ST. MARIES - Out behind the three-bedroom log cabin home along the St. Joe River that Mitch Santos built nearly 30 years ago, he found a way to reconnect with his past addiction as a California surfer.
Santos, 59, is handcrafting stand-up paddleboards inside a small shop at his home, using carefully selected woods, lots of Gorilla Glue and the free time and patience that comes with retirement. They sell for $2,800 and more.
"The minute they see the wooden paddleboard, and they know it's theirs, they get very attached to it," Santos said of his customers. "The No. 1 thing they say is they just like the beauty of the wood."
He couldn't agree more.
"When I look at a piece of wood, I always like the symmetry and the patterns and the grain," he said. "I was always interested in the grain and look of wood."
The boards look like surfboards and are 10 1/2 feet in length, and weigh about 35 pounds. The owners use long-handled paddles to get around. Longer paddleboards go up to 14 feet, he said.
Santos grew up in California, and spent years surfing in the Santa Cruz area.
"I've always liked surfboards and surfboard shapes," he said. "Whenever I see a surfboard, it reminds me of the old days, when I was a kid."
On Friday, he was working on his eighth paddleboard.
Stand-up paddleboarding is becoming increasingly popular for calm-water recreation in North Idaho. It's long been popular in other parts of the world.
Woodworkers make similar hollow-core paddleboards in Hawaii, Oregon, California and in the eastern U.S.
Santos is well known around St. Maries as the retired, longtime coach of the powerhouse high school volleyball team. He also was a teacher at the high school for more than 30 years.
Santos has been making wooden furniture for years. He sells the boards through his business, and his business partner's business. He's been making and selling the boards for about a year.
"The feedback (from buyers) that we are getting is tremendous," said Scott Kurtz, Santos' business partner. Kurtz, who operates a Spokane Valley boat-repair business, finishes the boards with fiberglass and resin.
Kurtz, 51, said what stands out about their paddleboards is Santos' woodworking craftsmanship. The two men spend a combined 90 hours to finish one board, and they make only one at a time.
Each board is unique, with different patterns, wood inlays and woodburning.
Santos uses redwood, basswood, cedar, pine, and African and Honduras mahogany.
"There are not a lot of people that have the patience and skills to do that work," Kurtz said. "I like working with Mitch, because he takes as much pride in his work as I do. There's not pressure involved at all working with Mitch. "
Most of those sold by Santos and Kurtz have gone to customers in the Inland Northwest.
Kurtz said he anticipates the initially slow sales to continue at that pace - for now. It's a niche product, what he calls "floating art."
"We're not geared up right now to make a ton of them," Kurtz said. "We're both busy with other endeavors."