Original article published 30 June, 2021
[5 minute read]
How would you respond upon hearing that surfboards and skateboards can be made from cardboard? It's a material that's essentially gifted from a tree and is a material that's everywhere around us in different forms: cardboard boxes and packaging, it's flat or corrugated and comes in many thicknesses. If you're creative, cardboard can become anything, due to its symbiotic dance between light and rigid properties. Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban, even makes beautiful, habitable structures out of cardboard.
A tree, by definition, is a renewable resource if you consider its lifespan compared to oil and coal - which take millions of years to build underground over layers and layers, and as often overlooked, provide critical substructures (or foundations) for the ground we walk on. By this logic, wouldn't it make sense to make more things from renewable resources such as cardboard?
Our interview this month is a quick chat with François Jaubert of France. He's a traveler, architect, naval engineer, and creator of cardboard surfboards and skateboards. He even made a short documentary all about transforming trash into surfboards via Mexico and California. Here's a trailer if you'd like a quick teaser before putting aside 20 minutes for the excellent full movie. He caught the attention of judges, surfers and designers, and was announced the winner of the Vissla and Surfrider Creators & Innovators contest in 2016. We grabbed François for a quick chat this week...
You are a naval architect and engineer by day, with a side project/passion/business where you create stunning skateboards and surfboards from cardboard. How did this transition happen?
Before being an architect [in importance], I am a surfer and skateboarder. The work that I am doing doesn’t define me as a person, but what I do daily makes me who I am.
I surf and I skate before going to work, and that is way more important for me than working. Then I asked myself, how could I combine both? And here I am!
We first noticed your work with your incredible cardboard surfboard. Can you tell us more about this, and your thoughts on how a cardboard surfboard could be taken seriously as a genuine mass-produced product?
I got the idea of the cardboard surfboard by studying a chair design by Frank Gehry [American architect] called the Wiggle Chair, made 50 years ago.
This example is a mass produced chair, the surfboards that I have built are all hand-made, which made it hard to build. However, I am convinced that with some tools and machines I can make it happen. It would be great to be able to mass produce with our leftover waste.
Your latest project (which we love) involves skateboards made from cardboard, called Trash Boards. Can you tell us more about this project and how you hope the story unfolds?
The surfboard project needed a little bit more R&D to be developed, so I started the skateboard project which is easier to manufacture independently with my own hands. I started the production of cardboard decks [the main body of the skateboard], discovering they are super strong, light and waterproof due to the application of a bio-based resin.
I really like this project because skateboards are mainly made with Canadian wood, which means the skateboard industry is not the most eco-friendly industry. I like to be part of something that could change people's minds on how we can positively make a change.
Can you tell us about your relationship with the natural environment and sustainability?
Sustainability is part of my thoughts in every minute of the day. It is hard to explain but every motion that I experience, I think to myself, "is this good for the environment or not."
Of course, we cannot be 100% perfect, but we can do our best. Even the smallest of actions can make a change, and I like to be that sort of role model.
What stands out, or gets you excited, in the world of sustainable product design?
I love it when someone thinks of something different from the mass-produced world of products, it makes it super special. I am surrounded by people who all contribute to this state of mind; ceramists, wood workers, shapers, designers… anyone can make a difference in our world.
I have also been lucky to travel a lot in the north of Africa, where they know a lot about sustainability without even knowing it! It's a place that just lacks elements of industrialization, which actually makes them closer to natural thoughts and processes, which is very inspiring.
Final thoughts on the future of Planet Earth, surfing, skateboarding or anything else at all?
I like to be optimistic, we're going to make it! Just like they did before, it'll take some time - but we can change the destructive industries by buying better products.
As creators, we need to change minds and open surfer's eyes to what the industry is all about, how things are made and ask ourselves - how can we make a difference?
Merci François, good luck with Trashboards and any other cardboard-themed adventures. We hope you continue to inspire and fascinate other designers and creators.