Surfing and the Environment - How Shaping Boards Can Make a Difference



Surfing is a sport that has ancient roots and was always close to nature. When the native Polynesian races needed to cut a kona tree for the purpose of making an olo board, a ceremony was organised as to ask for forgiveness for this act.

Surfers are usually quite involved and active with environmental issues but the surf industry that moves more than 7.2 billions dollar a year has a strong carbon print.

Nowadays surf boards are made from modern components, all issued from the petrochemical industry. Most of these products have a strong environmental impact from the foam blanks, to the fibreglass, the resin and even wax.
To this point, surf industry has not found a way to produce a 100% eco-friendly surf boards but there is ways to manufacture them in a less toxic manner.
The first point concerns the foam blank itself. To this point, blanks are made from the mixing of various chemicals, including the very carcinogenic Toluene diisocyanate which react to each other by expanding. Surf industry is now using more and more polyurethane surf blanks which is a bit less toxic than polystyrene. About 40% of a surf foam blanks end up in landfills. A southern California company now recycles old and wasted blanks to create new ones, with the same characteristics as the classic ones. Also some researches are done on working with biodegradable natural components such as crushed agave cacti to produce blanks that can be hand shaped the traditional way. Balsa wood boards are also a solution, as long as the balsa is farmed in a sustainable way. Look at what Australia is doing, I click.

Once a surf board blank is shaped, it has to be laminated with layers of fibreglass and resin to make it durable. Fibreglass manufacturing is a toxic industry but could be easily avoided with the use of bamboo to laminate the boards. Bamboo is easily grown and does not harm the soils. Its mechanical characteristics make it great for laminating surf boards, as it keeps some flexibility and is actually more resistant to impact then the traditional laminating process. A Hawaiian surf board shaper has been using it with success for more than a decade.

Another toxic material used is resin. To this point, there is no escape to using it. Polystyrene blanks need to be laminated with polystyrene resin. When using a polyurethane blank, it is epoxy resin that is needed. This epoxy resin gives out 50 times less VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) than the classic polyester and is less carcinogenic. Surf boards manufactured with epoxy are much more resistant then polyester hence making it a more eco-friendly product with this increase in durability. A bio-epoxy resin is now also used but it only has 30% of bio components. A lot of research is also made on a 100% soya based resin fine for the laminating.

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