This post gives some background information about environmentally-friendly surfboards and surf gear, as goes into my super simple journey to pick up an EcoBoard.
Surfers are a heterogeneous group, and we approach the activity from different perspectives. To some it is a sport/career, to others a spiritual endeavor (though the “spirit” may just be the natural elements of the earth), and to others simply a way of life. The thing that unites all surfers is our love for bobbing around in the shallow zones in the ocean until a wave comes along, and then paddling our butts off to catch and ride it for a few seconds. It’s a particular type of activity in that it totally relies on natural processes of wind, ocean, tides, and reefs in order to work. A disruption to these natural elements yields a disruption in our ability to access the waves we need. Yet, oddly enough, to ride the waves, we for the most part rely on petrochemical sleds that damage these elements.
There seems to be a bit of a disconnect there, but the simple explanation is that it’s the result of the market at work. Polyurethane (PU) surfboard blanks were the best viable alternative following wood blanks. Wood blanks are heavy and expensive and difficult to shape. PU boards are light, cheap, and easy to shape, and they brought forth a revolution in shapes and in surfing itself. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) blanks gained some popularity in the late ’70s, but never obtained a foothold in the market (I got one custom EPS/Epoxy board in the late ’90s, shaped by Max McDonald and glassed by epoxy guru Clyde Beatty Jr – it was one of my favorite boards, and it lasted 5 years of heavy use). EPS is the standard packing material foam. The sustainable surf gear movement looks to be embracing EPS foam as the most viable way to move beyond traditional PU into something eco-friendlier. I’ll go into some of the benefits and drawbacks of EPS.
SustainableSurf.org seems to be the largest organization making a coordinated effort to bring sustainably-made surfboards to the mainstream. They have a couple of successful projects, they provide waste/recycling support at events, and they have the endorsement of SIMA and many surf brands. One of their projects, the EcoBoard Project, provides a framework for surfboard manufacturers to follow if they’re aiming to build a less-wasteful board. Similar to LEED certification, they classify the materials used to construct a surfboard, and if the overall constructions qualifies, they label it an “EcoBoard” and enter it into their registry. The board I recently custom-ordered was around #1400 in the registry.
Here’s my board! More details about it further below…