THE NEW WAVE
Hayden Cox is trying to change the world, one surfboard at a time, writes Sarah Maisey
The man reducing worldwide waste – one surfboard at a time
Hayden Cox is tackling one of world’s most pressing issues: waste. Or, more specifically, the commercial waste generated by surfing. With over a third of all materials used to make a sur oard ending up in the bin, the founder of Haydenshapes is spearheading a new philosophy.
Born in Australia, Cox spent his childhood summers camping along the New South Wales coastline. “I started surfing at age 4 and really connected with it,” he explains. “We didn’t grow up that close to a beach, so it was always such a highlight for me.”
By the age of 10, he was surfing every day a er school and on the weekends. “I broke my favourite board when I was 15 years old and I didn’t have the money to go out and buy a new one. A er years of fixing and repairing my own boards, I thought I’d try to make one. I did work experience at the local workshop during my school holidays and built my first board.
“Two weeks later, I designed the logo and started Haydenshapes. I wrote my only business plan in year 10 business studies in high school.” That was in 1998. Armed with the knowledge of how to build a board, he then set about improving it.
Fast forward to 2006, when manufacturing practices started embracing expanded polystyrene (EPS) as the material of choice for the core of surf boards. However, despite being cheaper and lighter, the new material had a tendency to twist, making it difficult to control. Other manufacturers tried adding long, thin wooden struts (called stringers) through the entire length. But while they stabilised the board, they bumped up the weight.
A board needs flexibility because a surfer turns by pushing downwards with a force greater than gravity, causing it to bend, or flex. This creates energy, which, when the board straightens, is released, transferring back along its length and pushing it forward. As every board maker knows, though, while the board must be flexible, it must also also be strong enough to withstand the water, which resists with a force equivalent to 7.37 kilograms and a weight of 29.1kg per square foot.
If he wanted to fix the problem of stability and strength, Cox realised that he had to think beyond conventional materials. His answer was FutureFlex, which utilised a specially woven carbon fibre tape wrapped around the core and edges of the board. Leveraging the remarkable weight-to-strength ratio of carbon fibre, Cox’s new version was strong, light and responsive. His idea was revolutionary, and he admits that it has now been adopted “by the majority of the sur oard industry”. He then designed the Hypto Krypto board, voted best board in the world three times, and most recently launched the Holy Grail version, which has been hailed by two-time world champion Tom Carroll as “the Ferrari of sur oards”.
Now the sur oard designer and entrepreneur has turned his focus to waste, and how to reduce it across the whole surfing industry. The inspiration for this came from an unexpected source: the storied watchmaker, IWC Scha ausen. “Christoph [Grainger-Herr, the chief executive of IWC
Scha ausen] was out here in Australia and we got to chatting. The next day he cancelled a string of meetings and drove and hour and a half out to my factory in Mona Vale, in torrential rain, with a handful of designs and ideas.”
Despite coming from two very different worlds, the pair hit it off immediately. “His passion for product and creativity was something I instantly related to,” Cox recalls. This harmony led to the surfer being named a brand ambassador in August 2018 (he favours an IWC black-on-black Big Pilot, for those who are curious), and then receiving an invitation to tour the 150-year-old company’s watchmaking headquarters in Scha ausen, Switzerland.
The head office is a closed space, shrouded in secrecy. Granted rare access, Cox jumped at the opportunity, and it was here that he discovered working practices that were to become a catalyst for his own thinking. “A lot can be learnt from a company that has been around for 150 years,” he maintains.
“I am always inspired by other industries and how things are done, so I was that guy on the [IWC] tour who wouldn’t stop asking questions, and who wanted to touch and feel everything. The way that the metal offcuts were being collected and upcycled really stood out to me. In our industry, at least 30 per cent of fiberglass waste alone ends up in landfill.
“It gave me the idea to explore how this material and our carbon fibre offcuts could be repurposed into a new cloth material to build a board out of, instead of just being thrown out.”
With an estimated 35 million surfers worldwide, anything that can reduce manufacturing wastage will have a big impact, but while IWC can gather up excess metal, Cox is faced with the more complex matter of how to reuse fibreglass and carbon fibre. The hardiness of each is what makes it so useful when building a board, but also what makes it so difficult to recycle. Unable to find any existing machinery to help, instead Cox took it back to basics, and did it by hand. “I decided to reach out to a manufacturer to partner on creating an upcycled fibreglass cloth made with waste. For the first samples, I chopped the carbon and fibreglass offcuts by hand, aerated the fibres and then hand-fed them into a multi-axial weaver.”
I’m taking the time to understand more about the bigger picture impacts of ‘eco’ materials
This meant laboriously hand-shredding carbon and fibreglass, and then feeding handfuls of it into a giant blower to mix it thoroughly. The resulting fluff was then coated in epoxy resin to make entirely new cloth, which in turn is used to coat boards. With a distinctive black-and-white feathered patterning – the result of mixing the two materials – it has the added bonus of making each design unique, as the pattern is random and unrepeatable.
While working on this, Cox also discovered how to reclaim foam dust and bio-epoxy resin, which are produced in copious quantities when the board core (or blank) is sanded to shape, and transform them into new lightweight tail pads and fins.
Despite the progress he has made, however, Cox is aware that his new techniques are just the beginning of reducing worldwide wastage. “The challenge now is to scale up,” he acknowledges.
To help get other manufacturers on board, Cox and the Swiss watch manufacturer have teamed up again to make a video showcasing his progress. Shot in his new pop-up studio, Remote, which, aptly, floats in the picturesque waters of Pittwater, New South Wales, it features slick images of Cox hand-shaping a new board. The big budget feel of it, however, does not detract from the crucial message it conveys – that by combining out-of-the-box thinking with the global reach of a luxury brand such as IWC, it is possible to reshape the future.
“Sur oards have a long way to go when it comes to being sustainable, Haydenshapes included, [because] we still build [them] using traditional foams and resins. I’m taking the time to understand more about the bigger picture impacts of ‘eco’ materials and what opportunities there are to further develop all areas of materials. For example, [are] recycled EPS foams truly a greener alternative if they require far more energy to complete the recycling process?
“Educate yourself, ask questions, research and make a start on how you could be running your business and building your product more sustainably. All industries need to overhaul the way they operate.”
Hayden Cox’s new pop-up studio, Remote, floats on the picturesque waters of New South Wales, Australia
Right and below, Hayden Cox is making surfboards from recycled fibreglass and carbon fibre. Far right, the resulting boards have a distinct black-and-white feather patterning