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

And with the new blank, the Cornwall collaborators formed the completed product, the Ecoboard—a surfboard made with a Biofoam blank covered in a 98-percent natural resin. At press time, the making of the first 20 Ecoboards was underway, but Hines says the project ultimately is not meant to be a full commercial operation. “This is a challenge to the surfing industry—we’ll make a few, but we’re not here to make boards,” says Hines. “We’re here to push the technology, so the industry can say, ‘Okay, we’ll make boards this way.’”

And while the Ecoboard is a good start, it has some kinks to work out. The materials aren’t 100 percent natural, and the board’s performance is still in question because it’s so new. But there’s no doubt it’s a vast improvement on modern board-making, and it only stands to get better. “We don’t know yet how everything performs over time,” says Menzel. “Within a year or so we’ll know how the materials react, and we can make improvements.” Still, the new board may still be snubbed by the surf community, since Biofoam’s green-tan base color may be unappealing when compared to the stark white they’re accustomed to.

The Ripple Effect

Hines and his cohorts aren’t the only ones on the quest for a better board.  Danny Hess, of Hess Surfboards, has been using wood, expanded polystyrene (EPS), which is recyclable, and an epoxy resin that releases 80 percent fewer VOCs into the air than the standard polyester resin, to make boards for six years. EPS is the most widely used alternative to polyurethane foam, and it is similar to the Styrofoam used to make beach coolers. The boards are as light and even stronger than traditional ones, but some surfers have complained that EPS boards aren’t as responsive to their movements. Hess’s boards are encased in sustainably-harvested or reclaimed wood. “The combination of the materials I use produce the strongest, most functional and environmentally-conscious surfboard I can build right now,” says Hess. While it is an improvement on conventional board-making methods, it’s petroleum-based, so it won’t become a long-term solution. “Chemicals are still involved, and I’m always searching for better alternatives that release fewer toxins into the atmosphere,” Hess says. “What I really want to see is a bio-based, EPS-quality foam.”

Surfers are notoriously finicky about board performance, but the closure of Clark Foam forced them to embrace change—not just of new board materials, but also greener options in clothing and gear. Whether the motivation comes from necessity, guilt, or a desire to innovate, some say that the industry’s adoption of green practices and eco-friendly products is more of a business decision than one of conscience. “There is this social-economic trend around everything eco, so there is a demand for companies to go green,” said Erik Joule, the senior vice president of North American merchandising and design for Quiksilver, a surfing apparel and gear manufacturer. Not one to miss a beat, Quiksilver has incorporated organic cotton into all their T-shirts and woven clothing, and also designed some 100 percent organic T-shirts and recycled board shorts.

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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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