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Behind the

The latest UBB news, updates, and Boatbuilder spotlights .


April 24th was Urban Boatbuilders’ last day of our partnership program with Birch Grove Elementary School for the Arts! Birch Grove fifth graders, with the assistance of Breck School high school student volunteers, added the finishing touches to the longboards they've been working on since January before taking them outside on their first rides! CCX Media was there to cover the fun morning and published a great story about it. Check it out below!

Video and words by CCX Media.

An Osseo Elementary School class is giving some students a hands-on look at the trades. Urban Boatbuilders, in a partnership with Birch Grove Elementary, is finalizing its 30-hour project teaching fifth graders how to build their own longboards.

Urban Boatbuilders, despite its name, teaches kids other crafts besides boat building. For some schools, like Birch Grove, longboards are the perfect lesson. Program coordinator Brianna Oseland said this partnership gives kids a chance to try the woodworking trade early on.

Birch Grove is a school for the arts, so these kids are well-practiced in thinking creatively.

“Get that experience of working together in a team, in a hands-on project that is artistic and located within the trades,” Oseland said…

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Urban Boatbuilders was recently featured on Bending Branches ' official blog! We discuss with them the significance of boats in our work, our apprenticeship and partnership programs, the variety of canoes we handmake, and more!

From Bending Branches:

Bending Branches is a 40-year testament to wood, willpower, and Wisconsin. As the world's largest manufacturer of quality canoe and kayak paddles, we remain a privately held company in Northwestern Wisconsin, staffed by paddling enthusiasts. This translates into countless hours spent designing, prototyping, testing, and perfecting each of our paddles. And when that's done, we go back and look at ways to build them even better. Lighter, stiffer, smarter, more durable, and more beautiful. Our customers have found our paddles to be their long-term companions on all adventures.

Click here to learn more about Bending Branches and to shop their paddles.

Thank you to Kate Wright from Bending Branches and Sharon Brodin from Brodin Press for putting this feature together!

Read the story below.


Apr 18, 2024

Urban Boatbuilders and Their Work with Young People

5-minute read

Urban Boatbuilders is a Saint Paul, Minnesota-based 501c3 non-profit organization that “empowers youth to succeed in work and life through experiential learning.” This includes building and using canoes, kayaks, paddles and longboards.

A crew of excited paddlers on a local lake in boats they built themselves

The second-oldest boatbuilding non-profit of its kind in the US, Urban Boatbuilders was formed in 1995 when two different sets of people had the same idea. They decided to work together to see their mutual dreams come to fruition.

We sat down with Gretchen Wilbrandt, Director of Development and Community Engagement, and Gloria Lee, Communications Associate, to find out more about the young people they serve, their mission and their processes.

Here’s our conversation with Gretchen and Gloria of Urban Boatbuilders:


URBAN BOATBUILDERS: Boat building is a detailed and complex process that helps build several different skills. It’s very technical but also incorporates social and emotional learning components. Young people are impacted at several levels, including getting out into the environment and experiencing the boat they just built.

In our apprenticeship program we offer wilderness trips once our young people have finished building their boats. We offer a 3-5 day trip on the St Croix River—this year it’s Wild River State Park [the St Croix forms part of the border of Minnesota and Wisconsin]. And we do an annual 5-day trip in the Boundary Waters.

In our partnership programs, young people have an opportunity to launch their newly made watercraft on a local lake (and yes, we've even launched in a school swimming pool)—sometimes including as many as 300 students out on the water in a day!

For many of our participants, it’s their first opportunity to be able to take a trip like this, engage in nature, or even go outside of the Twin Cities. For some, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity—a wonderful point in their life to be able to experience the world around them. And then to continue to steward and foster an appreciation for the environment...

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Osseo Area Schools recently published a story on their website highlighting Urban Boatbuilders’ ongoing partnership program with Birch Grove Elementary School for the Arts! Read Osseo Area Schools’ full story about the program below!

Photo Courtesy of Osseo Area Schools

"Every Wednesday morning since early January, a group of eight Birch Grove School for the Arts students have spent over an hour with a staff member from Urban Boatbuilders and high school volunteers from Breck School to tackle a hands-on project: building longboard skateboards from scratch.

Photo Courtesy of Osseo Area Schools

Urban Boatbuilders typically build boats with local youth, as the name suggests, but in this situation, the organization felt that longboards would be a better fit. Birch Grove chose students for the opportunity who they thought would enjoy the project and who were looking for an activity that suits them. 

On March 6, student and volunteer partners were busy working on a variety of different stages of the 15-stage construction process. The day’s work included drilling holes for the boards’ trucks, shaping the board with a block plane, refining the board’s edges and doing final smoothing with sandpaper. 

The longboards are scheduled to be complete in late April, and the group leaders said they have a fun finale planned."

Photo Courtesy of Osseo Area Schools

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