NZ merino, tech makes waves in US
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.