When technology meets sustainable surfboard design

We’ve touched on this before (here and here) and we’ll say it again now: there’s a certain irony when it comes to the surfing industry. Whilst the practice of surfing often brings you closer to nature in spirit, the craft you use to do that does anything but.

surfboard design detail

For most shapers, the materials used in surfboard design haven’t changed a great deal in the past six to seven decades. The first commercial polyurethane boards were introduced in the 50’s, and to this date this is still the most common construction around.

In recent years, we’ve seen major developments in the use of sustainable materials. From the creation of mushroom surfboard blanks and invention of cardboard surfboards, to the development of recycled EPS foam and the use of flax fiber and bio-epoxy resin, we can safely say there’s been a lot of experimentation. Whilst some of those may have not ever come past the experimental stage, some others offer fully functional and performance driven eco-friendly solutions (check out Notox Surfboards!).

For the latter, having a global impact still represents an issue. Thankfully, there are organisations (profit and non-profits) that are working hard to make this a readily available solution for everyone. It all started with Sustainable Surf, an NGO that launched the world’s first third-party ‘eco-label’ ECOBOARD in 2013, and provided shapers with the necessary tools to reduce carbon footprint, push for an increased use of renewable, recycled and up-cycled materials, and reduce toxicity in manufacturing. Soon enough, some of the bigger players in the surfboard manufacturing industry picked it up and helped spread the message. Nowadays, you’ll find big brands such as Firewire Surfboards, Slater Designs and Channel Islands Surfboards using it, and most have their top team riders (most often world tour surfers) showing the way.

Looking at materials used is one thing, but focusing on durability is equally important when it comes to sustainable surfboards. After all, the less you have to replace your boards, the less you’ll need to get rid of them. On top of that, a board that’s very well kept will sell much faster and for a better price on platforms like Second Hand Surfboards UK.

Lamina Flow Sustainable Surfboards

Lamina Flow Sustainable Surfboards

When the flex of the wood exceeds what the foam and fiberglass skin can withstand, the whole board can snap. And every piece of wood is different.

The article we’ve come across today is focused on Stu Bowen, an Australian circular designer who founded Lamina Flow. “The current industry standard is to use non-renewable resources like polyurethane or polystyrene foam coated with polyester or epoxy resins to make boards that are ultra-lightweight, but that have a very short lifespan,” says Stu. Surprisingly, one of the biggest issues lies in the use of wooden stringers. Whilst this isn’t a particularly toxic material, it presents major implications when it comes to durability. When the flex of the wood exceeds what the foam and fiberglass skin can withstand, the whole board can snap. And every piece of wood is different.

To fix this problem, Stu decided to study surfboard flex (and its longevity) and came up with a new solution. Drawing inspiration from skis and snowboards, that are designed to bend, Lamina’s approach is to engineer a core from a series of stacked layers (or laminas)—no stringer needed. Without the unpredictability of the wooden stringer, the board’s stiffness and other physical characteristics can be precisely engineered.

Bowen is a former marketing manager at Patagonia and a lifelong surfer, and began shaping in his teens. When he had the idea for the Lamina concept, he started creating prototypes by hand in his garage but soon realised this could take years and cost a fortune to develop. Wanting to speed up the process, he reached out to Autodesk technology evangelist Taylor Stein, who helped turn Stu’s project into reality by digitalising the designs in Autodesk’s Fusion 360 software.

“We did maybe 100 different iterations over six months. If I was to do that by hand in the real world, it would’ve taken me years and cost a small fortune,” says Bowen.

Lamina Flow Sustainable Surfboards

Lamina Flow Sustainable Surfboards

While the team has been using expanded and extruded polystyrene foams for rapid prototyping, they’re looking into using more environmentally friendly materials in the future, such as bio-foams, bio-resins, and bio-fibers. “The reinvention is less about the materials and more about the entirely new manufacturing process,” Bowen says. “It enables the designer or manufacturer to select whatever materials suit them best.”

The manufacturing approach that Lamina has established enables them to customize and engineer for a variety of different conditions and surfer requirements. They’re also looking to work with industry-recognised shapers who make boards for some of the top guys.

Lamina Flow Sustainable Surfboards

“Until recently, surfboard shaping has been more art than science. I’m using science to make it data-driven,” Bowen says. “I want to continually add value to the best shapers in the world to help push the boundaries of the sport, in terms of both performance and sustainability.”

Ultimately for Bowen, it’s about making his favourite hobby more fun while also better for the environment, bringing together his personal and professional passions. If he’s successful, he’ll have made surfing more sustainable for the beautiful world that surfers enjoy so much.

Gordon Fontaine
Gordon Fontaine


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