Surfboard Sustainability Part III: Surfboard Companies in the United States
Beyond American surfboard companies delving into sustainability practices, I want to end this series on the environmental impact behind the movement. Thanks to the hard work of countless surfboard manufacturers, our carbon footprint is gradually being reduced. We're also improving our oceans.
A lot more needs to be done, though. I'll look at what's left to do and whether the surfing industry can go entirely to a sustainability model in the near future.
How Many Surfboard Companies Use Green Practices Now?
While plenty of evidence exists at how much surfboard sustainability exists in 2020, more concrete evidence comes directly from a leader in the movement. Those who've heard of Sustainable Surf will know it's the leading surfboard company bringing guidance in how to make boards more eco-friendly. Started by Kevin Whilden and Michael Stewart in 2011, they created an official green stamp assuring all surfboards that use eco-friendly manufacturing.
They did this through their Ecoboard designation. It's similar to the Energy Star stamp seen on energy-efficient electronics and other products. According to Surfer.com, companies were only making 1,400 Ecoboard-designated surfboards around the world in 2012. In the last couple of years, it expanded 4000%, proving just how many companies now delve into sustainability.
To give more hope to this growing trend, many more surfboard companies are into sustainable practices that are not a part of the Ecoboard program. Nevertheless, any surfboard with this stamp is now a standard in saying the board won't harm the environment when you hit the waves.
Within the list of Ecoboard companies, many are from right here in America. If I made it clear in Part 2 that Australia seems to lead the way in being the most green, some companies from good old USA need honorable mentions.
No doubt you've heard of Channel Islands as one of the top American surfboard makers. The company is in Santa Barbara. Al Merrick, who became one of the world's most renowned board shapers, founded it over 50 years ago. While he once used the old materials that we all know did no favors to the environment, Channel Islands recently began to move into the green market.
Now they're a part of the Ecoboard project to verify that all of their boards will not hurt our oceans or overall environment. To dig into their boards further, it's worth looking at what they use to make this happen. More so, it's worth diving into what using these materials does to help the earth reduce carbon emissions.
All of their Ecoboards use Entropy's Super Sap bio-resin, containing only 17% bio-carbon content. While this is standard, Channel Islands lets you customize your board with other green materials. For an extra charge, they'll include Marko recycled EPS foam, which makes up 25% of the material used.
Using bio-resins and recycled EPS is already making an impact on eliminating waste from our oceans and cutting emissions of CO2. Research from recent years shows Entropy's Super Sap bio-resin alone helps reduce carbon emissions by 50%, bringing a significant impact to the locations where it's used.
To qualify for an Ecoboard designation, all boards have to contain a minimum of 25% recycled foam or other biological content. Bio-resins need a minimum of 15% bio-content, with wood being an alternative.
Yes, most of the greatest surfboard companies in America are in the true surfing state: California. Lost Surfboards is another giant in the industry, and they're based in San Clemente.
The green technology they use in their boards is really worth looking at in detail. Each company uses slightly different sustainable practices to form a unique brand. They use standard EPS foam and bio-resins. But they also use carbon fiber, a polymer that's known for being five times stronger than steel.
In Lost Surfboard's Light Speed boards, they combine the carbon fiber with Innegra fibers to offer higher performance. Many manufacturers combine these two eco-fibers to bring more strength to items like surfboards.
Another green material Lost Surfboard uses that places them in a standout sustainability category is cork.
The Use of Cork
Not many surfboard companies in America currently use cork as an environmentally friendly material. But Lost Surfboards incorporates it into their C4 and C3 technologies. The cork deck they use on their C4 boards gets used as a dampener and helps to increase strength.
To add further strength, they sandwich the cork between layers of fiberglass, an example of using old materials with something eco-friendly. Using cork like this is a growing trend that basically began in Spain because of how waterproof and elastic it is.
What makes cork such a valuable green resource now is that it can be harvested without cutting down trees. Also, it's usually designated as the most natural material used in surfboard manufacturing today. Plus, it removes all surface chatter, making for smoother performance on waves.
Using CoreCork Sheeting
I should note Lost Surfboard uses a specific type of cork they acquire from a unique company. The type of cork is called CoreCork composite from Amorim. This company is already renowned for providing cork as a sustainable material for so many other applications. All their cork is also harvested from cork oak forests in Portugal.
In the realm of surfing, cork has no inconvenience since it provides a smooth and non-slippery surface on all of Lost Surfboard's products. At the moment, they even use cork in their C3 technology boards where they leave it exposed and vacuum it into their carbon fibers.
As Amorim notes above, cork trees are a massive storehouse of CO2 on the planet. As such, cork is (arguably) the safest natural material on the planet. Here's another thing to keep in mind — it's biodegradable and 100% environmentally friendly, so it’s likely to continue being a top contender with surfboard shapers.
Head to El Segundo, California, and you'll find Haydenshapes, another American leader in the green surfboard movement. Like Lost Surfboards above, Haydenshapes lets you customize your board with similar eco-friendly materials.
Founded by Hayden Cox, the company has some interesting green technologies they're using. At the core, though, they use stringer-less, high-density custom-shaped EPS. Then they top this off with biaxial fiberglass, epoxy resin, and carbon fiber.
Altogether, this forms their own Futureflex brand. Most interesting of all, though, is their use of polyurethane epoxy laminate, a more eco-friendly alternative to standard polyurethane.
A deeper look into the use of this material (also known as PE) reveals some interesting things on how safe it is and how it enhances performance:
- PE uses a high-grade timber stringer, then a lamination process using fiberglass cloth, followed by a high-quality epoxy resin.
- Epoxy is better for the environment, even though it's still strong and light.
- Haydenboards's epoxy is more flexible than polyester and maintains a great flex pattern.
- Aesthetically, PE also helps retain the whiteness of each board.
All Natural Surfboards
Let's go back to the use of woods again in surfboard-making. That's something All Natural Surfboards (out of Santa Cruz, California) takes seriously. Founded by Nate Brown, the company is perhaps the most attuned to nature of any surfboard maker in California.
Raw materials are at the core of their mission. They focus on interesting woods like Douglas Fir, Cedar, and Pine. Douglas Fir wood comes mostly out of the northwest U.S., and it has thick bark and pitchy wood. Cedar, of course, is fragrant, and manufacturers often use it to make furniture. Pine is used for much the same, including cabinetry.
Because of how durable these woods are, it's no surprise that a surfboard company would attempt to make all their surfboards out of them. Out of all wood species used for surfboards, most experts agree that locally sourced, reclaimed, or upcycled wood is your best bet for top-tier performance and sustainability.
Making All Natural Surfboards stand out further is their use of a resin made of shellac and alcohol.
What Will Surfing Sustainability Look Like in Years Ahead?
Going forward, the ultimate outlook for surfing sustainability is strong — if still needing more time to evolve. Many articles continue being written criticizing the majority of surfboard manufacturers because they’re still using carcinogenic petroleum-based materials.
Another challenge we face is creating more surfboards with green materials that surfers accept in the mainstream. Based on the superior performance of many natural materials (when combined with other properties), this is definitely taking better shape.
At the heart of it all is the Ecoboard designation and creating more boards using their principles. Over the last eight years, 100,000+ Ecoboards entered the marketplace. Fortunately, this program is at the crossroads of modern design expectations and scientific education. It will continue to help surfers understand why buying green is worth doing.
Visit my site to keep learning more about surfboard sustainability. It's something I hope to write more about in the near future as it takes further shape.