VENTURA, Calif. -- At first glance, the board that Steve Walden was punching through the thigh-high waves looked like just another surfboard.
Then you notice that as he's moving out through breaking surf, he's not paddling. There is a low-grade hum coming from the board like a submerged blender. And he's moving twice as fast as anyone around him.
It's all because Walden has a motor built into his board.
The founder of Ventura's Walden Surfboards is a consultant on a project that could fundamentally change the way some people surf -- and ruffle the feathers of those who prefer using old-fashioned manpower to catch a wave.
The board, called a WaveJet, has a motor built into the bottom that works much like a Jet Ski, sucking water through a propulsion device that drives the board forward. The entire motor fits into a carved-out section of the board, so it still acts like a regular surfboard, albeit 13 pounds heavier.
Surfers can turn the motor on and off with a remote strapped to their arm in a wristwatch-like device. Though it only goes about twice as fast as someone can paddle, that extra push is enough to help surfers paddle out in the surf as well as catch waves that may otherwise evade them. It runs off a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts about 45 minutes.
The boards, which will retail for about $4,500, are expected to be in Walden's store this summer.
"I've been surfing for almost 50 years and I just want to have fun, and this, to me, creates something different, and a different way to approach it," he said.
He expects older surfers who have trouble catching waves or paddling out will be interested in the boards, as well as anyone who always dreamed of riding 20 waves in a 45-minute session.
While the board works especially well on sloppy days when waves are harder to catch or on small waves that lack power, they also have been tested on quadruple-overhead waves in Hawaii.
The idea was the brainchild of Mike Railey, a San Diego mortgage broker who had been toying with the idea for about 10 years. There were lots of bumps along the way. One of the toughest challenges was keeping salt water out of the guts of the motor. The remote control started with Bluetooth technology, but it doesn't work in salt water. A recent invention called Seatooth has been able to overcome the saltwater problem.
Railey was at a surf show in 2005 when Walden approached him and said he wanted to get involved in the project.
"He's helping us break into the surf industry," Railey said. "It's great to have Steve Walden behind it."
Walden, who has been shaping boards for decades, has been making sure the board still feels and rides like a regular board. Though the board has to be 3 inches thick where the motor is located -- under where a surfer would plant his or her back foot -- the rest of it is just like a normal board. Walden said he'll have boards from 7 feet and up for sale.
Railey said they will give some to lifeguard units so they can test them. If surfers wanted to buy a few different boards, they could just pop out the motor, the most expensive part, and switch it from one to another. All the boards, at least at first, will be made by Walden.
But how the board will be received in the surfing community is still undetermined. Surfers can be a harsh lot when it comes to new toys in the water.
As stand-up paddleboards have become more popular in recent years, the tension between those who lie down to paddle and those standing up with a paddle has increased. Paddle-boarders can catch more waves than surfers and can get on them earlier. Someone recently spray-painted "No SUP" -- short for "stand-up paddleboards" -- on a concrete wall by the beach here. Fights have broken out.
When Walden and assistant store manager Jarrod Poirot were out surfing the WaveJet boards the other day, an older surfer yelled at Poirot to get that thing out of the water.
"There is always going to be one or two guys who are going to look at it and they are not going to like it, but they don't like stand-ups and they don't like long boards," Walden said. "It's just a question of attitude and acceptance in the water."
There were many more marveling at the WaveJet board than there were critiquing it. Every time Poirot or Walden cruised by other surfers without paddling, heads were turning and people were asking questions.
When Walden was on the beach explaining how it worked, Kevin Kumler was riding by on his bike but had to turn around to take another look.
"This is the dream," Kumler said as he ogled the board. "I can't afford one, but this would be a fantasy, to not have to paddle."
On the Net: http://wavejet.com
(Contact Zeke Barlow of the Ventura County Star in California at email@example.com.)