Plastic-free doesn't have to mean old-fashioned


I had the honour of being asked to talk at Finisterre's Ocean Mic event in Exeter last night. Here's a slightly tidied up version of what I had to say on plastic pollution and the role that I believe we as surfers play. 

As a community, we are known to be environmentally conscious, even leaders in reducing plastic waste for cleaner oceans. You may have seen the brilliant news a few days ago that canary wharf has been granted Plastic Free Status by Surfers Against Sewage. What they’ve achieved there over 12 months is incredible, permanently removing over 2 million single-use plastic items from the area, but looking at their main publicity photo I couldn’t help feeling that there was a bit of inconsistency. I’m referring, of course, to the plastic boards. 

It’s a shame that they had to use plastic-based boards for this, but it makes sense, as really at the moment there aren’t any viable alternatives.

There have recently been a few really exciting developments in innovating environmentally conscious improvements on existing surfboard technologies. Replacing bubble-wrap we have flexi-hex, and entropy’s plant-based bioresins are a great improvement on standard petroleum-based resins, but generally, our plastic alternatives tend to be old fashioned. 

Going back to materials we had before plastics came about is great; hemp bags, paper straws, and even bamboo toothbrushes, but there always tends to be a compromise in performance, a much higher price, or both. 

To me, there’s nowhere that this is more obvious than in actual surfboards, at the moment if you want to avoid using a plastic based surfboard the options are very limited, and you’re likely to wind up either sticking with what you have already, or you might end up on an expensive wooden board that is twice the weight of a standard board, limiting your performance in the waves. This is a challenge I’ve been trying to tackle. It seemed to me that with all the new woods we have available to us now, and the development of our understanding of engineered structures it should be possible to make a board with natural materials that looks awesome, and performs as well as a polyurethane-core board. So I gave it a go, and it’s turned out to be harder than I thought. 

With carpentry skills I learnt from my Dad, the scientific process I learnt from studying physics at Exeter, and support from the University of Exeter I’ve now spent around 2 years designing a board with a core of natural materials that performs and weighs the same as a regular board. After 10 prototypes, each with different, but slightly smaller issues, I’ve finally settled on something I’m happy with.

Production is scalable, and makes very little waste, and the boards are built to last much longer than foam-core boards. The weight is a few hundred grams above a standard board, but there’s plenty of room for improvement, and the boards are very strong, this one actually got run over a couple of months ago, and aside from the fins being snapped it came away unscathed. I’m now applying for a patent so unfortunately I can’t show you what they look like inside yet, but in a few months I plan to be trading, and hopefully you’ll be seeing my boards in local shops before the end of the summer. If you want to register your interest now then please do get in touch, and if you fancy trying out a board with no further obligations let me know, feedback is always useful too!

As a surfing community let's make sure we put across a consistent image as leaders of environmental change. Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments! 


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