By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minnesotans have enjoyed getting out on the lakes for decades — and a St. Paul man is looking to bring back that vintage-boat feel.

Kevin Fitzke is a fan of the old, wooden race boats, but not many people make them from scratch anymore. So he decided to do exactly that.

“Ever since I could walk I was just building whatever I could think of, or get a model kit of some sort and go from there,” Fitzke said.

From the start, Fitzke wasn’t afraid to get his feet wet. So it’s probably a good thing that he makes wooden paddleboards for a living. But his love is something much bigger and much older.

“It’s just amazing to think a toy could be more expensive than your home,” Fitzke said.

That’s part of the reason he was inspired to bring back a “classic feel.” He’s restored boats from the 1920s and 1930s before, but building one from scratch was a life-long dream.

“They just have character to them. You can tell there is a soul in it,” Fitzke said.

While most people turn to YouTube for help, Fitzke turned to an 83-year-old book — back to a time when wooden boat races could draw hundreds of people. And because times were tight, design plans for race boats were published in do-it-yourself books.

“The idea was you could get the book and build whatever boat you wanted,” Fitzke said.

So that’s exactly what he did. He first built a model to go by. Then he went to work, spending nights and weekends cutting out each part to build frames and then putting the frames together like a jigsaw puzzle.

“All the wood around the deck here is Philippine mahogany,” Fitzke said.

He had to hunt down vintage parts on eBay and at swap meets.

“The steering wheel is actually vintage correct 1930s, and this is a 1965 small block GMC 283 cubic-inch motor,” Fitzke said.

But after two long years, what came out in the end is far better than he ever could have imagined, leaving a wake of second guesses behind.

“I kind of feel like a celebrity in a way. Even when you are driving to the lake, people are trailing you,” Fitzke said. “It’s the postcard picture of everything. It’s the feel of being out on the water.”

Fitzke is now adding to that postcard picture. He can be found speeding across Minnesota lakes as if he’s racing back in time. He named his throwback boat “Bug Bite” for obvious reasons.

“They always say once you are bitten by the bug, you are hooked,” he said.

And he’s hoping others become hooked, too.

“It’s been a passion of mine and a dream I think about all the time,” Fitzke said. “It’s that whole process that’s involved and the history, learning and stuff that I really enjoy.”

Fitzke says his next project will be building a 1924 John Hacker boat from scratch. Visit his website, Fitzke Boards.

John Lauritsen