My definition of "natures foam" is any natural material that floats. Of course, I prefer it to be as light as possible, but if it floats it'll do. To me the best natural foam is something that you can carve or shape. In my particular case, I dream of making shapes that you might use to catch and harness the energy of a wave, allowing you to participate in the ride. Or, maybe it's a floating sled I make that holds a net to secure your catch of abalones or lobsters when diving. Could be a float that keeps your spear gun from permanently disappearing behind a large fish. Maybe it's a big barge you build to "float" your Land Rover across a river to get to the other side. Or maybe it's just you crossing the river...
My first experience with some natural foam was when I was a little guy. My dad had me with, while attempting to harvest a Century Plant stalk. The stalk has a stringy, light and pithy sort of wood that he discovered was some-what suitable as a surfboard core. In order to get near enough to cut the base of the stalk, he was trimming the spiky leafs off one side of the plant. Agave pulp and juice flung off the saw all over us. My main recollection from this adventure was being scooped up and rushed to the shower with what clothes we had on rapidly flying off. We were burning from the juice of the Century Plant. It's similar to battery acid. He and I went on to build quite a number of Century Plant boards over the years being careful to not juice ourselves in the process. Century Plant boards have a very subdued mellow feel. A real cadillac ride.
Another early introduction to a natural foam product was seeing boards made from Balsa Wood in the original Dana Point Hobie shop. There were a number of them but one was of particular interest to me as my dad had made it in the early 50's and it had no fin. He'd tell me stories of going to get Balsa from Kettenburg Boat Works in San Diego. How the Balsa had been used to build life rafts for ships during WWII and used to fabricate airplane frames. Starting in 1952, he used it to build progressive high performance light weight surfboards.
Over the years he'd surfed really a lot of Polyurethane foam boards, but would often reminisce about the "feel" and glide that the Balsa boards had. My first experience riding a wood board came in my mid teens while out front of Olamendi's Restaurant in Capistrano Beach. There's a reef way outside that breaks on a large swell now and then. I rode a 9' hollow redwood California style semi-gun out there twice. Both times the wave face was irregular and there was a bit of wind on it. The way that redwood board cut thru the lumps and the secure glide was unparalleled. The same is true for the Balsa Wood longboards I've built and ridden. The wood flexes very little so it's shape and rocker stays intact while riding a wave. It's a very predictable board to ride and has a tight springiness to it. Lightly chambered (hollowed) out Balsas are even better. They remind me of my favorite old acoustic guitar.
Generally speaking the Polyurethane and EPS foam surfboards are far superior in allowing the surfer to perform the way he'd like while riding a wave. They are quite a bit easier to shape and initially cost much less, however I say don't forget to reserve a place for the wood. It's like real film or maybe driving a classic old car. Visiting a legit old time soda fountain. Seeing and reading the actual documents written and signed by the founders of our nation. It's owning a part of history. There's only one real deal. Wood boards have their place in the water and certainly have their place being crafted in my work space. They are not inexpensive to build but well cared for, they will last a lifetime of wave riding. If I am going down to surf Baja and I have room for only 2-3 boards on top my rig. It's highly likely one of them will be a Balsa. Long remote point breaks with a good friend or two and the vintage drive of a well foiled piece of wood. This is some of the stuff my dreams are made of. #lovewhatyoudo #naturesfoam