Surfboard Sustainability Part II: A Closer Look at Global Green Surfboard Construction
In the first part of my series on surfboard sustainability and environmentalism, I looked at the evolution of green practices in surfing. These developments really only began to evolve over the last decade, and I gave examples of eco-friendly material trends. Yet, one missing piece exists: more detail on the green surfboard construction companies around the world.
It's time to look a little deeper and go beyond the few mentions in Part One. I brought up Infinity Surfboards as a personal favorite brand that currently uses green materials like hemp and bamboo. Let's look at individual surfboard companies using the most notable sustainable practices in recent years. You might see some familiar names.
First, a Quick Snapshot of What Non-Green Surfboard Construction Companies Are Doing
Surfing analysts note in recent years that, despite the surfing industry depending on the environment, the sport itself did little to protect the environment for years. Even today, figures say 400,000 surfboards still get made with toxic materials.
Those statistics also show that many fins and fin plugs still use polyester resins, fiberglass, or plastics made of petroleum. Another stunning statistic is that 20% of the foam used to shape a surfboard ends up going to waste and into landfills.
With well over 20 million surfers around the world, there are enough of us to make a difference. As noted in Part One, sustainability really has come a long way (though it still has plenty of room to grow).
The use of alternatives to polyurethane and the advent of alternative woods continue through some significant manufacturers out there. Still, sometimes you have to look more carefully at brands since they often offer a combination of the old and the green.
The Big Name in Green Surfboard Construction: NOTOX
I did mention NOTOX briefly in Part One as a leader in green surfboard construction. They have French roots but are now located in Australia, where surfing is king. They also happen to be one of the greenest surfboard companies in existence.
Their greenOne® surfboards are very influential thanks to producing only one kilogram of waste. Plus, 75% of the materials they use are recyclable. As such, they helped push a lot of the interest in green surfboard construction across the pond to America.
As NOTOX notes on their site, their surfboards produce waste that’s less than half their weight. It all starts with attention to four specific materials they use the most often:
NOTOX notes that they use recycled EPS regrinds and surfboard scraps as a way around using standard polyurethane. This combination helps provide more strength due to a tighter fusion between the beads on the material surface. This combination of materials is also easier to shape than when using EPS alone.
The company happens to use ENVIRO-FOAM, which I noted before was an alternative form of EPS via recycled EPS blanks. Using this helps make the boards easier to shape overall.
The Use of Flax in Green Surfboard Construction
Did you know NOTOX now uses flax as another sustainable fiber? On their site, NOTOX notes that this is one material they use first in making their boards. More precisely, this is multi-axial flax fabric, which is defined as several plies of parallel fibers laid in different orientations. Each layer is stitched together with a polyester thread to create one fiber piece.
Multi-axial flax fabrics are also easy to cut but won’t fall apart, making it perfect for strength and flexibility. No wonder NOTOX uses natural fibers now, especially since these fibers have a great response on the water.
Best of all, these fibers are 100% natural and renewable.
Innovation in Bio-Resins
I only touched briefly on bio-resins in Part One, but NOTOX is a major leader in this department. They were one of the first surfboard manufacturers to test bio-resins a decade ago by partnering originally with Sicomin, a world-renowned epoxy company.
Together, they created GreenPoxy® 56, which contains 51% carbon content sourced from plants and vegetable matter. The use of this changed the game in the type of resins being used in surfboard-making.
As a result, the product has minimal environmental impact and continues to make NOTOX a favorite for surfers seeking green surfboard construction.
The Use of Non-Volatile Cleaning Solutions
Many surfboard makers use acetone during the cleaning process. Unfortunately, this is toxic; not only does it present a risk to workers, but it also harms the environment.
NOTOX made sure to choose green cleaning solutions using non-VOC solvents to protect their shapers.
Arguably, this surfboard manufacturer is one of the top green surfboard construction companies in the world right now. Perhaps they are not a familiar name to everyone. They are based in Australia, the central hub for some of the most insightful surfing sustainability practices.
Spooked Kooks is based in Bondi, Australia, more specifically. All their surfboards get made with post-consumer plastic waste, taking recycling to the ultimate level. At the center of their mission is the goal of taking on one of the world's biggest environmental challenges: removing plastics from our oceans.
The company gives a complete, illustrative story about how they go about this on their main page. It all starts with preventing high-density polyethylene (HDPE) from being discarded into Australia's oceans, streets, and beaches. You know HDPE as a thermoplastic polymer, made from petroleum and used to create tons of different products.
You see HDPE most commonly used to create bottles, jugs, and piping. While it is recyclable, it harms the environment if it’s not recycled properly. Spooked Kooks takes HDPE and breaks it down into pellets.
Shapers then use those high-quality HDPE pellets to create their boards, including the fins, fin box, underside, and leash plugs. However, they do have 30% fiberglass in the fin to help enhance performance.
Check out this company and their softboards — they truly lead the way. Most impressive of all, when you move onto a new board, you can return the old one to them for recycling.
Let's turn to New Zealand now, another hotspot for green surfboard construction. Organic Dynamic is one of the top green surfboard manufacturers there, and they make their sustainability practices personalizable.
You can custom order your board, and the company creates it entirely from locally sourced materials. Each board layer uses an interesting green material. Let’s take a quick look at what Organic Dynamic puts into their boards:
Bio-resins are common now, though Entropy bio-resins are worth looking at a little more. Entropy's Super Sap formulations come entirely from plants (mostly from corn and soybeans), and they use hard data to determine the environmental impact.
Their process involves radiocarbon dating from the USDA to measure exactly what the carbon content is in everything they produce. Plus, their life cycle assessment determines what the long-term environmental benefits are.
Thanks to Organic Dynamic using Entropy bio-resin as their first board layer, they already offer a massive improvement.
Use of Paulownia Wood in Green Surfboard Construction
At the end of Part One, I mentioned how important Paulownia wood is as an alternative wood in surfboards. Organic Dynamic uses this as its primary wood, and it's all acquired from a local farm in New Zealand.
Paulownia wood is just as light as balsa wood, so it's no surprise that it's a popular surfboard wood alternative. In addition, Paulownia is one of the strongest woods in the world, turning it into a trendy, environmentally-friendly option.
Because this type of wood is so easy to carve and shape, more surfing manufacturers are turning to it. Still, it's a wood mostly available in southeast Asia, making it a little more expensive to acquire here in America.
Yes, we do have green surfboard construction companies in the United States! I'll be focusing more on this in Part Three. Here, though, we have FireWire Surfboards (from Carlsbad, California) as a major mention.
They stand out because they continually take a strong stance to eliminate waste in our nation's landfills. They're doing this through the use of new materials and innovative design.
With an overall philosophy that we need to eliminate "Take/Make/Waste" culture before it becomes irreversible, you'll find a lot to admire in their surfboard production processes. All board designs come from prestigious surfers like Rob Machado (as just one roster name).
In their designs, they have a unique process that makes their boards lighter than many on the market. They do this using only one pound of EPS on their boards, creating a minimal density.
Balsa wood, which is a good alternative to the Paulownia wood mentioned above, is also a popular choice. Coming from the tropics, balsa wood is usually used to make rafts (and all your New Year's Eve champagne corks).
What makes FireWire also stand above others is their full attention to helping other aspects of the environment, like partnering with Sustainable Surf's SeaTrees mangrove reforestation program. The company's team often goes to the Indonesian island of Biak to replant mangrove trees to reduce their carbon footprint.
Visit my site to learn more about sustainability in the surfing industry and to read Part Three in my new series, coming soon.