THE SURF­BOARD GOES GREEN

ECOBOARDS LOOK SET TO CLEAN UP THE BOARD-BUILD­ING IN­DUS­TRY BY KIRK OW­ERS

Tracks - - BITSA -

It’s no se­cret that most sur­fcraft are made from a whole lot of nasty. The toxic ma­te­ri­als that un­der­pin our dreamy life­style are bad for the planet and much worse for the lungs of in­dus­try work­ers. One in­dus­try-quak­ing ex­am­ple oc­curred when Amer­ica’s big­gest blank man­u­fac­turer, Clark Foam, was forced to close be­cause of is­sues with en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. And then there’s the car­bon foot­print as­so­ci­ated with im­port­ing/ex­port­ing and the fact that boards have an an­noy­ing ten­dency to break in two and end up on waste dumps like so many other short-use petro­chem­i­cal de­tri­tus. Over the decades a bunch of in­no­va­tive shapers have beaten a fresh left field path at­tempt­ing to im­prove the sit­u­a­tion. We’ve seen boards made from bam­boo, hemp and balsa glassed with stronger and less toxic al­ter­na­tives. In some cases, the re­sults have been ex­pen­sive (balsa) or have come with per­for­mance down­sides (ac­tual or per­ceived). While a com­pletely eco-friendly surf would re­quire body­surf­ing in the nude, sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments have been ac­com­plished. Per­haps the most com­pre­hen­sive is a newly launched global eco-la­belling sys­tem called Sus­tain­able Surf. The idea is sim­ple: buy a board with an ECOBOARDS sticker at­tached and you know you’re get­ting a less toxic craft and en­cour­ag­ing the surf­board in­dus­try to be cleaner. Tracks spoke to Sus­tain­able Surf’s Project Man­ager Brett Gid­dens to find out more.

Who came up with the con­cept and how hard was it to bring into fruition?

Founders, Michael Ste­wart and Kevin Whilden started Sus­tain­able Surf in 2011. The con­cept of a sci­ence-based eco-la­belling pro­gram for surf­boards was part of the vi­sion and the ECOBOARD Project was launched soon there­after in 2012. In 2013 the pro­gram was en­dorsed by the Surf­ing In­dus­try Man­u­fac­tur­ers As­so­ci­a­tion (SIMA), so­lid­i­fy­ing The ECOBOARD Project as the la­bel to look for when choos­ing a more sus­tain­able surf­board. One of the key chal­lenges, was the per­cep­tion that the next gen­er­a­tion of ‘eco-ma­te­ri­als’ wouldn’t per­form at the level we’ve come to ex­pect of mod­ern sur­fcraft. That idea has been com­pletely blown out of the wa­ter with gents like Kelly Slater, Jordy Smith, Michel Bourez and Stu Kennedy and women like Lakey Peter­son, Sally Fitzgib­bons, Jo­hanne De­fay and Bethany Hamil­ton all rid­ing ECOBOARDS on the World Tour in the last cou­ple of years.

You rate boards into two cat­e­gories: how big an im­prove­ment is an ECOBOARD and then a gold stan­dard ECOBOARD from the norm?

We pub­lished a surf­board life­cy­cle study in 2016 with Pure Strate­gies (a lead­ing sus­tain­abil­ity con­sul­tancy) that demon­strated that there is a mea­sur­able re­duc­tion in car­bon foot­print and tox­i­c­ity by us­ing an ECOBOARD Qual­i­fied Ma­te­rial (core/blank or resin) to make a Level One ECOBOARD. We worked closely with pro­gram part­ners En­tropy Resins, Marko Foam, Chan­nel Is­lands and Firewire to mea­sure the im­pact of the ma­te­ri­als and pro­cesses used to make surf­boards. The study con­firmed that a Gold Level ECOBOARD, made with a re­cy­cled EPS core and plant-based resin, has a 30% re­duc­tion in car­bon foot­print. En­vi­ron­men­tal per­for­mance can be im­proved even fur­ther when board builders re­duce waste and use re­new­able en­ergy. To qual­ify to make Gold Level ECOBOARDS a brand goes through an au­dit process with Sus­tain­able Surf to iden­tify and act on broader sus­tain­abil­ity op­por­tu­ni­ties; fur­ther re­duc­ing the im­pact of boards be­ing built.

Do the greener ma­te­ri­als add much to pro­duc­tion costs?

Typ­i­cal polyester resin re­mains a cheaper op­tion, how­ever plant-based epoxy resins are com­pa­ra­ble in cost to stan­dard petroleum-based epoxy resins. Like many pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions, it gen­er­ally comes down to scale and ac­cess to prod­uct. There are four dif­fer­ent plant-based resin sup­pli­ers and one re­cy­cled blank sup­plier with ECOBOARD Qual­i­fied Ma­te­ri­als, of­fer­ing prod­ucts at dif­fer­ent price points. You can see all of the Qual­i­fied Ma­te­ri­als on our site. Just as im­por­tant is how this next gen­er­a­tion ma­te­ri­als per­forms. ECOBOARDS are in­creas­ingly be­ing rid­den by WQS and WCT surfers in all types of con­di­tions.

And any shaper can join the pro­gram?

That’s right. We be­lieve in a big tent! The pro­gram is de­signed so that any shaper can get started by sign­ing up to the pro­gram and us­ing ECOBOARD Qual­i­fied Ma­te­ri­als. The Project is de­signed so that the world’s largest brands and ar­ti­sanal shapers gain value from mak­ing boards that carry the ECOBOARD logo. For those look­ing to take it to the next level of sus­tain­abil­ity, there’s ECOBOARD Gold Level. In ad­di­tion to us­ing Qual­i­fied Ma­te­ri­als, Gold Level re­quires board builders to com­mit to broader sus­tain­abil­ity goals.

Who’s in so far?

Since 2012, there have been nearly 100,000 ECOBOARDS made by over 50 reg­is­tered board builders. They are be­ing made by big brands like Firewire, Chan­nel Is­lands and Lost, and also smaller ar­ti­sans in Aus­tralia like Mau­rice Cole and Tree­house Surf­boards.

What’s been the feedback and level of in­ter­est?

Most of the feedback so far has been su­per pos­i­tive, and all of it has been help­ful. It seems clear that the ECOBOARD Project has launched a wider con­ver­sa­tion about sus­tain­abil­ity within surf­ing that had been sorely miss­ing. The board builder com­mu­nity is stoked that there is now a plat­form (and a sci­ence-based level play­ing field) that helps them com­mu­ni­cate the sus­tain­abil­ity at­tributes of boards in a clear and sim­ple way to surfers. The num­ber of ECOBOARDS is set to in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly in the next 12 months, mean­ing more and more peo­ple are choos­ing and rid­ing boards car­ry­ing the ECOBOARD logo.

PHOTO: MILLER

KELLY SLATER HAS BEEN RID­ING ECOBOARD SANC­TIONED CRAFT FOR THE LAST COU­PLE OF YEARS AND ALL THE BOARDS PRO­DUCED UN­DER HIS FIREWIRE LA­BEL ARE ECOBOARD CER­TI­FIED.

CLOCK­WISETWO TYPES OF FROM ECOBOARD­TOP LEFT: LO­GOS­THE THAT FEA­TURE ON BOARDS WITH SUS­TAIN­ABLE SURF AC­CRED­I­TA­TION. FIREWIRE HAS EM­BRACED THE ECOBOARD ETHOS. THE ECOBOARD CER­TI­FI­CA­TION IS AC­CES­SI­BLE TO ALL BOARD BRANDS. TREE­HOUSE SURF­BOARDS IS AN EX­AM­PLE...

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