitted Power Board and now wouldn't go back to a self-paddling board if you paid them. He's currently negotiating to retrofit more boards so that lifesavers can be more effective when they're on duty, meaning that hopefully the rash of drownings on Australian beaches can be stemmed. The Power Board can and will save lives.
Who could argue with that?
As the surfers moan and gripe at the newcomer in their midst like the horse-carriage operators belittled the horseless cart, Chris continues to potter away in his workshop, refining his design and taking the first orders for the revolutionary new wave of surfboards.
Chris is an ambitious guy. He doesn't want to stop at just surfboards.
Walking around his workshop you can see everything he's tinkering with right now so that he can get cool stuff working in the future.
As you can see in the video, we tested everything from the traditional Power Board, right through to a stand-up paddle board (SUP) where the soft actuator button is offset to the side for extra propulsion against a current or into shore.
In the near future, once the orders for the Power Board start shipping to the first lucky owners, Chris wants to retrofit kayaks and other paddle boats with the smart fin propellor technology.
To chase his dream of a powered surfboard, Chris has gone through almost a decade worth of hard work, and sold two houses to pay for the ongoing costs of a company. After a little while on the hamster wheel, Chris knows that money comes and money goes.
Ultimately, Chris does it for the love of surfing, the love of tinkering and a desire to help others. Not just those who can't surf anymore due to an injury, but those abroad who are less fortunate than ourselves.
"I want to use the profits from this enterprise to help people," he explains to us on the water. "What this process has taught me that rich people are greedy. I don't like that. I used to be a builder, I want to around to underprivileged countries and build things and teach them how," he explains.
We could all learn a thing or two from the Tony Stark of the surfing world.
Tune in tomorrow to see the next instalment of Gizmodo’s Adventure Rides series, thanks to AHM Insurance.