While in the 3rd Ranger Battalion, Alex Cabral was given a bracelet for Pfc. Roy Brown, a Ranger killed in Panama is 1989.
He learned the fallen soldier’s story and realized that in a country where war is only an abstraction to most people, just knowing a simple name might be enough to help them remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
When the former Ranger left the Army, he enrolled at Auburn University to pursue a job as an electrical engineer. But now, he says he sees a different calling — handcrafting custom Heavy Eddy paddleboards, one at a time, each one dedicated to a soldier killed in the Global War on Terror.
Cabral says the idea first came to him from the KIA-memorial bracelets that he and his Ranger buddies still wear to honor fallen servicemen.
So when he began crafting paddleboards, he started adding a fallen soldier’s name and rank on the edge of each new product.
“I thought what’s one more way we can honor their sacrifice,” said Cabral. “There are people in a lot of communities who may not know anyone who died in the War on Terror. So when they buy an Eddy board and they see a guy on there they might think, ‘Maybe I should look this guy up.’ It’s just one more way to honor our guys that fought and died.”
Deciding who to honor is a personal process that Cabral talks through with each client.
“All my boards are custom made, so I talk to them about what they want — what colors, what materials, what size. So part of those questions is, ‘Do you know anybody who died in the War on Terror, and would you like to honor them?’ And if they didn’t know anyone, then I’ll make a suggestion or I’ll pick someone who I think it would be good to remember.”
Cabral’s journey from Ranger to paddleboard-shaper began in California.
“I’ve always loved surfing, and I started river surfing when I moved here from Sacramento,” he said. “When they blew the dam and they made the whitewater park here, a guy by the name of Elijah Mack came here and invited me to a surf competition in Cascade, Idaho. That's where I really got connected. I learned what river surfing really is.”
Cabral started engaging with surf communities all over the country — Denver, Boise, Missoula, and even waves in Germany. Back in Columbus, he kept returning to the Waveshaper Island Park.
But the community showed him another way to ride the river — stand-up paddleboarding.
“I started with surfing. And when I got connected into these other river surfing communities I discovered that paddleboarding was such a strong part of the river community. Surfing, paddleboarding, river racing, all of that. So I built a stand-up paddleboarding surfboard, kinda a hybrid board, for this wave.”
After he made that first board, he realized he had a skill. As the World Paddle Association championship crept up, he built a racing paddleboard from scratch to compete.
“It wasn’t even done curing yet and I brought it out and wound up scoring seventh out of 20. I’d never done a race before and it did well.”
People saw the board and began asking him if he could build some for them, too.
“I ended up making a few for friends, and then I got a logo and you know, I decided I’m going to go all in,” Cabral said.
Cabral builds his paddleboards out of a core of polystyrene foam, then wraps the board in fiberglass and an epoxy resin. Each board is custom-made for a client’s needs, and most of the materials are sustainably sourced from around the region. Each board can take between three days and a week to make.
Cabral says he plans to keep prices for his boards below $1,000 for the time being.
“Everyone should be able to afford to surf,” he said. “I want to be Columbus, Georgia’s shaper, I want to be the South's shaper. I want to be someone who makes handcrafted paddleboards for people, not just mass produced disposable products you see out there.”
Scott Berson: 706-571-8578, @ScottBersonLE