The surfboard industry moves towards sustainability

A slab of polyurethane foam can, in the hands of a craftsman, become a beautiful surfboard. But the waste product created during the process has, until recently, been of little value or concern.

Sustainability is a new but growing trend within the surfing industry. There are as yet limited sustainably-produced options for surfers to choose from.

“It’s the worst kept secret in surfing that making a typical surfboard involves a fairly toxic stew of petrochemical materials” says Michael Stewart, one of the founders of nonprofit Sustainable Surf.

But Stewart and his co-founder, Kevin Whilden – both of whom have proven track records for creating market transformation in the energy efficiency and appliance world – are taking what they know and applying it to the surfing industry.

Sustainable Surf has launched the “Waste to Waves” program to encourage surfers to collect foam packaging to be transformed into surfboards

Whilden, who used to work at the Energy Trust of Oregon, has clearly seen the impact of market transformation, citing the transformation of washing machines as an example.

Steward and Whilden have mapped out what they believe will be an effective strategy that will transform both the surfing industry and the perspectives of its consumers.

“Engagement and education are key,” says Stewart. “Most surfers don’t know sustainable surfboard materials even exist, while surfboard makers don’t have enough experience with these newer materials to trust their performance.”

Stewart and Whilden have launched a program called Waste To Waves as a good first step. This program encourages surfers to collect used polystyrene foam – aka EPS or styrofoam – from waste packaging that could be lurking behind closet doors, then take it to their local surf shop, where it gets collected in W2W branded bins. It will then picked up and recycled into new EPS material, which is bought by surfboard core manufacturers to make new, recycled surfboard cores.

Getting manufacturers onboard in using sustainable materials is another key factor.

Because legendary surfboard shapers like Santa Cruz based Bill ‘Stretch’ Riedel and San Clemente’s Timmy Patterson are starting to put their name on surfboards made from more sustainable materials, major surf brands paying attention, and are beginning to encourage their sponsored pros to give these new materials a try.

As with anything in sales (and in life), offering Value is critical.

“Surfers want to know the products they buy actually bring a meaningful benefit to the environment and  human health,” said Stewart.

The ECOBOARD Project will help educate and connect surfers and a 3rd party eco-label, a 1st in the industry

To that end, Sustainable Surf is ramping up to launch the ECOBOARD Project, which will include a website designed to educate and connect surfers and board builders, as well as a third party eco-label for qualified surfboards, a first for the surfboard industry.

The ECOBOARD Project is developing a benchmark of more sustainable materials to be used in surfboards, along with a consumer eco-label for boards “to verify the use of those materials by the board builder,” said Stewart.

Then there are incentives to build consumer demand. Those who purchase ECOBOARDs will have the chance to brand name gear.

But incentives are a small part of the equation. With surfing organizations such as Surfrider Foundation, Surfers without Borders and others speaking out on environmental issues,  it’s clear that the surfboard industry is ready for this transformation.

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One Response

  1. I quite like reading an article that will make people think.
    Also, many thanks for allowing for me to comment!

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