While traditionally surfboards were made of wood, nowadays most surfboard blanks are made from polyurethane, which does not break down in landfills. We check out the coolest and most sustainable surfboard brands out there.
“The typical surfboard is a slab of petroleum-spawned polyurethane, slathered in layers of toxic polyester resin.”
Surfing is great. Catching a wave can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in nature. Paddling out on your board is a time when any other thought or stress that has been swimming in your mind just melts away. It’s a cliché often repeated—and one that holds true—that you truly feel one with the ocean. But, during a recent surf trip to Byron Bay I also started thinking about the environmental impact of surfing. While I was feeling pretty pleased about my chemical-free reef-friendly sunscreen, I hadn’t really given much thought to the surfboards I’d had in the past, nor to their environmental and health impact.
While there’s a huge environmental activist and eco-culture around surfing, unfortunately our wetsuits and our boards do have an ecological impact on our oceans. A 2012 article in Forbes magazine sums it up well: “The typical surfboard is a slab of petroleum-spawned polyurethane, slathered in layers of toxic polyester resin.”
Traditionally surfboards were made of wood, but nowadays who wants to schlep a wooden surfboard around on the beach? For more than a half a century most surfboard blanks (foam cores) have been made from polyurethane, and guess what? It does not break down in landfills. With 400,000 new surfboards produced every year, that’s a lot of polyurethane piled up in landfills around the world—and then there are the leashes and fins to consider too. These polyurethane boards are coated in toxic non-biodegradable polyester resin, which the EPA says cause a number of health issues including memory loss, central nervous system damage and even cancer to glassers and board shapers, which is why they wear respirators as they laminate and shape boards.
Then there’s the surf board wax, most of which is made from paraffin—a byproduct of petroleum— and contains benzene and toluene which has been shown to be harmful to humans. About 95% of surfing waxes in the global market contain these petroleum by-products. And they end up oil our ocean.
Obviously, surfing has to get more sustainable. And there are a number of surfboard brands and companies who have gotten on board with more eco-friendly materials. The ECOBOARD Project by Sustainable Surf is a great example of a sustainability pioneer in the industry. The first, independent third party 'eco-label' for surfboards —developed and managed by Sustainable Surf— the ECOBOARD Project is focused on reducing carbon footprints by awarding certifications to high-performance board brands that have a ‘reduced carbon footprint, renewable or up-cycled materials and use low toxicity materials or processes during manufacturing.’
Looking for a new board to ride the waves this summer? Here are five surf board brands to check out, and some surf wax thrown it too.
Firewire is one of the leading innovators of high performance, sustainable surf gear, with 11x World Champ Kelly Slater owning 70% of the business. The brand focuses on technology and smarter materials to produce high performance, light and durable surf products with low environmental impact. They use plant-based low-VOC resin, sustainably-grown Paulownia wood deck skins, and innovative materials like BLOOM Foam (used in their traction pads a high), a performance flexible foam made from algae biomass harvested from freshwater habitats at risk of toxic algal bloom. The BLOOM Foam process literally scrapes pond scum, dries it, pulverizes it, then forms it into a foam blend that helps rebalance the natural ecology and also reduces our dependence on non-renewable oil. The leash is made using plastic bottles, partially recycled Urethane and Yulex.
This French company is Eco-Board approved by Sustainable Surf and uses ENVIRO-FOAM EPS blanks for all their surfboards, which means that the core of Notox greenOne® surfboards come from recycled EPS regrinds and surfboard scraps. Nothing goes to waste in the lab and everything that can go into the boards, goes in the boards. Bioepoxy, which contains over 51% carbon content, sourced from plant and vegetable matter, is coated on flax linen instead of fibreglass weave.
This Kiwi gold-level eco-board manufacturer is on a mission to make surfing more sustainable. Boards are made from waste polystyrene that they source from buildings that have been demolished due to earthquake damage, and all waste is recycled. They use timber grown according to Agro-Forestry practices, and Entropy Bio-resin—which has less than half the environmental impact of other epoxies—to coat their boards. The company also donates 1% of all sales to Sustainable Coastlines, which runs regular beach clean-ups and plants trees along riverbanks to protect waterways from livestock runoffs.
Ashley Lloyd Thompson is one of the few women in the world who shapes surfboards and who decided to switch over from using conventional polyester resin. All boards are glassed in-house with a plant-based epoxy resin made by Entropy Resins. PU foam is used, as well as the option of post-consumer EPS.
If it’s a soft board you’re after, check out Byron Bay-based Spooked Kooks who manufacture their boards from recycled plastic waste. 100% of all high-density polyethylene used in their boards is recycled post-consumer plastic waste. This includes the entire “slick” (underside of the boards), leash plug, fin boxes, fins and fin key. The brand has also partnered with socially responsible organisations such as Grom Nation, a non-profit in Siargao, Philippines; Sustainable Surf; and Plastic Bank, to find sustainable solutions to protect our oceans, and to empower vulnerable children. At the end of its life you can then send the board back to the company for recycling. Oh, and they're pretty great for surfing with your doggo too!