A kiwi shaper may have cracked the next big innovation in eco-friendly board design.
It all started a decade ago when Tauranga based board builder Paul Barron was laminating a fresh stick and spilt a bit of resin on his woollen sweater. After he’d got over the inevitably devastating realisation there’d be a little crispy patch on his jumper forevermore, he had a lightbulb moment. What if he could replace the fibreglass laminate with something made from sheep’s wool?
Its well-known fibreglass ain’t too easy on mother earth; it’s hard to recycle and takes an age to break down. Wool, on the other hand, is abundantly available, largely sustainable, doesn’t require a huge amount of energy to produce and biodegrades back into the environment at the end of its life.
Barron quickly set about testing his idea and eventually settled on a process that uses vacuum-pressure to compress balls of freshly sheared wool, mixed with bio-resin, into thin sheets of strong and flexible cloth. Once he’d cracked it, he called up his mate Mark Price, who is the CEO of Firewire, and the company set about figuring out how to roll the new tech out on an industrial scale.
Last January a surfboard constructed using this wool-fibre was unveiled for the first time at a surf expo in Florida, signalling what could be a significant step towards more eco-friendly board construction, without compromising on quality. According to Firewire, the ‘Woollight range’ reduces CO2 emissions by £40%, while producing a product that is just as lightweight, flexible and high performance as its far less green predecessor.
As well as the ecological benefits, the innovation could also have positive ramifications for New Zealand’s declining wool trade- giving the nation’s sixteen thousand odd sheep farmers a new market for their produce. What’s more, the use of wool in surfboards could be just the beginning.
“Wool surfboards [are] the start of a movement and the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wool composite technology,” said John Brakenridge, chief exec of The New Zealand Merino Company, who will be supplying Firewire with wool.
Brakenridge believes the new technology could also one day replace fibreglass entirely, in everything from aircraft to furniture.
Price and Firewire co-owner Kelly Slater recently outlined plans to works towards creating zero-landfill by 2020. While they’ve made lots of progress, further innovations are still required to make their blanks and resin rot away completely when it ends up in landfill. However, replacing the fibreglass cloth is undoubtedly another great step in the right direction for not only Firewire, but the industry as a whole.
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