The Birth Of An Eco Surf Company: Discover Alternatives to Plastic
Did you know that 46,000 pieces of plastic debris float on every square mile of the ocean?
I didn’t know that either, and in 2007 when I took a surf trip to Mexico with six surf mutants pulling a trailer with seventeen surfboards, fifteen wetsuits and three cases of Sierra Nevada, I had no idea that I’d be starting an eco revolution in the surf industry.
We pulled up to uncrowded surf at Cuatros Casas in Baja, it was well overhead and the sets were building from the south with light off-shore winds and we were the only car on the bluff.
I ripped the lock off the Uhaul like a surf crazed Che Guevarra and I began pulling out the mountain of board bags piled to the ceiling and as I was schlepping the multi-colored bags out of the trailer I said to myself, “damn that’s a lot of plastic.” While pulling those plastic bags out of that trailer it got me thinking about the thirty years of surfing that I had done and the hundreds of surf products that I had purchased as my oceanic journey unfolded.
I asked myself, "how much plastic had I been personally responsible for?" I also started to think about all those discarded items that I had thrown away over the years—broken leashes, ripped bags, soiled socks, broken boards, etc.
I knew I would never stop surfing, the more I surf the more I appreciate it, my relationship with the ocean is one of the most important elements in my life—in fact, it is my life. How could I live my passion and at the same time decrease my environmental footprint on the earth and ocean? I already bought organic food and I even had some bamboo clothing, but could I find eco surf products?
After doing some research I discovered that ecological surf products did not exist and I realized that I was the person that had to do something about it. Wave Tribe was a result of a deep heartfelt desire to give back to my fellow surfers and the planet. I started thinking about various materials that could be used to replace all that plastic floating int the ocean—it came to me after a long surf session, HEMP was the perfect material.
Hemp is one of the oldest and most versatile crops in the world. For thousands of years hemp seeds, stalks and flowers have been used for nutritious, medical, spiritual and industrial purposes. The fibers from the stalks boast an unusually high tensile strength, resulting in an incredibly high-quality and durable fabric. Hemp fiber is one of the softest and most durable fibers produced by any natural product and it perfect for surfboard bags and surf accessories.
Hemp was first cultivated by the Chinese in the 2nd century B.C. At that time, the fibers were used for paper and textile and the seeds for food and in medicines. The Chinese played a significant role improving the growth, harvesting and processing techniques of hemp. In the 15th century hemp was introduced in the American colonies.
After that time much of the paper and clothing in colonial America was made from hemp, with the textiles being recycled into “rag paper”, known to this day as one of the strongest and most long-lasting papers in the world. In fact, the most cherished symbol of American liberty, the Declaration of Independence, with those famous words ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ were written on hemp paper.
Hemp is a wonderful alternative to plastic because:
- Hemp grows naturally without pesticides
- Hemp is mold resistant
- Hemp is strong and durable
- Hemp is biodegradable
- Hemp reduces heat and remains cool
- Hemp protects against the sun's rays
- Hemp is straight up COOL
But most importantly, at the end of its life-cycle hemp would go back into the earth and decompose, it wouldn’t rot in some landfill for the next thousand years like plastic.
When I returned from my trip I started to do more research and began to contact factories to put together some rough samples. Next I found a company that would help me produce surfboard leashes out of recycled plastic, product number two was born and I could feel those Wave Tribe footprints getting lighter and lighter with each step.
The third stoke of innovation came when I created the first cork traction pad. Cork cells display what is known as elastic memory—when compressed they return to their original size—great for stomp pads. Most deckpads are made out of non environmentally friendly EVA plastic (Ethylene Vinyl Acetate).
Cork is a renewable resource and its harvesting is a truly sustainable example of agroforestry. Agroforestry combines agricultural and forestry technologies to create more diverse, productive, healthy and sustainable land systems. Producing plastic on the other hand—well, you can imagine—extracting plastic from oil is a dirty process.
Why does cork make a great pad? It’s light and soft, no hard ridges on your pad to cut your knees. Cork does not absorb water, it repels it—that means your surfboard tail remains light and agile for those sick turns. Cork is a natural fire retardant, so your board won’t catch fire because you rip so hard.
In 2013 Wave Tribe started manufacturing several of its bag styles in California and it sure feels great to support local businesses and substantially decrease our transportation footprint by more than 10,000 kilometers. We joined the upcycle movement, purchasing used vinyl billboard advertisements that normally go straight into landfills and then we repurpose that material to create a new products like a rad Wave Tribe boardbags.
Each bag is unique and we can make custom sizes or funky shapes. But the most awesome thing about these bags is that they are made by other surfers in California using materials sourced from the United States, this keeps jobs in America and also helps us invest back into our local communities.
Buying local isn’t just for food and as Corie from Australia reminded me this week it is easy to get lost in the haze and daze of the naive consumerist lens we are conditioned to see life through in this “Seven-Eleven, 24 hour, super-sized, but wait there's more, no time for time society.”
We as consumers have forced companies to deliver lower and lower priced products via the Walmart Effect. The reality is that 'how' a purchase impacts one’s wallet is more decisive than 'how' the product influences the environment. We need to change how we think, how we look, how we consume, and how we live.
It’s up to all of us to join this eco movement and to recognize the importance of living and surfing differently. Our oceans and planet deserve and demand an immediate action, our lives are intimately connected to the health of our planet and if we don’t act now we’ll all be surfing in wave pools filled with boogie borders and chlorinated water.
Derek Dodds is the founder of Wave Tribe and can be found riding his Mini Simmons around Ventura beaches and foreign surf locations. Please send your comments, suggestions, and stoke to firstname.lastname@example.org