Despite the surf communities professed interest in sustainability, the surfboard manufacturing industry has been a little slow off the mark when it comes to product innovation for the good of the planet- and that’s putting it kindly.
However, slowly but surely, things are changing. Interest is growing in working with more ecological materials as shapers everywhere take on the mammoth challenge of creating high performance craft that don’t cost the earth.
Enter the International Association of Ecoboard Builders, a facebook group, currently in its infancy, set up by an outspoken Brazilian named Carlos Pimentel. The idea is to create a global community of Eco-board builders, with a platform to share information, promote innovation and exchange ideas about improvements to craft, performance and the process of making alternative non toxic boards.
We asked Carlos to tell us more about his interest in eco board building, why progress has been so slow and what his hopes are for the future of the group:
I am a very curious person, however I know that going deep into the world of sustainable alternative materials is not everyone’s cup of tea. For that reason I decided to create a group on Facebook where people can join and read the articles if they have time and think that the content is interesting for them.
I believe that the unconscious, greed based model, based on the exploitation of natural resources and the production and consumption of harmful goods should not be seen as normal. However, I also believe hope is in sight. The brainless lifestyle based on emptiness, distractions, superficiality and trends, following the interests of big corporations, is rotting and will soon slowly but gloriously be replaced by thoughtfulness, authenticity and simplicity; that taste of good fresh cooked food, the surface of handmade goods and the automatic feeling of connectedness to them.
Since I have always been curious about many different topics, I decided to study Geography as it is a cross-linked science, which enables you to see problems from different perspectives and combine knowledge from different fields to find solutions. This holistic approach is very appealing to me and can be found in successful inventions/sciences such as Agroforestry, Permaculture, Ethnobotanic, Biotechnology, Bionics, Chinese Medicine, etc.
I started this project at the beginning of this year after many conversation with different kinds of people, most of them makers. The ideas and materials presented in the group are not exclusively for building surfboards. You can do anything you want with healthy, biodegradable materials.
I think a major part of the problem is a lack of knowledge amongst board builders. If people knew that there were better materials to work with, that could still fulfil their needs, they would definitely be keen to try them out. Everyone wants a healthier life. It’s part of human nature to be natural… I am just trying to accelerate the process of awareness between surfers and shapers for now. But it does not stop there.The material properties needed for building kayaks, small boats, SUPs, snowboards have similarly desirable qualities for the materials used for building houses, yachts, airplanes, etc
If you have materials that are light, strong, water resistant, stable with some flexibility and not harmful to the environment, everybody wants them! You can combine the natural “ingredients” to achieve more complex materials to obtain certain characteristics, depending on your needs.
I believe these materials already exist, but some of them will be protected by patents for years, until they can be used to benefit the big companies that are paying for the research. There is no research without an interest. The universities around the world have a lot of experimental bio based structural composites in development. Scientists are creating and testing new composites with incredibly unexpected properties mixing the available biodegradable polymers, vegetable fibres and natural rubber. Why don’t most people know anything about these? The main answer is because most people don’t look for the information. We don’t want to know! We want adrenalin, distraction, waves, we just want to look cool.
Building your own board is like cooking your own food, or baking you own daily bread. It is fun and you recognise the value in the finished object more- as you’ve seen how hard it is to make it happen. Behind a good handmade object there is a lot of knowledge, love and experience.
Another problem holding back the progress of eco-board building is that it’s not cool to talk about chemical details, reactions and combinations of molecules. Its too geeky, is too deep, too serious. The average surfer must be an easy going person with a trendy style, that’s enough. A perfect brainless consumer for the greedy surf industry. Think about how many times your shaped piece of toxic foam covered with toxic resin and fibreglass needed to be repaired. Think about how much money you have spent on that holy object, that is so easy to break. It always made me angry to see how easy surfboards break and even more angry when I realised how many of these broken boards are poisoning their surroundings or landfills. You can’t burn it, you can’t really recycle it properly, it is there and will not biodegrade.
Over 750,000 surfboards are manufactured each year. When a surfboard goes into a landfill, its components (fibreglass, resin, and polystyrene foam) do not biodegrade. Surfboards are just one of the many petroleum-based products at landfills. Due to this non-biodegradable trash these landfills continue to grow. Studies have provided evidence that seepage from this waste at landfills also contaminates the surrounding soil and groundwater with volatile organic compounds.
What I’ve discovered is that authentic craftsmen from different areas of the planet with different backgrounds are developing similar projects and experiments without having exchanged the ideas with one another.
Progress will happen once we learn to effectively mix natural materials with the modern resources that mankind has developed. This will be the next state of normality. Consciously following the path of nature to achieve real progress causing no harm, no side effects!
Progress does not have to mean pollution, poisonous synthetic materials and flying robots. Some people wrongly believe that progress has the inherent consequences of destroying the environment. So people think that if we want modernity and to make our life easier with computers and washing machines we need to accept and close our eyes to the unavoidable destruction that “always” comes with the progress. This is a big mistake.
The big corporations are happy to support and spread this way of thinking through the media. Besides that, they need us to feel powerless.
It is in the best interest of big corporations if we all believe that making things with our hands, or learning engineering, physics, chemistry, politics, medicine and educating children, are very complicated topics.
Their legs start shaking when they notice independent craftsmen and free thinkers getting together, exchanging knowledge and ideas, building things, growing food, researching natural medicine, investigating natural materials, using solar, wind and water power to get free energy. How can they make people buy their shit if everybody starts doing things by themselves with similar or higher quality for less money?
The surf industry is still stuck in the past, the way people surf, the things they do, the contests and unfortunately the materials have remained the same since the 80’s.
The future of surfing, the health of the shapers and the ocean is dependent on the decision for the development of better processes and healthier materials for producing surfboards. Surfers as consumers want to have lighter, more buoyant boards that are easier and more fun to ride and shapers as producers want healthier lungs, better working environments and to design great objects for fair production costs that sell for a good price.
We’ve been in a transitional stage now for more than 10 years since Clark Foam closed as a sign of the new beginning. Now is the moment to rethink the surfboard industry. Reclaimed foams, eco resins, linseed oil, castor oil, bee wax, carnauba wax, bamboo, cork, mushrooms, agave, balsa, paulownia, algae, cardboard and even agricultural feed stock refuse, hemp and flax fibre are, are all finding their way into the new shaper’s recipe book. CNC machinery, 3D Printers and other innovations are helping the shapers to find new possibilities to create.
I was about to quit Facebook, I had the feeling all the communication tools we have now are just one more chance to distract us from real life and real experiences. But something in my mind said I could use this amazing tool to promote something positive and share high quality information about something that I love.
Small companies are able to show their products without having to manage a totally professional website. You can just make a Facebook Page or Group and start inviting people to join. It is very effective and almost everyone has a Facebook Account. Social Media is quite powerful- and it’s like money, not inherently good or bad, but all a question of how it’s used.
I realised it was time to share all the interesting information I was reading about with others. Life is much better when we cooperate with each other.
I believe in the good spirit of change and hope to give a little contribution in this moment of transition.
For the last few months I have been busy earning money and couldn’t take care of the group on a weekly basis. When I have time I try my best to share something that might help or inspire the community. Today ,for example, I saw one guy Robert Lang showing his crazy Origami patterns and thought that in the future we will probably unfold our origami based surfboards from a little box and surf it without any sort of surprise.
Join the discussion in The International Association of Ecoboard builders facebook group.