NZ merino, tech makes waves in US

Nelson Mail - - Business - Anuja Nad­karni

New Zealand wool is mak­ing waves over­seas, re­plac­ing fi­bre­glass com­po­nents to cre­ate the world’s first wool surf­boards.

Tau­ranga-based surf­board maker Paul Bar­ron de­vel­oped the wool com­pos­ite tech­nol­ogy af­ter spilling resin on his woollen jumper, about nine years ago.

‘‘That pretty much got it all started,’’ Bar­ron said.

Af­ter a few years of per­fect­ing the process, Bar­ron reached out to United States surf­board com­pany Firewire to mass pro­duce the light­weight and eco-friendly Woo­light boards, which could travel faster than tra­di­tional surf­boards be­cause of their lighter weight and flex­i­bil­ity.

The boards are also cov­ered in a new type of resin, called reres, that can be stripped from the wool at the end of the surf­board’s life for the fi­bres to be re­cy­cled or to biode­grade.

In­tel­lec­tual prop­erty and Bar­ron’s patented tech­nol­ogy mean only New Zealand merino will be used to make them.

New Zealand Merino mar­ket de­vel­op­ment man­ager Hadleigh Smith said diver­si­fy­ing the use of wool into a value-add prod­uct was a huge boost to the in­dus­try, which had suf­fered a pe­riod of low de­mand be­cause of soar­ing wool prices in re­cent years.

Smith said that while the first ap­pli­ca­tion of this tech­nol­ogy was be­ing used in surf­boards, it had the po­ten­tial to re­place fi­bre­glass in many other prod­ucts such as boats, air­craft and fur­ni­ture.

The surf­boards used strong wool, which was tra­di­tion­ally used in car­pets and fur­ni­ture.

‘‘We need new mar­kets and cat­e­gories to re­alise the true value of eth­i­cally grown, sus­tain­able New Zealand wool fi­bre,’’ Smith said.

Firewire chief ex­ec­u­tive Mark Price said team­ing up with Bar­ron fit­ted in with its goal of be­ing a ze­rowaste com­pany by 2020.

‘‘Fi­bre­glass is a toxic ma­te­rial to pro­duce, so when Paul pitched us the idea to re­place fi­bre­glass with wool it was in­ter­est­ing right off the bat,’’ Price said.

Pro­fes­sional surfer Kelly Slater owns a con­trol­ling share in the com­pany and is a key driver be­hind the move to a zero-waste busi­ness.

Firewire planned to sell an ini­tial batch of 500 surf­boards across New Zealand, Aus­tralia and the United States in April next year.

The boards will be made in Firewire’s fac­tory in Thai­land, and the bulk of the wool fi­bre will come from state-owned Land­corp’s Pa¯ mu farms.

Pa¯mu chief ex­ec­u­tive Steve Car­den said the part­ner­ship gave the cor­po­rate farmer a sense of pride and gave sheep farm­ers con­fi­dence that the fu­ture for wool doesn’t have to be the sta­tus quo.

‘‘It makes sense that those that en­joy na­ture so closely would be those that can solve en­vi­ron­men­tal and per­for­mance chal­lenges – we can learn from this.’’

‘‘We need new mar­kets and cat­e­gories to re­alise the true value of eth­i­cally grown, sus­tain­able New Zealand wool fi­bre.’’ Hadleigh Smith, NZ Merino


From left: Tau­ranga surf­board maker Paul Bar­ron, Firewire boss Mark Price and NZ Merino’s Hadleigh Smith.

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