Spokane Journal of Business

Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine Inc.: Toys for the water enthusiast

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Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine Inc.: Toys for the water enthusiast
-—Staff photo by Chey Scott
Scott Kurtz, owner of Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine, partners with a St. Maries woodworker to make stand-up paddleboards.

The customized swim platforms Scott Kurtz makes at his Spokane Valley-based boat repair business, Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine Inc., can be found on watercraft all over the world as far away as Australia, Hong Kong, and South America.

Kurtz says he got into the boat repair business here, located in a 10,000-square-foot shop at 10907 E. Marietta, about 12 years ago and made his first customized, extended swim platform at a customer's request a few years later.

Orders for those swim platforms now generate about half of Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine's overall revenues, he says.

More recently, Kurtz has added handcrafted, wooden, stand-up paddleboards to the business's offerings after entering into an informal business partnership with Mitch Santos, a St. Maries, Idaho-based woodworker.

The stand-up paddleboards are 10 1/2 feet in length, and their use for calm-water recreation is rapidly growing in popularity here, Kurtz says.

Users stand upright on the boards and use a long-handled paddle to navigate around lakes or calm ocean and river waters, Kurtz says, adding that he's also a hobbyist of the sport.

"When I saw it at first I was on vacation in the Bahamas; there were a lot of people there who did it," Kurtz says. "It looked boring because you move slowly. I tried it, though, and liked it. It's very serene and peaceful, and it's a great core workout. You can go fast or slow, and it's not that hard to stand up. It takes some balance and getting used to, but within five minutes you'll be paddling around."

Kurtz says that most stand-up paddleboards on the market are made of fiberglass with inner foam cores to create buoyancy. He says the art of crafting the wooden, hollow-core boards traces back hundreds of years to early Hawaiian surfboard making.

"They are very similar in shape and length," to surfboards, Kurtz says. "You could use one to surf and people do—they're interchangeable."

Santos, who owns St. Joe Mitch Log Furniture, in St. Maries, crafts the hollow stand-up paddleboards from various wood types including cedar, mahogany, pine, and bass wood, Kurtz says.

The individual strips of wood in each board are handpicked by Santos for the wood's color and grain, Kurtz says.

The partnership between the two came about late last summer when Santos approached Kurtz to ask him if he would be able to finish and seal two wooden paddleboards, using fiberglass epoxy and resin.

While they haven't created a formal business to market and sell the boards, Kurtz says they both advertise them through their individual businesses. He estimates that they each spend the same amount of time working on the paddleboards, with a total investment of 90 hours into each one.

The stand-up paddleboards start out in price at $2,800, and customers have the option to add a fin to the bottom side of the board or to have custom graphics painted onto it, Kurtz says. He and Santos evenly split the sale price of each board they sell, he adds.

Before Santos sends off a finished paddle board to Kurtz for it to be sealed, he burns into the wood the outline of the artwork or design the board's buyer has requested. Kurtz says he then applies paint to color the design in a multistep process.

Once the design on the board has been completed, he applies several individual coats of an epoxy resin and then sands down each coat to ensure the board has a smooth, glassy finish. Between each coat of epoxy, Kurtz has to wait 24 hours for it to dry, he says. The last step is to apply a coat of polyurethane to seal the board and keep the wood from getting wet.

So far, he says he and Santos have sold five stand-up paddleboards, with three of those being bought by customers in the Inland Northwest.

"We're not going to retire doing this—they are very high-end and expensive," he says. "We have fun making them, and they are beautiful floating pieces of art."

That said, Kurtz does anticipate the paddleboard making venture to grow as word about it spreads.

"We do see it growing because we haven't really marketed it at (boat and outdoor) shows yet, and I go to a lot of shows in the summer," he says. "People see the swim platforms on the lake and I get more orders, and that business has doubled every year since it started so we expect the stand-up paddleboards to do the same."

He says Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine is on pace to sell 125 of its custom swim-platforms this year.

Kurtz's custom swim platforms are made of fiberglass-reinforced plywood, and he designs them to fit the specific makes and models of customers' boats. The platforms then are installed onto the boat transom, which is the cross section of the stern, or the back of the vessel.

He estimates that about 80 percent of customers buy the platforms for safety reasons, because the component extends out over a boat's outdrive, the rear part of the engine that includes the propeller.

"Families with kids don't want their kids jumping off the back of a boat and landing on the propeller," Kurtz says.

The platforms average 7 feet wide by 2 1/2 feet long, but could be made in any size, Kurtz says. He can install any additional custom features, such as watertight storage compartments, retractable swim ladders, hand rails, or even a barbecue grill.

"It can also be used functionally for added seating and storage—you can strap a cooler or an inner tube back there to get it out of the boat and free up room in the boat," he says.

He says the inner compartments of the swim platforms can be used to store rope and other small items, and some customers use them for beverage coolers.

The base pricing for one of Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine's custom swim platforms is determined by its size, Kurtz says. If he installs the component onto a customer's boat at his shop here, the price is $85 per square foot. Customers who wish to install a platform themselves, including those who don't live nearby, are charged $65 per square foot, he says.

He estimates that 75 percent of his customers install the platforms onto their boats themselves, and that's mostly because they don't live in the Inland Northwest.

The price range for one of the swim platforms is between $1,200 and $1,800, he says.

Other customization options, such as graphics or a non-skid surface material, are additional costs and Kurtz says those options are listed on the business's website, www.myswimplatform.com.

Kurtz says that he knows of only two other extended swim platform manufacturers in the U.S., both which are based in Phoenix.

Kurtz says that on Contemporary Fiberglass & Marine's boat-repair side, business has increased noticeably in recent years. He theorizes that because of the recession, more people are opting to repair their watercraft rather than buying new boats.

"I used to worry every winter because it would get slow, but now it never slows down year-round," he says.

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