The Next Big Wave

Surfers may seem like free-spirited nature lovers, but they’re now facing the consequences of their sport’s negative environmental impact.

By Lisa Stasiulewicz

Though Cornwall, England, may seem like an unlikely surfer haven, the local scene is booming there. According to London’s The Daily Telegraph, surfing in Cornwall brings in almost $83 million to the community annually. The Eden Project, an environmental education and research complex and tourist attraction, has its hand in many of Cornwall’s eco businesses, including organic farms, resorts, and, yes, surfing companies.

The green community in Cornwall is in no small part the result of a recent environmental crisis that surfers took the lead in resolving. In 1990, there were 400 million gallons of raw sewage being dumped into England’s coastal waters every day, creating potential health risks for anyone who took to the waves. Surfer and Cornwall native Chris Hines got fed up and founded Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), a grassroots group that lobbied the House of Commons while wearing gas masks and wetsuits and carrying surfboards. The tactic worked. “Because surfing is sexy, we got a disproportionate amount of media coverage,” says Hines. As a result, Cornwall’s contaminated beaches were catapulted to the top of the political agenda. In 1997, Hines was named a special advisor to England’s minister for the environment to help acquire and spend nearly $10 billion to clean up the coastline.

A decade later, you’d never know Cornwall’s beaches were ever anything other than pristine. SAS is still active, and Hines, not one to rest on his laurels, is now the sustainability director at the Eden Project. He’s also collaborating with a handful of local businesses to build a better, more eco-friendly surfboard.

 Lightweight foam blanks weren’t always the industry standard. Surfing was likely born in Hawaii around 1,000 A.D., and the first boards were made of wood from fallen koa and breadfruit trees. Surfing migrated to the U.S. by the early 20th century, and most boards were made from redwood trees and weighed up to 65 pounds. By the ’30s, a hollow board was being produced commercially in Los Angeles. After World War II, balsa wood became the favored board-building material, bringing down the weight of boards by half.

In walked Grubby Clark. In 1958, he and his business partner at the time, Hobie Alter, pioneered the formula for their petroleum-based foam that became the industry standard for nearly half a century. Surfers loved the foam-core boards because they struck the right balance of lightness, strength, flexibility, and maneuverability. The foam was also waterproof, cheap, and readily available. So any eco-heir apparent to polyurethane would have to be at least as good, if not better, in all those categories to satisfy the surfing community.

Back in Cornwall, Hines had an old-school flashback: Why not use wood again to make surfboards? In 2004, the wood from a balsa tree that was cut down on the grounds of the Eden Project was used to create some prototypes, but ultimately, they proved to be too heavy to perform well and too expensive to manufacture. So he tried a different tack. Earlier this year, he promoted the efforts of local foam company Homeblown Blanks, which had been developing a new plant-based material since late 2005. The product, Biofoam, is 45-percent plant-based and is used to make blanks that create one third fewer emissions and use 61 percent less non-renewable energy than polyurethane when manufactured.Chuck Menzel, founder of, a non-profit that promotes environmentally responsible surf products, was another surfer involved in Biofoam’s creation. “We set out to find a foam that rides as well as or better than polyurethane, and I think we really nailed it,” he says.

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I bought my first board 41 years ago. It was a nine something Harbour. Heavy, difficult to carry along and not very easy to manoeuver. It cost me 120 bucks.Now, thanks to new materials surfboards are light weight, easy to carry anywhere, fast and very easy to ride.
The price: 500 dollars and up. How much are we going to pay for new boards just because they are "green"? Everybody is jumping on the "green" wagon because it is profitable not because you are doing something to protect our Mother Earth. So, where does this winding road end? Be honest.

Youve got to be kidding me!! 4,000 LBS of styrene a year? The California DOT and municipalities release that on one pipe relining project! The Clean Water Funds support these projects to coat the pipes with thermoset polyester and vinyl-ester resins (40-60% styrene). Underground conditions: leaks,cool temperatures and poor contractor practices fail to cure the laminates fully. Fish kills, home and business evacuations fail to be penalized and current technologies are not used to save a penny, no testing is required to monitor the use of materials and processes. After all, is the DEP or EPA going to fine themselves? A classic example of going after the little guy. See searches for styrene spills, fish kills, pipe relining, trenchless projects. The companies use more than 78 million pounds of resin a year, 31 million pounds are styrene or 310,000 pounds of releases. Why worry about the 4,000 pounds a year from surfboards? If styrene fumes enter a home or business, they will blame it on faulty plumbing or the p-trap was empty. DUH, what is the reason they are fixing the pipe in the first place.

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