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Surfboard Sustainability, It's In Your Hands

Posted on October 14, 2014

Black Monday. December 5, 2005. That’s the day that contemporary surfboard manufacturing changed forever. As many of you know, this is the day that Clark Foam shut down. Abruptly. Without telling anyone. Just a long fax, sent to Clark Foam customers everywhere, basically saying, “No Mas.”

It sent shock waves throughout the industry.

Today those waves are still being felt, but not so much in the form of shock, but rather innovation: waves of innovation.

Since that day we’ve seen the rise of new foam blank companies and renewed interest in EPS foam and earth-friendly, eco-conscious manufacturing techniques. There are foam blanks made out of mushroom fibers, sugarcane and soy by-product. There is an old standby, epoxy resin, and new to market bio-resins from linseed oil as well as cloth weaves produced from hemp and bamboo. New sustainable products are being tested and brought to market each year.

If you want a sustainable, environment-friendly surfboard you can get one. There is one catch: you have to ask.

In general, the industry isn’t going to offer it to you. Tried and true manufacturing techniques using polyurethane foam and polystyrene resins (not so earth friendly) continue to dominate the market place. Two reason for this. One, a majority of the manufacturing process-- the set-up, the tools, the labor force, the vendors, they have all perfected, if you will, working with and selling surfboards produced with the “two polys”. Second, these standardized poly constructed boards are proven in the water. We know the flex patterns, we know how they work, we know why they work. We’ve shaped them by the thousand. We’ve laminated them by the thousand. We’ve broken them. We’ve fixed them. We’ve perfected them. They are reliable. Therefore, the manufacturer is reliable. Reliable manufacturers tend to stay in business.

So, the feeling is…”why change?”

Millennials have stepped up to the plate with a new culture, a holistic life ethos based on living clean, living healthy, living ‘as one’. This means our environment comes first. Surfboard manufacturing has found a sliver in this lifestyle. We can raise chickens, home school our kids, do yoga on SUPs and by God we can also build a more earth-friendly surfboard.

Two examples of the many options out there: Grain surfboards, they make finely tuned wooden kit-surfboards with epoxy resin. A gorgeous surfboard that rides incredible and that is earth friendly (plus you build it yourself- so some pride in ownership is inherent). One of the high performance-oriented manufacturers is …Lost Surfboards, which offers an EPS blank with SuperSap resin in their popular high performance models ridden by World Tour professionals. All of these boards as well or better than the more traditional manufacturing methods.

Why aren’t all boards made this way?

Retrofitting an entire industry, from the labor force, to the equipment, to the tools, to the vendor offerings, it is a slow process. What is needed is for demand to increase. That demand would increase exponentially if a World Champion caliber surfer, a Kelly Slater or Nat Young or Mick Fanning or Gabe Medina could and would win an ASP World Championship riding a sustainably built surfboard, and to then proudly and loudly proclaim their sustainable surfboard. You’d immediately see 15-year olds around the world demand the sustainable option.

There is momentum. Firewire Surfboards is producing 100% of their surfboards with Super Sap resin (an eco-friendly resin on the market). Firewire team riders Michel Bourez (Bourez is #5 ranked ASP surfer in the world) and Sally Fitzgibbons (ASP #2) are both riding, competing and winning on sustainable surfboards. For what it is worth, I’d like to see these two professionals proclaim the sustainable nature of their boards louder. Furthermore, the industry has one shining light, E-tech Glassing and Surfboards is the world’s only sustainable surfboard manufacturer. Earth friendly only! They manufacture sustainable surfboards for …Lost Surfboards and Channel Islands Surfboards.

Baby steps. There is progress. Until that time, it’s in our hands -- the savvy customer. You and I. We can slowly change the perception. When you order your next custom surfboard ask about “sustainable” options.

A great resource for understanding the sustainable surfboard options can be found at – SB

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