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Why A Broken Surfboard Is Bad For The Environment

Wave Tribe

A surfboard is the most essential equipment that a surfer has. Because what else would we be surfing on?

Published by Wave Tribe

Surfboard

In olden times, surfboards were made from breadfruit and sandalwood trees. Ancient Polynesians harvested them from forests and and turned them into concave or convex surfing boards. The earliest records of surfboard making comes from Hawaii where the process of hand-carving surfboards is a cherished traditional craft.

These days, while anyone can still make a wooden surfboard, the sport has evolved to include the modern surfboard industry. It’s a profitable industry; worldwide, over 400,000 surfboards are sold every year and is estimated to bring in over $3.1 billion in annual sales.

It’s an indication of how popular the sport has become today- a far cry from when it was nearly wiped out in the 19th century by European colonists who arrived in Hawaii and sought to ban it. These days, an average surfer will ideally have 4 surfboards and between that and the increasing popularity of the sport, that’s a lot of surfboards out there in the world.

And that’s a potential concern. Because during surfing, a lot can happen to surfboards. From normal wear and tear to the occasional accident, a board can suffer cracks and dents. Its fin may gouge out, the surface become delaminated or worse, it can snap in two. And it’s easy to snap a surfboard.

When that happens, it can go two ways: the broken board can be repaired, or if not, thrown out. And that’s where the problem lies.

Toxic Surfboards
Plastic Pollutants
What are the Alternatives?
Going Back to Basics

Toxic Surfboards

Modern day surfboards are made from fiberglass with a polyurethane foam core. The fiberglass is covered with a skin of hardened polyester resin. Surfboards that are constructed this way are lighter and are easier to maneuver in the surf- although some surfers will disagree.

They’re also easier and cheaper to mass produce. That’s why fiberglass surfboards are the most common boards out there today. Seventy percent of surfboards in the market are made out of fiberglass.

In general, there are two types of fiberglass surfboards in the market: polyurethane and polystyrene.Polyurethane foam is more commonly used even though polystyrene (which is also known as styrofoam) is more durable and less dangerous. This is because it’s cheaper.

But there’s a downside.

There are essentially two kinds of polyurethane foam that is being made into surfing boards. These are Toluene Diisocynate (TDI) and Diphenylmethane Diisocynate (MDI).

While most surfboard producers prefer TDI over MDI for its better shaping and durability properties, both still present significant human health risks.

That’s because the isocynate class of compounds are cancer-causing and immuno-suppressant substances. Prolonged exposure to this can be dangerous to one’s health.

Plastic Pollutants

Broken surfboards left floating in the ocean or sunk in the seabed are also dangerous. They pose a threat to the marine wildlife which eat the debris, mistaking it for food. If they don’t end up in a sea turtle’s stomach, they’ll end up joining the growing island of plastic trash, the size of Texas, floating off our coast.

And it starts way back during surfboard production. Surfboard shaping generates polyurethane foam scraps. When these are discarded and thrown to the landfill, it’ll remain there indefinitely, leaching out who knows what kind of chemical poison that will pollute the water table and the environment.

In fact, it’s sort of a welcoming rite among eco-conscious surfers today. Getting a wooden surfboard blank and shaping it yourself is a way of acknowledging the deep kinship that we have with our wind chasing, surf riding ancestors.

— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder

So What are the Alternatives?

The good news is, as more people become aware of the problems of global warming and plastic pollution, there’s now a significant demand for products that have lower carbon footprints and use sustainable resources.

In the surfing industry, this has resulted in a new breed of surfer-entrepreneurs who are out to protect the ocean by coming up with eco-friendly surfing boards and gear.

Using innovative approaches, they’ve managed to produce awesome substitutes that have lower carbon footprints and which use natural materials. Among these are:

Enviro-foam

Enviro-foam

The company behind Enviro-foam recycles EPS/Epoxy (or expanded Polystyrene) surfboards to create the Envirofoam blanks.

They take the scraps from standard EPS blanks, as well as styrofoam and other recyclable foams, reprocess it, and mix it with virgin EPS foam. While it’s not a hundred percent carbon-emission free since they still use virgin foam made from raw petrochemicals, its carbon footprint is still markedly lower because it recycles old foam which would otherwise be dumped in a landfill.

Mycofoam

Mycofoam

Made from mycelium, which is the root-like part of the mushroom, this foam gets its strength from chitin which is the durable material found in crab shells. It’s strong and durable; the best part is because it’s made from biodegradable materials, the mycofoam surfboard easily decomposes when it’s broken or lost at sea.

Biofoam

Biofoam

This is foam made from oil converted from plant sources. There are several types of these in the market, each using a different plant material. There’s an algae-based biofoam, a non-GMO sugarcane-based foam and another made from organic soy.

All these plant-based alternatives look, shape and ride like a standard PU foam surfboard. In fact, surfing professionals like Rob Machado and Ryan Burch are using an algal-based surfboard.

Bio-based Resins

Bio-based Resins

Not only are there eco-friendly foam cores, but there are also natural substitutes to the polyester and epoxy resin coating being used on today’s toxic surfboards.

These bio-based resins rely on plant resources instead of petrochemicals so they are not toxic and have a lower carbon footprint. Some use pine trees to produce the bio-resin, others use vegetable oils. Others use a combination of plant and carbon sources.

Fiberglasss Substitutes

Fiberglass Substitutes

Five percent of the CO2 impact in the production of surfboard comes from its hard shell which is made from fiberglass and infused with resin. To offset this, materials like bamboo and hemp cloth are being used as natural substitutes. Both are carbon-offsetting plants; hemp alone shows major potential as a climate change solution.

Recently, however, a new fiberglass substitute was discovered. In New Zealand, the first wool-based surfboard was developed. While it isn’t going to be marketed widely at the moment, it’s still an awesome example of how many alternatives we can find around nature.

Going Back to Basics

Or we can always go back to surfing on wooden boards.

Wooden surfboards are an extension of the organic act of surfing. There’s a more natural feel to riding on a wave with natural wood on your feet. One feels more attuned to nature.

Today’s wooden surfboards are a far cry from the hand-shaped boards that ancient Polynesians rode. They now have hollow wooden cores to keep them light and maneuverable. And this makes the surfing experience even more awesome.

In fact, it’s sort of a welcoming rite among eco-conscious surfers today. Getting a wooden surfboard blank and shaping it yourself is a way of acknowledging the deep kinship that we have with our wind chasing, surf riding ancestors.

Here at Wave Tribe, my bros and I also like to think of it not only as an affirmation but a shared promise across time to continue sharing the stoke for generations onward.

That’s why we provide our customers with the option of getting their own wooden blanks so that they can feel the pride of shaping and, then later, riding on their own creation.

Our blanks are about 70% complete; all you need to do is dial in your rails and shape in your design.

Best of all, you can finish your board with just a few tools from your garage and some stoke to fuel your drive.

Check out our stuff now!


Essential Wave Tribe Stuff to Read by
Things You Can Do For Trash Free Seas - The Ultimate Guide
Bio Surfboard Resin Vs Poly Surfboard Resin
Four Things To Do With Your Unwanted Surfboard

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1 Response

Elizabeth S

Elizabeth S

September 20, 2019

Interesting article and great to see so many innovations that are percolating. As a sustainability expert, I do take issue with a few points in the article.
1) Polystyrene may be less dangerous for board shapers than PU, but it’s not by any means a greener material. It’s made from styrene, a known carcinogen.
2) Second, “bio-based” materials cannot he assumed to be “non toxic”. It’s possible to make very toxic materials out of natural feedstocks. PU is a great example. Often the polyol component of PU is made from a natural source like vegetable oil.
3) Lastly, I strongly encourage you request data from these companies before repeating their marketing points. Has Ecovative provided data to show their boards degrade in seawater? Has the company behind Envirofoam provided peer reviewed carbon footprint data? If they don’t have data to back their claims, then it’s just greenwashing.
Thanks for listening to my comments.

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