Nick Carroll On: On Or Off The Eco Train
COASTALWATCH | FEATURE
Recently CW reported on the first of a series of meetings between the WSL and a range of surfboard makers and, OK, we’ll go there, “stakeholders”, exploring possible regulation of CT pros’ surfboards.
The idea: mandate the use of sustainable boards in top flight competition.
If your definition of “sustainable” includes epoxy resins, recyclable blanks and non-toxic production methods, that currently rules out almost every pro on the CT.
But is this an idea whose time has come?
We spoke to several top-gun designers with CT stars on their teams, and discovered a couple of things. First, quite a few are already on the eco-train in one form or other. And second, when it comes to their superstar clients riding eco-boards, they’re not too sure at all.
“I’ll be honest and tell ya I haven’t done too much in that direction,” says Hawaii-based Jon Pyzel, JJF’s now hallowed partner in ripping. “However I am working on a project with a blank company that will revolutionise things if we can pull it together.”
According to Pyzel’s factory manager Dean Jackson, that project involves a new blank with an algae base, produced by US materials supplier Arctic Foam. They’re also experimenting with Entropy epoxy resins, which don’t require catalysing and can be applied directly to a laminate — result, no toxic gas-out.
“We haven’t been playing it up; it’s happened organically I guess,” says Dean. He’s a serious fan of eco-board technology, partly because of an experience he had pre-Pyzel while running a surf/dive shop. Stuck for boards, he asked Firewire for some stock: “I watched them bring in this big selection of eco-boards, full wood exteriors, and they crushed it. They absolutely crushed it. People really responded to that (ecological) message.”
He is also a fan of the new Entropy resins: “They’re more viscous, a bit easier to work with. The Entropy people tell me the curing process can be improved a lot by correct exposure to heat — it really causes the resin to set hard.
“Plus it stops them breaking. Though JJ isn’t so bad with that. He doesn’t use too many boards. When he gets to a good one he sticks to it.”
On the Goldie, Darren Handley is focused on quality — enough to import glass cloth from France. But when it comes to sustainable materials, he thinks Australia isn’t in the loop the same way as the much bigger US board market. “I’ll probably be dead by the time that stuff gets here,” he says dryly.
“My concern is that it goes back to the suppliers. I’ll sit here all day every day waiting for someone to bring me something (eco-friendly) and happily try it. (But) we’re just boardmakers and we use the materials they can supply to us. They’ve been working on making them better for years now, and they’re doing a really good job.”
Plus, he says: “The PU board still outsells everything… Kelly himself may be saying he’s making these sorts of boards, but the one he was riding at Trestles looked standard PU from where I was sitting.
Darren’s tone grow even drier when we ask him to define “sustainable”. He points out that testing greener technologies to try to find a replacement recipe for a CT pro would mean a lot of broken boards and other wastage. Instead, he suggests a simpler alternative: “The typical board is being bought with the idea that it’ll go for two years — if we made boards that lasted five years, that’s sustainable too in its way.”
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How would that work? “Go back to the great old boards people collect now. Six ounce glass, not too much resin sanded off. They’re still in good condition. We make a lot of boards for Indonesia and the guys who get those don’t mind the extra weight of a six ounce glassing.”
Meanwhile, he’s clear on his priorities: “As a high-end boardmaker I’m focused on helping my athletes win big events. Mick Fanning tests for performance, that’s all he’s interested in really, and that goes for most of the pros — they want the best thing for what they’re doing.”
Marcio Zouvi, of San Diego-based Sharpeye, is the guy behind Felipe Toledo’s ridiculous glass-slipper air boards. Marcio says he is sympathetic toward the concept of eco-friendly boards and can see a marketing advantage in some independent stamp of goodness.
But he thinks any push to regulate CT pros’ board materials “would backfire, big time”.
“We’re always on the lookout for different materials. But when it comes to the CT guys, my only focus is on performance.
“We’ve given Filipe every option, every combination of materials, and he’s found that he likes a certain blank, a certain type of wood (stringer), PE glassing, that gives him the flex he wants to feel. That’s the fastest car for him and we wanna see the fastest car.”
The alternative, he thinks, may be an embarrassment to the sport. “We’re gonna see people digging rails, we’ll be going ‘What’s happening here? It’s a horrorshow!’”
Marcio believes a broader assessment of sustainability might make more sense. He breaks down “eco” into two separate areas: process, which means waste, emissions, scrap and other byproducts of actually making a board; and product, the impact of a finished board that ends up in the trash. He has seen a marked improvement in how modern boardmakers treat materials and waste in general in recent years, himself included. “I spend about $3000 a year in permits, and I recycle acetone — recycling costs me over eight grand a year.”
He says he understands why the WSL hopes to be seen as clean and green, but feels the emphasis on pro-boards may be misplaced. In effect, they’re not the market for such craft. “Millennials are more concerned with their impact on the planet. I praise that. But when you come to the CT guys, the best surfers in the world, you don’t get in the way of that.”
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