Making waves: surfing goes green

The evolution of the surfboard is just one shift as surfers get greener.


Credit: iStockphoto

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The image of the surfer as being in tune with nature and sensitive to environmental changes stems mainly from the sport's gruelling dependence on the fickle moods of the weather and the ocean. Yet while these wave-catchers may be environmentally aware, this comes in stark contrast to the production of their surfboards, which can be decidedly toxic.

This fact became impossible to ignore when, on December 5th 2005, Gordon Clark shut the doors to Clark Foam, the US factory that produced 90 per cent of the 'blanks' supplied to the surfboard industry (blanks are the bare pieces of foam that are shaped and coated in fibreglass to create a standard surfboard).

The main issue was the use of a chemical called toluene diisocynate (TDI) in the manufacturing process. By the late 90's Clark was one of the last manufacturers still using this chemical in California. The US Federal Environmental Protection Agency had been threatening to close the plant for a number of years and in a surprise move Clark threw in the towel and simply closed the doors. This sent shockwaves through the industry.

Supplies of blanks quickly dried up and the industry was forced to come to terms with the toxic production base that they had become dependent upon. While other operations eventually filled the gap, the crisis also brought with it a groundswell of innovation that is finding revolutionary ways to produce the humble surfboard.

Sustainable shapers

One company on the forefront of this eco-innovation movement is Green Foam Blanks, based in San Clemente, California and producing the world's first blank with recycled polyurethane content. Through combining foam cut-offs with virgin foam they can create blanks that are 60-65 per cent recycled. This greatly reduces the need for new foam and most importantly the production of TDI.

Surf Hardware International and FCS Fins are continuing the recycling imperative and have worked with Green Foam Blanks to produce 'Green Flex fins'. These fins (the projections on the bottom of surfboards that provide stability) are made up of discarded linoleum carpet squares and soon they hope to integrate recycled fins themselves.

Company executive Tyler Callaway explained their simple aims: "We looked at what's the single greatest single impact we can take in a single step, and Green Flex was it." The performance of these fins is yet to be proven, but it is encouraging to see that established companies like FCS are open to the use of recycled materials.

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