San Leon surfer builds motorized board for fishing
Is it a board or a boat? At 8 feet in length, about 4 feet wide and a draft of about 7 inches, including fin, it might only be an extra-wide surfboard. But with a folding seat, a cooler for bait and catch and a tiny outboard based on a modified lawn mower motor, it qualifies as a fishing boat.
The creator of this innovative craft is Steve Matthias of San Leon and Surfside Beach. Although mostly retired at age 67, Matthias will build you a Powerboard for $2,500, including motor. He also builds a somewhat larger model at about 10 feet, with an eight-horsepower outboard attached.
There are other motorized surfboards available, but with high-powered water-cooled jet engines that give them the feel of an extreme sport. You certainly can’t fish from them, and they’re far more expensive.
Matthias’ invention — the one he recently demonstrated near his San Leon home is called Wild Thang — is a comfortable fit in our laid-back coastal lifestyle, and a fortuitous combination of surfing and fishing. His patent is pending.
Born and raised in Houston, Matthias was introduced to the coast at an early age, and quickly embraced the surfing culture he found here. He became, and remains, an active participant in it.
“I’ve been building surfboards for 55 years,” Matthias said. “A guy from Budapest taught me how to do it when I was about 11 years old, and I’ve been at it ever since.”
Using a carefully formed core of high-density Styrofoam, he applies layers of woven fiberglass and epoxy, much as conventional surfboards are made, but then attaches a wood and fiberglass motor mount at the stern to hold the outboard, and special mounts to secure the chair.
There’s plenty of room for fishing gear.
“I used to just hold the catch under my foot, but I’ve developed a modified cooler to hold the fish,” he said.
Wild Thang doesn’t have a rudder.
“You steer it with body English just by shifting your weight as you sit in the chair,” he said.
It also can be guided standing up, like a paddle board, but with no paddle needed.
“On a really flat day, I can take her out to the closer rigs in the Gulf, but I usually fish her in the bays and bayous on the other side,” Matthias said.
As with most boards, the user wears a leash at his wrist, but this one triggers a motor cutoff. In the event of a spill caused by a rogue wave or sudden grounding, the motor stops and the user is still connected to the boat.
“The Powerboard is a work in progress,” said Matthias, who is continually tinkering with alternate power sources, couplings and propeller housings.
Among other things, Matthias has developed what he calls a “pseudo trailer,” not to tow the board down the road, but to fit with it into the bed of a pickup. To set out for a day’s fishing, he drives it to the beach or a ramp and lifts the rig out of the bed to attach to the back of the truck for launching.
“The whole thing weighs about 75 pounds,” he said. “I can lift it with one arm.”
This tinkering and experimentation is usually done under a tree in front of his San Leon shop.
“I’m a regular shade-tree mechanic, I guess,” Matthias said.
But he mostly has been a devoted surfer all his life, supporting himself by building surfboards, doing carpentry jobs and repairing boats. He also makes surfboard-style coffee tables.
“I’ve been married four or five times, but women slow you down,” Matthias said. “You can’t spend enough time surfing when you’re married.”
These days, Matthias can ride his board in a comfortable chair, and catch dinner if the fish are biting.