Boards for Billionaires? Henry Ford II students are gaining an international reputation for creating paddle boards that feature unique woodworking process
Boards for Billionaires? Henry Ford II students are gaining an international reputation for creating paddle boards that feature unique woodworking process
Posted on 09/11/2020
Students working on paddle board in Henry Ford II classSelf-made billionaires. A famous actress. Home improvement stars. The list keeps growing.

Now in its third year, a woodworking program at Henry Ford II High School is becoming the place to go for international figures who enjoy water sports and want to support local students who are breaking barriers through creativity and teamwork. 

Over the past two years, the woodworking program has honored requests from Virgin Records founder Sir Richard Branson, Cabin Reno HGTV star Kristy Petrillo, Varsity Blues actress Amy Smart and Trading Places husband Carter Oosterhouse, and Spanx founder Sara Blakely and husband entrepreneur Jesse Itzler. 

“I think it is cool that someone who has no affiliation with us likes what we are doing in class,” said teacher Christopher Davis. “If you had a billion dollars, would you ever contact a high school woodshop for a project? Probably not. I don’t know if it has ever happened before - but in two straight years, that probably has never happened.”

For students, the project requires them to develop marketing skills, essential trade skills for a growing recreational industry, creativity and teamwork.

"We worked together so hard and all had different qualities we brought to the project,” said graduate Rosalina Cholewa, who was part of an all-girls team that built a board for Branston last year. “We were really efficient, some of us were good at using the saws and some were great at using epoxy and gluing all the pieces together. We worked as a team and needed each other to create this masterpiece."

Graduate Antonia Nunnery, who also worked on the Branson board, agreed.

“What we learned over the period of time working on the board was incomparable to any other learning experience I had my senior year,” said Nunnery. 

What has brought attention to the students is that they have a unique woodworking process that is used by only a handful of builders internationally. 

“These boards are unique because they are completely custom and hollow,” Davis said. “We do not use any foam on the insides of the board. Materials are handpicked to match the desired design. The boards are also Eco-Friendly - they will never end up in a landfill like foam boards.”

The designs are based on the work of Jason Thelen and his Little Bay Boards business in Petosky. Thelen has become a mentor to students in the program.

Davis said the students research the individuals making the request, find out more about their interests, create a design, and then begin the process of building the board to specific design specifications. 

"I loved that our project was so unique, and it was something you don't normally hear about,” Nunnery said. “It was huge and took months of work in and outside of school."

Now in its third year, Davis said the woodworking program has built about 20 boards based on requests or for family members of students. Materials for the boards have been largely donated or are purchased by families. 

This summer, the board was delivered to its first celebrity request, HGTV star Petrillo. The boards for Branson and Smart and Oosterhouse are in the process of being delivered, and students will work this year on the paddle board for Blakely and Itzler.

“This board is absolutely gorgeous,” Petrillo said in a video message to students. “I don’t even want to put it in the water because it is so pretty. It belongs on a wall somewhere – but I’m still going to put it in the water.” 
Davis said the international interest has had an impact on his students’ work. 
“The reason I decided to build boards for these people is to help drive student motivation,” he said. “When the students find out that they are building a board for one of these people, they are all in and give it everything they have to make a nice project.”