Original article published 26 June, 2020
[5 minute read]
The idea of starting Wave Changer was hatched following research completed in 2018 on the subject of surfing and sustainability which explores, in detail, our favourite pastime and its interaction with nature. Admittedly, a 98-page thesis isn’t the most exciting bedtime story; what with its prescribed methodology, literature review and detailed data analysis. This year-long study involved analysing the past, present and future state of surfing (in an environmental and social context), it dissects a bunch of survey results from surfers, and also features one-on-one interviews with key figures in the surfing industry.
One of the stand-out messages is that the design of surfing equipment, along with the materials and technology used, hasn’t really changed much since the late 1950s. Hundreds of thousands of new surfboards are produced globally each year; typically built with a petroleum-based foam core and finished with various coatings of fibreglass and polyester or epoxy resins. This combination of not-so-friendly materials come from finite resources and will take a very long time to break down in landfill sites.
In addition to the environmental damage, surfboard shapers have suffered from exposure to the toxic properties of working with largely unregulated materials. And not many surfboards have a second life once they’re broken or deemed finished with, unless you know of anyone with grand plans to create a giant piece of art or a side-hustle for novelty mailboxes?
The landscape of foam technology was on the receiving end of an almighty jolt in 2005 - due to the closure of Clark Foam which, at the time, was providing 90% of polyurethane surfboard blanks in the USA and 60% of worldwide supply. For more in-depth reading via Swellnet, click here. What followed from the end of Clark Foam’s market dominance was a period of adaptation, predominantly with the introduction of expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) and epoxy resins – both viewed as slightly more eco-friendly alternatives.
Technological advancements are now allowing manufacturers to produce surfboards featuring bio-foam blanks made of mushrooms, algae, or sugarcane; with protective outer layers such as natural timber (welcome back!) and cork, also cloth replacements such as hemp, flax and how about some volcanic basalt; and glassed/waterproofed with bio-resins or even lanolin oil (on timber boards) borrowed from sheep. Wetsuits have been made from recycled plastic, natural rubber and limestone. The global surfing industry is currently well-placed to capitalise on new technologies while embracing the return of renewable natural resources, to enable a future that provides truly sustainable products. The ultimate end-goal is to have something that can safely biodegrade if it isn’t already being recycled or repurposed.
Interviews, questionnaires, books, videos, analysing data and painfully going through academic journals (not recommended), have all led here to this point. The short-term goal is to bring the right people together and begin observing, planning and detailing some of the challenges facing the surfing industry. Our current focus is producing an upcoming guide for surfers (and those working in the industry) to make more sustainable choices – presented in a clear, engaging format and accessible to all.
Future areas of focus will look at how the surf industry can transition to less-harmful materials in its products, and how this can incentivise shapers, manufacturers and ultimately influence the consumer/surfer to make better decisions. We believe that educating surfers on the current situation (and why/how there's room for improvement) is a great starting point, and a challenge we're happy to take on.
There is so much potential for an exciting and positive transformation. Take a look at the intelligent and creative work already being done by the Seabin Project, WAW Handplanes, NOTOX Surfboards, Spooked Kooks, Earth Technologies, Grant Newby, HEXA Surfboards and countless others achieving some awesome outcomes.
Surfing, as with many other sports and hobbies, can also have a profound social impact on those who enjoy it, which to me translates as > anyone who wants to surf should feel comfortable and safe doing so, regardless of your background or skill level. Surfing brings people together and has the potential to build and empower a community in an unmeasurable way – just look at the amazing work achieved by Surfrider Foundation and Surfers Against Sewage in safeguarding the oceans while simultaneously forging friendships between their members and the wider community. Sustainable Surf is doing incredible things with its Eco Board project, Waste to Waves initiative and most recently, their Sea Trees regeneration program. Black Girls Surf is leading the way with its inspirational mentoring programs and fundraising efforts, or how about One Wave and their fantastic approach to addressing mental health.
Wave Changer is humbly following the lead of these passionate people and their solid organisations, as we look to leverage our own team's strengths by tackling current and emerging challenges. There's an evolving strategy and a checklist of tasks that's being drawn up as we speak - and we're itching to get started.
Lastly, I'd like to thank a team of amazing people, many of whom are good friends, that have been so important on so many levels along the way. We want to involve the local and global surf community on this journey too; we'd love to hear feedback, ideas, or get in touch if you'd just like to chat about surfing or any of the themes above. With collective solidarity we can make a positive impact on the surfing world. We owe it to Mother Nature.
Thanks for joining us on this journey!
Tom Wilson, Founder