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Vol.18, no.1
February/March 2015


Wood and Waves 
Story By: Lorin Eleni Gill
Photo By: Dana Edmunds

Ben Wilkinson was ten years old and living in a beachside suburb in northern Sydney when he first learned of heroic Hawaiian lifeguard and big-wave surfer Eddie Aikau. Tales of the legendary Aikau—who sparked the “Eddie Would Go” mantra—inspired Wilkinson, and he hatched a plan for the money he was earning from his paper route and milk run: He’d buy a plane ticket to Hawai‘i and surf the waves on O‘ahu’s North Shore.

“My parents taught me to swim before I could walk,” says Wilkinson, who is now 32 and a brawny six-foot-three. “I was a big kid, so I was able to push my limit and hang with Dad.”

When he was 16 Wilkinson made good on his promise to himself and flew to Hawai‘i. He fell in love with the Islands and vowed to return. Back in Australia he did a carpentry apprenticeship and cared for his father, who’d been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease. After his father died in 2005, Wilkinson moved to Hale‘iwa. His surfing got better and better—he is now a pro who has braved monstrous waves at Jaws and Mavericks—but his job as a carpenter in Hawai‘i Kai didn’t mesh with his swell-chasing habit, so he decided to build a workshop of his own and carve waves or wood on his own schedule.

Today, Ben Wilkinson Furniture’s clients include Quiksilver and the Turtle Bay Resort. His “live-edged” pieces trace the natural lines of the wood he uses in furniture, which keeps the feel of the original trees. The sea, no surprise, is also a source of inspiration. For a signature piece Wilkinson carved two alaia surfboards and roped them side-by-side to create a dining table. His latest dining table features a string of sunrise shells sunk into a wooden groove, reminiscent of a tidepool.

“Now I spend too much time in the workshop and need to be in the ocean more,” he laughs. This winter his dream to surf in The Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau may come to fruition: For the fourth year in a row, Wilkinson has earned a coveted spot on the contest’s alternate list.