|Eco-Friendly Surfboard of the Future Ecoboard|
The sustainable surfboard is here but will Kelly Slater ride one?
For an insurgent group of surfers campaigning to green up the $7 billion surfing industry, Slater, an 11-time world champion, and other pro’s are key to changing the way surfers think about the iconic symbol of their nature-dependent sport, which ironically is a hunk of petroleum-based polyurethane laminated with toxic polyester resin.
Now there’s an alternative to the dinosaur-derived surfboard – the Ecoboard, a standard for a non-toxic, recycled surfboard developed by Sustainable Surf, a San Francisco non-profit founded by Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden, surfers and social entrepreneurs with a background in creating sustainable products.
“We’ve got to get these boards into the hands of the pro’s,” said Stewart at a recent event at Saatchi & Saatchi S’s San Francisco office to launch the Ecoboard project.
Why? Flip through Surfer magazine or tune into a Rip Curl contest and try to separate the pro surfers from the products and lifestyle they’re pushing – everything from sunglasses and board shorts to surfboards and wetsuits. Get the surf gods to ride green, the thinking goes, and the masses will get onboard.
Easier said than done, however. I wrote about Sustainable Surf last April in a Forbes magazine story as Stewart and Whilden began their efforts to change a tribal industry literally stuck in the 1950s when it comes to making surfboards.
For more than a half a century most surfboard blanks – the core of a board – have been made from polyurethane, which ends up in landfills when surfers break their boards. Polyurethane boards are coated in polyester resin, another toxic substance that poses health hazards to surfboard makers – which is why glassers wear respirators as they laminate boards.
But another type of foam, expanded polystyrene, or EPS, can be recycled and manufactured more benignly. And companies like Entropy Resins make non-toxic bio-based laminates.
Even so, many surfboard makers, surf shop owners and surfers have resisted EPS boards, believing the conventional wisdom that polyurethane offers superior performance.
That’s beginning to change, however, judging by the crowd of surfers, big-name board makers and other surf industry honchos that jammed the offices of Saatchi & Saatchi S, the sustainability practice of the advertising and marketing giant started by Adam Werbach, a surfer and former president of the Sierra Club.
According to Sustainable Surf’s criteria, a surfboard qualifies for the Ecoboard label if its core is made from a minimum 40% recycled foam or biological content (think soy ) and the resin is produced from at least 15% bio-based materials. An Ecoboard costs about $50 more than a conventional surfboard but it cuts its carbon footprint by 40%, according to a lifecycle analysis conducted by Sustainable Surf.
A key requirement of the standard is that Ecoboards perform at least as well as conventional surfboards and require minimal change in the manufacturing process.
On display at Saatchi & Saatchi was an Ecoboard made by Matt “Mayhem” Biolos, a top shaper and owner of San Clemente, Calif.-based Lost Enterprises, as well as Ecoboards from Timmy Patterson, Hobie and Stretch Boards. Also on hand was Mark Price, chief executive of Firewire Surfboards, which has agreed to sell boards that meet Ecoboard standards for resin, Ryan Ashton, executive director of the Quiksilver Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the surf industry giant, and Jim Moriarty, chief executive of the Surfrider Foundation.
To prove the environmental bone fides of green surfboards, Todd Patterson from E-Tech Glassing set up shop in the middle of Saatchi & Saatchi’s offices and, surrounded by onlookers, laminated several boards, including one for pro surfer Shaun Tomson. (Werbach looked on a little nervously given that surfboard making is usually a toxic affair.)
Sustainable Surf has made inroads with pro surfers. Big wave rider Greg Long has an Ecoboard, according to Stewart, and he showed a video of pro Torrey Meister ripping it up on green surfboard. Meanwhile, the operators of Telo Island Lodge, a high-end surf camp in Indonesia, attended the Ecoboard launch and plan to order an entire quiver of green boards for their clients, Stewart says.
But during a panel discussion, it was clear that green isn’t good enough to persuade most surfboard buyers to switch to an Ecoboard. Will Hutchinson, co-founder of the Proof Lab surf shop in Mill Valley, Calif., said his customers aren’t particularly eco-minded but they’ll buy Ecoboards for their performance and pedigree.
Case in point: Hutchinson bought the Lost Ecoboard that was being auctioned at the Saatchi & Saatchi event for his shop and it sold in a day.
“They didn’t buy if for environmental reasons at all,” Hutchinson, who holds an MBA in sustainable management from Presidio Graduate School, said in an e-mail. “He just wanted it because it looked incredible, epoxy, had a similar Lost that he liked and wanted to complement it, etc. The environmental angle was just a bonus not the selling point, which I think is great and how it has to be to go mainstream.”
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