Sustainable Surfboards - Methodology
In order to define the current state of the efforts to produce, market and develop an E-F SB it was necessary to approach the topic from a variety of angles. I collected data through literature, surveys, interviews and correspondence. This involved a literature review, surveys of surfers, and interviews with surfboard shapers and builders, a surf-based environmental organization, a surf tour operator, and correspondence with people actively involved in producing a more E-F SB.
2.1 Literature Review
First, I read up on the history and evolution of the surfboard in magazines, websites and Nat Young’s The History of Surfing (1994 ed.) to understand the how surfboards have been made in the past. There is very little information on the history of the surfboard construction from a literature point of view, and much of my information came from this book. I was also able to find a particularly good magazine article on surfboard construction and green surfboard design in Pacific Longboarder Vol. 2, Issue 1. I was unable to find any literature on construction of an E-F SB, and therefore all of my research into the topic came from primary resources, including those people and companies actively involved in producing technologies and materials to create an E-F SB. Likewise, there is no effective governing body of surfboard manufacturers and no oversight committee that keeps statistics on surfboard construction. Not even the Environmental Protection Agency or Occupational Health and Safety keeps records on surfboard manufacture practices. This is further complicated by the fact that many surfboards are produced by ‘backyard shapers,’ who custom shape boards for customers, without any middleman involved. Therefore even a tallying of surfboard sales by surf shops around Byron wouldn’t have produced an accurate number of the quantity of boards shaped. Thus, my attempts to understand the scope of the negative environmental effects of surfboard construction from literature was limited and had to come from personal communications with and observation of surfboard shapers and their facilities.
2.2 Interviews with Surf Industry
In order to grasp the process of producing a modern surfboard and the materials involved, one shaper allowed me access to his workshop, where I was able to record the chemicals involved and get an explanation of handling procedures and precautions. Once I understood the way surfboards were constructed, I was able to interview the aforementioned members of the broadly defined ‘surf industry.’ (See Appendix for example of Interview Questions)
Each of the interviewees were questioned on four separate areas:
- Awareness of the environmental impacts of surfboard construction
- Market assessment
- Barriers to production of an E-F SB
- Incentives to produce an E-F SB
All the shapers and builders were interviewed in their own shops in Byron Bay and Yamba. The Surfrider Foundation Director and surf tour operator were interviewed over the phone, and the two people involved in producing ‘green’ surf technology were interviewed via email. One shaper making wooden boards was interviewed at his shop in Cooroy, Queensland. I would have also liked to interview a pro surfer, but access to a pro surfer was something I was unable to gain.
For the shapers and builders, I was able to have many informal conversations with shapers in the Arts and Industry Estate in Byron and went down to Yamba to interview two shapers working out of the Industry Estate in Yamba. I initially intended to study small and large production shapers, but was unable to connect with a shaper involved in large-scale production shaping. Instead, my interviews were with small to medium size shapers. This is certainly a limitation of my project, as many of the shapers who I interviewed were working with limited resources in the way of money and time.
To analyse the data from the shapers and industry officials, I categorized opinions under the umbrella of each of the aforementioned five categories. With these categories I was able to draw out themes that were echoed from different sectors of the surf industry. These themes and opinions allowed me a framework to define the current state of E-F SB construction. A list of interviewees is below. (Figure 3)
Figure 3. List of Interviewees
Mike Young: Shaper, Owner – Revolution Surfboards, Byron Bay
Rodney Dahlberg: Shaper, Owner – Rodney Dahlberg Surfboards, Yamba, NSW
Cal Liddle: Surfboard Builder, Owner - Cal Liddle Surfboards, Yamba, NSW
Tom Wegener: Shaper/ Craftsman, Owner – Tom Wegener Surfboards, Cooroy, QLD
Chris Tola: Director, Surfrider Foundation Australia. Business Development Manager, Coastalwatch.
Ned McMahon: GM, Homeblown US
Chris Hines: Sustainability Director, Eden Project Cornwall, UK.
2.3 Surfer Survey
For the surfer survey, my only requirement was that the surfer owned a surfboard. This ensured that the surfer was part of the active surfboard buying demographic. The surfer survey aided me in an assessment of the awareness of surfboard construction, surfboard buying habits, and market interest in an E-F SB. This would allow me to compare the shapers’ perceptions of market interest in an E-F SB to the reality of the market demand.
In order to complete this, it was necessary to be in a place where there was an active surf culture, including surfers and surfboard shapers. I chose to base the project out of Byron Bay because of my familiarity with the town and the large number of surfboard shapers within the area. Byron Bay also offered a wide variety of surf breaks that cater to a range of skill level, from novice to expert. This variety of breaks means I was able to survey surfers of different experience and skill levels, providing me with a good cross section of the market. I administered my survey at the following surf spots: Main Beach, Clarke’s Beach, The Pass, Tallows Beach, Wategoes, and Noosa Heads in Queensland. In addition to offering breaks for different skill levels, these breaks also cater to long boarders and short boarders, both a vital part of the surfboard buying demographic.
To ensure a random selection of survey respondents, I employed two different techniques. I would begin the survey administration by walking down the beach and asking every single awake person who had a surfboard lying next to them if they owned the surfboard, and if they would be willing to take a survey. After I had asked everyone on the beach I would go to the parking lot and wait by the walkway up from the beach. I asked every other person who walked by me with a surfboard to take my survey. If a group of 3 or more came up at a time, I asked the group as a whole to complete the survey. I explained that I was a university student completing a research project looking into ‘alternative surfboard construction,’ and if they asked me to be more specific, I admitted I was looking into more environmentally friendly surfboard construction. However, I was always hesitant to use the words ‘environmentally friendly,’ as I didn’t want people to answer my survey with ideas about what kind of answers I might want to hear as an ‘environmentalist.’ Most of the time, I was able to hand the person a survey and have them complete it themselves, which I preferred, because I feel they were more apt to answer the topics honestly when I wasn’t immediately aware of their answers. Occasionally, a surfer would still be wet and I would hold the survey as they looked on and gave me their answers, and judging by their responses, I believe these people felt obliged to act interested in an E-F SB.
I administered fifty surveys (see Appendix), and feel that this gave me a reasonable perception of the market as a whole. Although it could be argued that Byron Bay is an environmentally active area, and the responses might reflect this activism, the majority of respondents were from elsewhere and so I don’t necessarily believe this to be a shortcoming of the data collection. However, because I did the majority of my surveys in Byron Bay, it certainly limits the scope of my data as surfing takes place all over the Australian coasts. In order to further broaden the scope of my data, I surveyed surfers during the morning (6-9 AM), afternoon (12-2 PM) and evening (4-6 PM). Different types of surfers of different skill levels and ages are drawn to surfing at various times of day (as their schedule permits or they personally prefer) and I thought it was necessary to ensure each of these demographics was represented in my market research.
The questions on the survey were mainly close-ended which allowed me time to administer more surveys and broaden my market analysis. Although more open-ended questions may have allowed for a variety of opinions, I wasn’t necessarily interested in specific opinions as much as a broad definition of market interest. However, I often ended up having extended conversations with respondents about surfboard construction.
For the surfer survey, I analysed the data predominantly to understand the awareness of environmental impacts of surfboard construction, surfboard buying habits, and market interest in an E-F SB. Within these categories, I defined the responses both as a whole and as a factor of their surfing experience (i.e. number of years surfing). These categories allowed me to define the surfers’ awareness of the environmental impacts of surfboard construction and regular surfboard buying habits as a lens through which I could understand their interest in an E-F SB. It also provided me with the ability to compare the surf industry’s perceptions of market demand for an E-F SB, which I learned through the interviews, with the results of the surfer survey.
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