Kevin Fitzke is a Minnesota-based wooden boat designer and the master craftsman behind Fitzke Boatworks. He is known for his meticulous and quality-forward construction processes and his unmatched passion for the bespoke craft. This week, we spoke with Fitzke about his introduction to watercraft design, his iconic Bootlegger paddleboard (a Vanity Fair favorite) and more.
How did you get into watercraft design?
I’ve always had a fascination with boats. It started when I was in middle school; I would study the America’s Cup sailboats and try to recreate radio-controlled models of them. I then moved on to creating power boats, mostly the small runabout type. It was a self-taught trial-and-error endeavor to figure out how to loft 3D shapes from my drawings. Having AutoCAD now and actually understanding the math involved with hull design sure make it much easier and more accurate.
What do you love most about your profession?
I love being able to take materials like wood, varnish and metal, and craft a functional piece of artwork — one that usually has 300+ horsepower. Seeing a finished boat after knowing all the hard work involved provides me with a real sense of self-worth and accomplishment.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
My biggest starting point is looking back at boats, cars and airplanes from the late 1920s through the 1930s. To me, those eras embody the style of speed, elegance and expert craftsmanship. From there, it’s about styling elements and features using today’s technology of adhesives, varnishes and paints. My goal is to always create a vintage aesthetic with the modern ease of maintenance and durability.
Do you have a favorite project you’ve crafted?
I think the current boat I’m designing is my favorite so far. It’s a 22-foot gentleman’s racer featuring a streamlined performance look with elegant comfort and space for four people. The idea is to craft a boat that is seaworthy for the larger lakes in Minnesota while having the design characteristics of a truly bespoke boat.
What prompted you to build paddleboards?
When I first learned about paddleboarding, I instantly knew I wanted one made of wood. I had this specific idea in my head about how a certain paddleboard could look, but I could never find a manufacturer that crafted the design. So I started to put my ideas down on paper, and a few back-and-forths later I now have my Bootlegger paddleboard.
What’s next for Fitzke Boatworks?
I’m going to start selling my gentleman’s racer boats as production models and develop a runabout production boat with an electric motor instead of gas power. Electric engines will soon be the preferred power source for boats, and I think having the character, warmth and feel of a wooden boat with ultra-modern power is the best way to embrace craftsmanship, performance and future thinking.