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From Henry Ford II High School to British Virgin Islands
From Henry Ford II High School to British Virgin Islands
Posted on 03/26/2021
Left - Ford II woodworking students; Right - Branson with boardNext up – Country music star Kenny Chesney and Trading Places star Ty Pennington.

The two international celebrities are joining a long list of famous water enthusiasts who have made a personal request for a new Michigan-made paddle board from Henry Ford II woodworking students. 

The new board requests are in the schedule after students shipped a board nearly 2,000 miles to Sir Richard Branson’s personal island – Necker Island – in the British Virgin Islands. 

Billionaire Sir Richard Branson, who personally requested the board, recently posted with the board and sent a personal Instagram shoutout to the students, calling the design and construction process  “a brilliant idea.”

“Time for a paddle on my lovely new board,” he wrote in the post, which has been viewed by  60,000 people worldwide. 

The board was built last year by an all-female team of woodworking students in teacher Chris Davis’ class. 

"We worked together so hard and all had different qualities we brought to the project,” said graduate Rosalina Cholewa, who was part of the team. “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."

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. 

Over the past two years, the woodworking program has honored requests from 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. 

The next customers on tap are country music star Kenny Chesney and Two-time Emmy winner Ty Pennington, who was the host of Extreme Makeover and currently has a TV show called TY Breaker. 

“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.”