The rise of eco-friendly surfboards

©Frieden
Photo: Frieden

Justin Housman recently published an article on Surfer Mag about the rise of eco-friendly surfboards. Comically titled The Green Wave (we're flattered), this article explores the beginnings of this new era in shaping and asks the crucial question: Will the eco-friendly surfboard ever expand beyond the niche market?

After an insightful interview with E-Tech founder Todd Patterson on the how and why they decided to invest in green technologies, Housman goes on to cite a number of eco-committed board builders based in the US. Among those, Grain Surfboards, Danny Hess and others.

If the eco-friendly surfboard is going to make a serious dent in the marketplace, it’s not going to be driven by the mad geniuses banging around tiny shaping bays. It’s going to have to come from those big boys I mentioned earlier—the companies that already sell tens of thousands of boards per year, with stables of world-class team riders hawking ecologically sound equipment.

Housman believes it's the big brands that have the power to change things up. And some of them have already started. Patterson's biggest chunk of work at E-Tech now comes from companies like ...Lost, Channel Islands, Timmy Patterson or SUPERbrand. That's awesome news because these are the guys with the market power. But how eco are the boards they make?

In 2011, Stewart and Whilden, two surfers with corporate backgrounds, formed Sustainable Surf, a nonprofit that sets sustainability standards for everything from ASP World Tour events to surfboards. After launching the Waste To Waves program, whereby they set up collection points across the Californian surf shops for used Styrofoam packaging to be recycled into EPS blank material, they decided to step it up a notch.

That's when they introduced the groundbreaking ECOBOARD project. In short the ECOBOARD project is a label used to represent a certain level of environmental standard in the making of surfboards.

As of now, those specs include a foam blank made from at least 25 percent recycled or bio-based materials, or a regular EPS blank glassed with an epoxy resin of at least 15 percent bio-content. Meeting both standards is even better.

Stewart and Whilden hope that by setting a relatively low threshold for organic or recycled materials, they can entice other blank and resin manufacturers to move under the ECOBOARD umbrella.

We could have made an incredibly stringent set of requirements, so that only people like Danny Hess and Grain Surfboards could follow them. But we knew that wasn’t where the market was. Our standards are simply one step ahead of the mainstream surfboard market. That way it’s not a giant leap for shapers to meet the requirements.

In the UK and Europe, there are already a few shapers that would qualify for the ECOBOARD label, if not many. And so it's about time we got this label (as opposed to the boards) across the Atlantic.

In an upcoming article, we'll be talking about how you can get YOURSELF a greener surfboard, locally. In the mean time, here's an excerpt of Justin Housman's article.

Hawthorne, California—a grid of tired boulevards in southwest Los Angeles—is not a place you’d immediately associate with eco-friendly anything. Smog sits low and heavy in the dirt-colored air. Jumbo airliners belch noise and jet fuel as they roar in and out of nearby LAX. Massive oil-storage tanks rise up behind aging housing blocks. And freeways…everywhere freeways. But there, along a street lined with squat industrial buildings, in a small lot shared with some sort of metal-fabrication shop that emits ear-splitting bangs and shrieks, lies the home of E-Tech Surfboards, a company building and glassing some of the best eco-friendly surfboards in the world.

I was met at the door by co-founder Todd Patterson, a gruff-voiced Army veteran who started E-Tech back in 2011 with his partner, Ryan Harris. Patterson led me past a row of thrusters, strangely shaped hybrids, and enormous SUPs on into the glassing section, which looked and felt like every other glasser’s shop in the world, except that the place smelled like…nothing. No sickening aromas of plastic and resin. No brain-melting fumes. No instant headache. No smell of anything at all. “There was a reporter here awhile back who wrote that the resin in our shop smelled like spicy chicken,” Patterson said. “I think that’s just ’cause the guys next door brought in Thai food for lunch.”

That resin, which does not smell anything like spicy chicken, is called Super Sap, and the E-Tech guys buy it from Entropy Resins in Northern California. It’s partially made from plant material and is a USDA-certified bio-based material. The first time you witness a board glassed with Super Sap, it’s a little bewildering. Patterson mixed up a batch of resin and hardener, then casually poured the mixture on a brand-new recyclable high-performance EPS foam sled. But neither of us wore a respirator; there were no respirators in sight. I had him pour the resin into a small cup so I could take a deep whiff: faint hint of lemony dish soap.

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Gordon Fontaine
Gordon Fontaine

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