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How Wave Tribe Started
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How Wave Tribe Started

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In this first episode, we talk about how the surf company Wave Tribe started and we explore the details of some of the eco-friendly products created by Wave Tribe. Wave Tribe was created over a decade ago and is the world's first eco surf company.

Wave Tribe designs eco-products like hemp board bags, recycled surfboard leashes, and cork deck pads—a trifecta of eco surfing accessories.

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Hey, everyone! This is Derek Dodds. This is the first episode of Saltwater High by Wave Tribe.

I wanted to talk today a little bit about how Wave Tribe started, which is an interesting story in itself. And it happened in Baja and I have quite a history with Baja. My great grandmother's sister immigrated from Norway and moved with five kids to the mountains of Baja.

Now, that is a story in itself which we might tell in another podcast.

But essentially she ended up marrying a man named Soren Meling and they started a ranch called the Meling Ranch, which is still in Baja, California, and it's actually above San Telmo in the mountains. And there's an observatory up there and it's a really beautiful spot.

So Baja has been in my blood for a few generations now, and it was definitely, or it is a very big part of my life. So I'm glad that one of the most important things that I've ever created, which is Wave Tribe, was actually born in Mexico.

And Baja, I've been going to Baja since I was five years old. My father, he was a hunter, or he is, he's still alive. Let's call him an outdoors guy. And so he would grab me every summer and we would go to the Meling Ranch and I would spend all of my time in Baja actually riding horses and shooting guns and doing a lots of cowboy stuff, which was great as a kid. And then when I was 16 years old, I got my driver's license and two days later I took my very first trip to where? You guessed it! Baja, California.

And we went to San Miguel. It's a place in northern Baja near Ensenada, just outside Ensenada actually. And we surfed for about a week, great waves. And one thing that we couldn't believe was that we were 16 years old and we could actually buy beer. And that was like mad. If you can imagine being 16 and rolling up to, there was this little kiosk in the middle of the campground in San Miguel.

And they had bunch of cold beer. And you're like, "Hey! Give me a beer." And they're like, "Sure! No problem." It's a magic thing for a 16-year-old at that time.

So Mexico's been in my blood forever, basically, and for generations before me. And it was a trip about ten years ago, a little over ten years ago, six of us were taking a surf trip in Cuatros Casas and I drove on that trip. But I had a Yukon at the time. And I remember, we were six guys, so we couldn't figure out how we were going to get six guys with all our boards down to Cuatros Casas. And I decided I was going to rent a U-Haul, which is not legal, by the way.

So I rented this U-Haul and picked everyone up and everyone brought three boards each, and I got down to Baja. And when I got there, I opened the U-Haul and I was pulling out all the boards and everyone put their board in a board bag. And as I was pulling out the boards, I realized how much plastic we were all using to put our boards in this special case so it was protected. None of us were thinking at the time about plastic, obviously, because had we just looked at that U-Haul, we had t realized how much plastic was there.

And then not to mention, the leashes and deck pads and travel bags, basically any kind of surf accessory that you can think of, including surfboards, a lot of surfboards at the time they were made of plastic. And I thought to myself, "Wow! There's got to be a better way to do this."

And so I started to think about it and I realized that hemp would be the perfect fabric to create a board bag and there were no board bags made out of any kind of other materials at the time. And hemp was, this is before hemp got cool, right?

Hemp is now this cool thing, especially with the legalization of marijuana and the legalization of hemp. But back then, you have to realize hemp was still, it was an illegal crop. People couldn't grow it in America, but you could sell products made of hemp if they were made outside the United States. So I started to research how I could do that.

Now, why is hemp good? Hemp's good because it grows naturally without pesticides. And that's huge. And second, hemp is strong and durable, it's biodegradable. If you throw a hemp board bag in the ground, it'll just biodegrade, which is beautiful. Hemp reduces heat and remains cool, which is also great for board bags. And hemp protects against the sun's harmful UV rays, which also is great for our surfboards because we don't want our surfboards being hit with all the UV rays.

So hemp seemed to me like the perfect option. And I started to do some research and I found that there were no other companies that were doing it at the time. And so I created the world's very first hemp board bag, and that was Wave Tribe's initial product offering.

And I went to Asia and I sourced several different products from a couple of different countries. And I actually sourced some products from Mexico. And I ended up with what I thought was a great product. And I got all my friends involved in the design of the product. And I actually offered to them, anyone who gave me a design change that I used, I ended up using that in the design, I gave them a free board bag.

So that was my version of early crowdsourcing. This is also before any of the crowdsourcing websites were around. So this is kind of early days in the entrepreneurial journey for a lot of products that you see. Now, a lot of people have the idea, they put them on Kickstarter or a platform like that and they can get a bunch of money. But I didn't have that luxury. I had to do it myself and figure it out. And over the years, we've probably done about 10 iterations, maybe 15 of the board bag, and it just gets better and better, in my opinion.

So that was the first product. And of course, you can't really create a surf company on one particular product. And the next product I created was the recycled leash. Once again, I was like, every surfer uses a leash, how can we actually create a product that is better on the environment? First, I tried some alternative. I tried hemp on the for the cord and I tried a couple of other different materials for the cord, but they kept snapping.

So plastic is for the actual cord, which is the most important part of the leash, it has to be stretchy, it has to rebound. It's really hard to find any other material besides plastic. But what I did decide to do is I decided to create a leash out of recycled plastic.

And basically it was a pretty easy change. What you do is you have this big vat and imagine a big pot and you pour in these plastic pellets into the pot, and then they melt them down and they extrude the leash cord, and then they put on all the attachments and these swivels and all that.

But the leash cord is 80 percent of the actual leash's footprint. So I thought if I could reduce that or I can make that better, then that's a big win. And so what I did is I just had the factory actually change up the plastic pellets for recycled pellets. And voila! We have the world's very first recycled leash. When you think, "Wow! Why has nobody done this before? It's just as strong, it lasts just as long. It's an amazing leash." Right?

So this was like a no brainer that I was also stoked to bring to the market first time. And then the third product was the cork deck pad. And the cork deck pad was a little bit trickier because basically all cork pads are made of EVA, which is another type of plastic. And I wanted to reduce the amount of plastic, much like the leash is made of recycled plastic.

I wanted to reduce the amount of plastic in the deck pad, so we did a couple of mixtures of cork and plastic and we finally found the right mixture that didn't destruct in the water or it didn't crack when you did a really hard turn. It still acted like the deck pad needs to act, but was made of what we call a composite, which is EVA and cork, and it's the end product.

It's a really nice product, actually, because I find the cork deck pad is softer, so it's softer on your legs and won't cause the same kind of issues with your skin. But it has all of the same functionality as most deck pads. It's just a tad softer and spongier and actually has more of a rebound effect in it, which is what you want if you're doing a big turn right, you want a little bit of elasticity in there. So that's what the cork offers.

And also, what you also find is a lot of deck pads will soak up the saltwater and your deck will be a little heavier. But in this case, the cork repels the water. Think of a wine cork. When you pull out a cork, normally most of it is dry, so the same thing happens with your cork deck pad. It keeps the rear of your board a little bit lighter, which is a win-win.

So over the years, we took those three - kind of what I would call material composites and ideas, and we created some other products like we did a run of luggage and we did some backpacks and we did hemp surfboard racks, soft racks, fin wallets.

We've done a lot of different products over the years. Some have worked okay and some others haven't. But really, the core products are the ones that we're really are most stoked about and which we sell the most of. So the market has responded to the board bags, the deck pad, and the leashes, which are all great products. And I would encourage any of you out there that would like to try them to give them a try because they're not perfect, right?

They're meaning they're not totally ecological, but they are what I would call "eco-friendly", which is that we have helped reduce the amount of either plastics or other materials in the products that have created a lighter footprint on the planet. So, you have to think about it, right? As surfers, we use a lot of products that aren't great for the planet—from our surfboards, to our leashes, to our board bags.

Everything that we use is eventually going to end up in a landfill or in the trash, or sometimes in the ocean. Like I hate when I'm in the ocean and somebody maybe their deck pad or leash breaks and you just see it floating there. You should always take that stuff out of the ocean, please.

So the idea is with Wave Tribe, I created it because I wanted better products available for me, as a surfer right, as a long time surfer and somebody who's concerned about the environment. I wanted products that were options to the plastic products on the environment.

Now, at the end of the day, the product can't be eco and not high quality, because really, when you think about it, the best products are the products that last the longest. Because if a product only lasts you, you know, a couple of years or it doesn't last you-the lifespan of the product is less than the non-eco choice. But anyway, so Wave Tribe was created because I really wanted to scratch my own itch, as they say, in the entrepreneurial circles.

And we want you to know that we're stoked to have you along for this ride. And just I wanted to say a little something about this podcast will be exploring some travel destinations, will be exploring some product reviews, I'll review some surfboards. I've been shaping for quite a while, too, so I'll be talking about the shaping process and a lot of exciting things. I'm trying to get more interactive and bring more of Wave Tribe's ethos to the world.

And I've been traveling to international surf spots and discovering the world most of my life and mostly I've been along the way figuring out. What I'm really discovering is myself. And I think that surfing is the greatest gift that I've ever been given in my life. And so if you're a new surfer, I super encourage you to get out there and surf and take a surf trip. And if you're a longtime surfer that hasn't been in the water in a while, I encourage you to do the same.

And if you're somebody that surfs almost every day, you know what I'm talking about, you know how stoked you feel, you know how great surfing is. And let's just get out there and do the right thing and support the environment, support the earth, do what we can, and let's explore together this internal and external journey. And thank you for listening and I'll see you on the next episode.