Ma­te­rial World

A CUT­TING-EDGE WOOL BOARD IS CLEAN­ING UP SURF­ING

Fast Company - - Contents - BY SUZANNE LABARRE

A surf­board made out of wool has im­pli­ca­tions for cars, yachts, and more.

New Zealand surfer Paul Bar­ron was lam­i­nat­ing a board a decade ago when he ac­ci­den­tally spilled resin on his sweater. It gave him an idea: What if he built a surf­board shell out of wool? Tra­di­tional foam boards are typ­i­cally housed in resin and fiber­glass for struc­tural in­tegrity. But fiber­glass can be harm­ful to work­ers and isn’t eas­ily re­cy­clable; board mak­ers have long sought a greener al­ter­na­tive. This month, the Carls­bad, Cal­i­for­nia, com­pany Firewire Surf­boards is re­leas­ing Bar­ron’s Wool­light board—show­cas­ing a tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance that could change how other prod­ucts are de­signed, from yachts to cars.

Why Wool

Liv­ing in a coun­try with six times as many sheep as peo­ple, Bar­ron was fa­mil­iar with the ben­e­fits of wool: It’s re­cy­clable and biodegrad­able, and it doesn’t re­quire much en­ergy to man­u­fac­ture. But wool also ab­sorbs wa­ter and is por­ous and flimsy when wo­ven. To re­fine his idea, Bar­ron part­nered with the New Zealand Merino Com­pany, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that in­cu­bates new uses for wool and con­nects lo­cal pro­duc­ers to re­tail­ers, such as the cult shoe brand All­birds.

How It Works

The wool sheared off a sheep is up to 3 inches thick, with fibers flar­ing out in all direc­tions. Bar­ron de­vel­oped a vac­u­um­pres­sure tech­nique that con­verts this bulky ma­te­rial into a thin wool-and­bioresin com­pos­ite, with a com­pres­sion strength that ri­vals that of fiber­glass and polyurethane. Ac­cord­ing to Firewire CEO Mark Price, the process re­duces CO 2 emis­sions by 40% and VOC emis­sions by half, com­pared with tra­di­tional con­struc­tion. And be­cause wool bends eas­ily, the Wool­light is more flex­i­ble, which re­duces vi­bra­tions when catch­ing waves, Bar­ron says.

What’s Next

Firewire is ini­tially man­u­fac­tur­ing 500 boards to in­tro­duce the con­cept to surfers. But the ma­te­rial in­no­va­tion has the po­ten­tial to re­shape other sec­tors that de­pend on fiber­glass. New Zealand Merino Com­pany CEO John Brak­en­ridge cites ap­pli­ca­tions in boat­ing, hous­ing, and the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try. “What [Firewire] is do­ing is part of a move­ment,” he says.

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