Green Surfboards: The Wave of the Future

The world is more environmentally conscious than it once was. New eco-friendly products appear on store shelves every day, and more and more categories of products are "going green," a slang term referring to the environmental movement. Though it hasn't always been the case, the surfboard industry is becoming eco-friendly. Green surfboards have not been the norm, but changes are happening. New eco-friendly materials and processes are making surfboard manufacturing safer and better for the environment. Read on for more about the green surfboard revolution.

What's the History of Surfboard Making?

Originally, surfboards were made of natural materials, like balsa and redwood. Lighter weight materials, such as foam and fiberglass, replaced the natural materials in the 1950s, ushering in an era where surfboard design could advance technologically. However, the materials were known, even then, to have harmful environmental impacts. Since that time, surfboard materials haven't changed much. For years, they were made of a polyurethane foam blank, fiberglass, and polyester resin. These materials allowed the surfboard industry to flourish, but at a severe cost to the environment.

What are the Hazards of Surfboard Manufacturing?

The hazards of surfboard making include danger to the people making the boards, environmental damage, and the creation of non-renewable items. The materials used to make surfboards are toxic chemicals and known carcinogens. The urethane foam is made from a toxic and irritating liquid chemical called toluene diisocyanate and from compounds of polyether. Fiberglass cloth is often treated with toxic substances such as chromium, and fiberglass dust is hazardous to the lungs. The polyester resin used to coat the surfboard is made of substances that emit volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, that cause air pollution. Polyester resins require the use of toxic solvents, like acetone, to clean up spills.

How are Surfboards Going Green?

Since the late 1970s, surfboard makers have been aware of the dangers and have looked for alternative materials. The first change came with the substitution of epoxy resin for polyester resin. Epoxy resin emits many fewer VOCs and does not require the use of toxic solvents. Epoxy can be made from plants rather than man made materials. Another change was the use of polystyrene blanks, which are lighter than urethane, less toxic, and recyclable. These materials became the new standard until 2005, when the leading manufacturer of polystyrene blanks, Clark Foam, went out of business. This development opened the door for new, greener innovations in surfboard manufacturing.

What is the Future for Green Surfboards?

Though much has improved since the beginning, there is still a long way to go in making surfboards truly green. New surfboard companies are leading the way, with experiments in such materials as bamboo and bio-plastics. Some are using recycled Styrofoam and even going back to basics with balsa wood. Of course, all of these innovations cost money and require the end user to appreciate the product. On the whole, surf culture has yet to catch up. Surfers have come to expect cheap, replaceable, ultra-light boards, which presents challenges to green manufacturing.

Surfers used natural wood surfboards until the 1950s, when the introduction of petrochemicals and plastics allowed for lighter board construction. It was soon clear that the materials used to make surfboards presented severe health and environmental dangers. The search for new manufacturing processes and materials has led to improvements in the safety and eco-friendliness of surfboard making. Though surf culture may not always use recyclable boards, it's also true that revolutions take time. Overall, the future is bright for green surfboards.

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