Despite the massive technological changes that have happened in all facets of our lives over the last few decades, the way the vast majority of surfboards are made today hasn't really changed much for over 50 years.
Photo courtesy of Surf World Gold Coast
Most standard surfboards are crafted from polyurethane (PU) blanks which are essentially manufactured from refined petroleum. These blanks are shaped, covered with fibreglass cloth, and then laminated with either polyester or epoxy resin to form a surfboard. All of these products are either petroleum based, and/or use a lot of energy in their production.
One of the few significant alternatives to the standard PU blank-based board to have found acceptance in the wider industry is a different type of blank foam expanded polystyrene foam (EPS). This type of foam can be paired with epoxy resin which releases only about 50% of the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are associated with typical polyester resin. EPS is also recyclable to some degree. There are numerous epoxy board makers in the market today.
New advances in materials
Now at last a wider range of blank technologies and resins are being developed which have environmental benefits over the traditional stuff. Some blank manufacturers are starting to use recycled or natural products as feed for producing their blanks. California-based Biom Blanks is developing foam technology that is certified 100% biodegradable, industrially compostable, GMO-free, and 99% bio-based. Another US-based company, Marko Blanks, recycles expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam waste and reprocesses it to make surfboard blanks in combination with their virgin EPS foam. Trouble is at the time of writing these blanks are still in the development phase or very difficult to get hold of in Australia.
Bio-resin is a clear liquid epoxy resin based on natural, renewable materials sourced as co-products or from the waste streams of industrial processes, such as wood pulp or bio-fuel production. It can be used in conjunction with a recycled foam blank to dramatically reduce the amount of petroleum used in surfboard manufacture. Samsara Surfboards in Victoria is one of the first board makers in Australia to use both bio-resin & recycled foam blanks. Bio-resin is available in Australia, and is stocked by our friends at Surfing Green
A small but growing number of surfers are also choosing to go back to where surfing all began by riding wooden boards. Other board makers are using hybrids of these technologies. For example Firewire’s TimberTEK range of boards feature lightweight EPS cores, sustainably-grown wood deck skins, and a bio-resin hot coat.
Greener surfboards is a growing field, so we would love to hear about other alternative, more environmentally friendly board makers & technologies (post a comment below).
So you're buying a new board
OK, you've just snapped another of your standard glass boards during the last big swell, and you’re thinking about what sort of replacement you should get. Here are a few things to consider before you shell out for a new stick.
Like most people, you’re probably going to throw that old board out in the bin. From there it’ll end up in a landfill, gradually leaching its petrochemicals into the environment. Think about a greener replacement board that uses less petrochemicals when being made and is stronger, but doesn't sacrifice performance. It may cost you more up front, but it’s likely to last you through more big swells and will mean less petrochemicals being used, and less broken boards going to landfill. Talk to your shaper about what materials they use, and if they could make you a board using a recycled or biodegradable foam blank and/or bio-resin.
Another snapped board going to landfill
As usual with any surfing product purchase, do your research; try to verify eco-friendly and green claims, and consider where your board has been made & how far it has been transported.
Sustainability is complex
Hey just so you know, we're not trying to have a go at traditional glass boardmakers on this page. We understand there are a whole range of environmental issues going on behind a pop-out made in China and a standard glass board made in someone's back yard for their neighbour. At the end of the day commercial boardmakers will make the boards that consumers want and are willing to pay a reasonable price for. We just want to let boardmakers and consumers know that there are a growing number of alternatives out there. Feel free to comment below...