Surfing is global. It has no gender, age or socio-economic boundaries. Although surfers come from many different backgrounds and approaches, they all rely on the same things. Surfers are like a family connected by the deep respect for and love of the ocean. As most surfers are conscious about environment and thus trying to keep plastics out of the beaches and oceans and trying to create healthier environment, there is demand for production of sustainable surfboards (‘Moss Research Announces “Industry-First” Sustainable Surfboards’, 2011). As surfing is an interaction with simple forces of nature on a sustainable level, it has the image of very pure sport. There is no trace left on the face of crashing wave by a surfer, however, the surfboard production industry has a great impacts on natural environment (Sullivan, 2007).
Technology and materials which are used nowadays for construction of surfboards were developed in the 1950’s. At that time, there were no concerns about the environment (‘Moss Research Announces “Industry-First” Sustainable Surfboards’, 2011)
”The dirtiest thing about surfing is under our feet — a conventional surfboard is 100 percent toxic” Frank Scura (Woody, 2009).
The typical modern surfboard is made of polyurethane foam, polyester resin and fibreglass. The process is mostly carried out by using environmentally harmful products. A lot of materials are wasted and those are un-recyclable. During the manufacturing, the workers are surrounded by dust and toxics. Prolonged exposure to fibreglass and polyester resin is harmful for health of shapers as it may be cause of lung cancer (‘Moss Research Announces “Industry-First” Sustainable Surfboards’, 2011; Sullivan, 2007; Vartiainen, 2018).
According to the life cycle analysis conducted by California-based non-profit group Sustainable Surf, a typical 6’0” short board, weighing approximately 2.5 kilograms emits over 270 kilograms of CO2 during its lifecycle, spanning from manufacturing to disposal (‘The Ecoboard Lifecycle Study |’, 2016).
Also, the impact of transportation is surprising. It is usual that the materials have travelled 9000km before being assembled. 80 % of blanks are ordered from overseas. Transporting the materials is actually worse that the materials used. However, some consumers are buying boards from local shapers, which, at least, cuts down on packaging materials (‘The Ecoboard Lifecycle Study |’, 2016; Vartiainen, 2018).
Production of sustainable surfboards
In the past there have been attempts to produce more ecological boards but most of the attempts have failed because the boards did not perform well and looked bad because of the colour. The challenge is to create an ecological surfboard that looks and feels exactly the same as what the customers are familiar with (Vartiainen, 2018).
- Recycling old blanks – mixing collected polyurethane cuttings (60%) from old surfboards with virgin foam. Recycling method works only with EPS and does not work with PU. However, PU is preferred because it is more flex, more dense, stronger and cheaper. EPS has tendency to be dumped quicker. PU blanks cannot be recycled as easily as EPS because PU blank sucks the resin into it (Woody, 2009).
- Plant based materials – in the past blanks made of sugar. However this is a difficult material. It rots very quickly once the board is broken.
- Wood has been used as a principal material in the surfboard construction since ancient Hawaiians started to shape wave-riding tools. However, wood is heavy and does not have same performance (Barcelos, Magnago, & Leripio, 2018).
- Cork is completely natural, recyclable and biodegradable, it does not absorb water and, therefore, it does not rot, it resists and absorbs impacts. However, it is expensive to build cork boards and it is hard to adapt to serial manufacturing (Mateus, Bordado, & dos Santos, 2017).
- Mushrooms – Eco friendly Mycelium material is a glue made from fungus roots, and binds plant-based materials – usually crop waste like plant stalks and seed husks. This agricultural waste and mushroom mycelium are put into a mould, where it grows into a shape of the board. It is very strong material which floats and repels water jus as effectively as the foam plastics. It is biodegradable, sustainable and 100% natural (Brodeur, Brunet, & Primiani, 2011; Vartiainen, 2018).
Finishing – Resin
- Bio-based resin - pine sap and rapid-renewable plant oils (used in the bio fuel industry (‘Moss Research Announces “Industry-First” Sustainable Surfboards’, 2011).
- Super Sap made by Entropy Resin is made of byproducts of the pulp and paper industry and the biofuels industry, with total biological content varying between 25-50% depending on the specific resin used. Research showed 50% reduction of CO2 emissions in Super Sap resin compared to normal resins (Michelena, Graham-Jones, Summerscales, & Hall, 2016).
- Bio-based resin, however, cannot be 100% ecological because it is based on petrol. Surfboard constructors argue that bio-based resins are good but have also some disadvantages such as higher price, lower strength and not being as white as epoxy resins (Vartiainen, 2018).
Finishing – Natural fibers
In normal surfboards, fiberglass is used. The overall CO2 footprint contribution of fiberglass is only 5%. Thus, alternatives to fiberglass are unlikely to result in any major environmental benefit through displacing fiberglass alone. However, alternatives to fiberglass exist: woven bamboo cloth, hemp cloth, and bamboo veneer. These alternatives have varying impacts on performance, durability, and visual appearance.
- Bamboo appears to be the most favorable. A bamboo plantation absorbs 5x more carbon dioxide and puts out 35% more oxygen than the equivalent plantation of trees. Bamboo is also one of nature’s most resistant fibers, and it is possible to weave these fibers together in such a way as to create a very active and responsive flex pattern in the surfboards. Bamboo fiber is also biodegradable and can be disposed of after the boards life is over (Vartiainen, 2018).
- Flax fiber is used by Notox Surfboards (French surfboard company) to replace fiberglass, which is used in regular surf boards. Flax is an engineered reinforcement fabric made from the base of flax seed plant, which provides high levels of performance and durability. Although it is one of the oldest cultivated fibers, it has been only recently started to be used as a fiberglass substitute (Michelena et al., 2016).
Alternative production methods
Apart from alternative materials, there exist alternative methods of surfboard production with or without changing the material used.
- Reusing the loss material - only epoxy boards can be recycled. Old epoxy boards get stripped of their fiberglass shell and then either get shaped down into a new smaller board, turned into other product or just plain old food for the meal worms (Vartiainen, 2018).
- Meal worms live on Styrofoam and excrete completely natural and biodegradable worm poop (Vartiainen, 2018).
- 3D printing technology has been used recently in surfboard production. Red Bull and NASA is involved in this technology. However, 3D printed boards are still too heavy compared with high performance boards (Vartiainen, 2018).
Barcelos, R. L., Magnago, R. F., & Leripio, A. A. (2018). Analysis of the technological impact on industry and its effects on waste production and disposal: a case study of the surfboard manufacturing industry. Ciência e Natura, 40(0), 49. https://doi.org/10.5902/2179460X31540
Brodeur, M., Brunet, P., & Primiani, C. (2011). Naturally Gnarly: The all-natural surfboard. Montreal: Mcgill.
Mateus, M. M., Bordado, J. M., & dos Santos, R. G. (2017). Ultimate use of Cork – Unorthodox and innovative applications. Ciência & Tecnologia Dos Materiais, 29(2), 65–72. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctmat.2016.03.005
Michelena, A. H., Graham-Jones, J., Summerscales, J., & Hall, W. (2016). Eco-friendly Flax Fibre/Epoxy Resin/Composite System for Surfboard Production. In R. Fangueiro & S. Rana (Eds.), Natural Fibres: Advances in Science and Technology Towards Industrial Applications (pp. 267–277). Springer Netherlands.
Moss Research Announces “Industry-First” Sustainable Surfboards. (2011, January 25). Retrieved 9 April 2019, from SURFER Magazine website: https://www.surfer.com/blogs/industry-news/moss-research-announces-%e2%80%9cindustry-first%e2%80%9d-sustainable-surfboards/
Sullivan, S. (2007). Sustainable Surfboards. Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. Retrieved from https://digitalcollections.sit.edu/isp_collection/724
The Ecoboard Lifecycle Study |. (2016). Retrieved 9 April 2019, from http://sustainablesurf.org/2016/06/the-ecoboard-lifecycle-study/
Vartiainen, N. (2018). THE NEW WAVE OF SUSTAINABLE SURF INDUSTRY. 71.
Woody, T. (2009, November 18). Green Foam Blanks Tries to Limit Toxin From Making Surfboards. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/19/business/energy-environment/19SURF.html