Hay­den Cox is try­ing to change the world, one surf­board at a time, writes Sarah Maisey

The National - News - Luxury - - CON­TENTS -

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


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