Sustainable surfboards: marketing ploy or environmental joy?
The idea of a “green” surfboard manufactured in an environmentally friendly surfboard factory has been thrown to the forefront in an industry that’s been using the same building materials for almost 60 years. Here are varying perspectives from four leading South Bay board builders.
E-Tech’s green model
Something doesn’t seem quite right at the E-Tech surfboard factory in Hawthorne. After a few minutes one realizes what’s out of kilter. The sweet smell of resin, the signature smell of surfboard factories dating back to the 1950s, is all but missing.
“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of the surf Industry,” said shaper E-Tech co-founder Ryan Harris. “Resin fumes are carcinogens.”
In place of traditional resin, Harris and partner Todd Paterson use Entropy Bio-Resin, the only USDA Certified Bio Epoxy, which replaces petroleum-based chemicals with bio-based renewable feedstock,” according to the Entropy website.
“I’m not saying polyurethane blank-based products suck,” Harris said. He used polyurethane blanks with his brand Produnk until four years ago. “I just got tired of reeking of resin, even to the point of my girlfriend noticed it on my breath,” he said.
Patterson, a disabled veteran suffering from toxic chemical poisoning from his time in the Gulf War, began working with eco-friendly materials for his Synergy boards about six years ago.
“I was one of the first to use bamboo in place of fiberglass,” Patterson said. “Although bamboo has the same performance benefits as poly, it was a bit more malleable to the touch, yet was just as durable. Dings compressed instead of shattering like traditional fiberglass, but mainstream surfers weren’t ready for it.”
“Eco-boards have a stigma because early epoxy board had a yellow tint and lacked performance,” Harris said. “I’m big guy and break a lot of boards and the first thing I noticed about eco-friendly boards was they didn’t break and were lighter.”
Patterson met Harris when he approached him in the El Porto parking lot about shaping him a board. At the time, Harris was also becoming interested in econ friendly surfboards. Within a short time, the two were making boards together in Patterson’s two-car garage.
“We share the same eco-friendly ethos and view it as a lifestyle,” Harris said. “Our goal is to make our factory a zero waste facility.”
E-tech boards begin with recycled EPS EnviroFoam blank from Marko Blanks, which is a part of the Waste to Waves program. The blank is manufactured from recycled EPS surfboard blank scraps and recycled packaging foam.
“Although it’s amazingly easy to shape, you can’t recycle poly,” Harris said. “But we will reclaim a poly blank by pulling the glass off of a salvage board.”
E-Tech still uses traditional fiberglass but is glassed with Entropy Resin.
“Anybody can get Entropy Resin,” Harris said. “We’ve been experimenting with demo boards for the last couple of years and our Epoxy boards last twice as long and are 25 to 30 percent stronger. We’re working on phasing out fiberglass with Zero, or Anti Carbon Zero Fiberglass construction.”
“Epoxy boards have the reputation of being stiff, but in actuality, the elasticity or bounce of polyurethane, widely recognized as the board being ‘broken in,’ is actually the resin failing,” Patterson said. “Our techniques and materials have evolved, even from two years ago, to get more flex.”
The duo feels that their product is at the poly level performance standard and believes that the mainstream surf media is afraid to cover them.
“It’s almost like a conspiracy,” Patterson said. “None of the surf press will give us exposure, even in their so-called ‘green’ issues.”
Patterson attributed this to the surf industry’s “good old boy” mentality and its hesitancy to challenge the materials standard of the past 60 years.
But, the industry has started to open up. E-Tech glasses boards for Matt Biolos and his Lost and Mayhem labels, and T Patterson Surfboards (no relation to E-Tech’s Patterson) for both their eco-friendly lines. E-tech also recently glassed two Kelly Slater models for Channel Islands.
“Entropy’s owner Rey Banatao has a PhD in polymer chemistry. He did his homework and the USDA has certified his results,” Patterson said. “He’s a scientist first and because of his work we’ve become the benchmark for the eco-friendly and sustainable surfboards.”
“We’re not just making waves for ourselves, we’re making and saving waves for our kids and future generations,” Harris said.
Davenport’s sustainability model
Prior to stepping out on his own, Adam Davenport of Surfboards by Davenport worked in the backstreets of Venice, behind the old Dewey Weber storefront, and under master craftsman Tyler Hatzikian of Tyler Surfboards.
“I have been schooled in well-built, well taken care surfboards with the audacity and balls to last a lifetime and then some,” Davenport said.
“Let’s face it, it’s hard to imagine a Tyler Surfboard being tossed away in a landfill, let alone snapped,” he said.
“Its common sense Shortboards aren’t made to last. Light glass and low density foam just aren’t suitable for wear and tear. The thruster and other hi-pro variants are lighter for more radical maneuvers and there-in lies the issue — lighter, hi-pro easy to break versus traditional boards with heavy materials and more durable, denser foam and glass.”
One of the many values passed down to him from Hatzikian in being eco-friendly is simple, “less overhead equals less waste.”
“One of the ways for a shop to be eco-friendly is to be clean, orderly and well-managed,” Davenport said. “Using too much material is a biohazard in itself.”
“I do a lot of little things that add up to big things that Tyler taught me, like reusing buckets, brushes and tape,” he said.
When it comes to the toxicity of the materials, Davenport believes that “they’re all putting out something,” and that being 100 percent green is “a bunch of bullshit and a gimmick.”
“No upstart can just spark the spark plug and set up shop,” he said. “There are standards, sanctions, and codes that are heavily enforced.”
The shop Davenport works at has a sophisticated filtration system.
“Our factory is in a heavily populated costal town with multimillion dollar houses. We far exceed city regulations,” Davenport said.
When it comes to being green, Davenport feels it just takes an educated consumer.
“People want surfboards but they are not willing to deal with or pay for the process it takes to build a lasting, quality product,” he said. “The most eco-friendly boards are the ones that last the longest. In today’s point-the-finger world people tend to look past the obvious.”
Brog local model
Just around the corner from the E-Tech factory, Mark Brog sculpts his Soul Performance Surfboards. He handles all aspects of production in-house, a practice he’s been at for over 25 years. Brog has worked with both polyurethane and EPS and feels both have their plusses and minuses.
“EPS is very cheap to produce and is widely used in as insulation in coolers.” But, he said, “You can’t just take EPS to the curb on trash day. It needs to go to a recycling center.”
“Due to its 1,000 year breakdown period, much of it finds its way to the ocean and becomes part of the food chain. It does the most damage to sea life,” he said.
Brog, who calls himself an EPS expert, uses the ultra lightweight material whenever a customer calls for it. A majority of his stand-up paddleboards are EPS.
“The materials are not the problem, it is how we treat our surf craft,” he said.
Brog used EPS for “Single Pin Red,” his art collaboration with Alison Wright. Brog sculpted a 10-foot EPS blank in the shape of a bowling pin, which Wright photographed at Metlox Plaza, the Manhattan Beach Pier, Easy Reader and other beach city locations.
“EPS is an amazing material and I love it for many applications,” Brog said. “Surfboards are not a green business, but there are common sense things we can do.”
For poly, Brog uses US Blank’s green foam, a foam that is a blend of shaping dust and new material. For EPS boards, Brog uses a solar activated catalyst that stops 90 percent of VOCs (volatile organic compounds).
“I am very conservative at my factory,” he said. “We can be more green with what we already have.”
Before US blanks biofoam, Brog was a big proponent of Ice-Nine Blanks, a bio friendly company using sugarcane, which, he said, “was years ahead of its time and mysteriously went out of business.”
“It was amazing to shape, bio friendly, super white and if you licked your finger after rubbing a freshly shaped rail it tasted like sugar.”
“The real waste comes from shipping and transportation,” Brog said. “For example, every Global Surf Industry and Surftech board from China is wrapped in tons of tape, bubble wrap and more EPS packing foam.”
Brog’s answer to being green is to “buy American and buy local” and eliminate the need to transport.
“The big picture is to keep money in America and support the local shaper and glasser and order a board that’s designed for you and our conditions,” he said. “Lessen the carbon footprint by eliminating shipping and supporting countries like China (just look at their air quality) that don’t adhere to common sense environmental responsibilities.”
Jose’s don’t believe the hype model
Jose Barahona knows the surfing industry from the ground up. He began sweeping floors 31 years ago for Becker Surfboards partner Mangiagli Custom Glassing. He now shapes Becker surfboards and his own line of Barahona boards. Through his association with Steve Mangiagli, he helps oversee glassing for not only his own boards and Becker, but also local shapers Don Kadowaki, and Dan Cobley and legendary shapers Hap Jacobs and Lance Carson.
“We also handle a lot of work for the backyard/underground surfboard scene,” Barahona said.
It’s hard not to notice the tidiness of the South Bay’s biggest glassing shop and the lack of resin smell.
“With our new blower system we’re in compliances with all the regulations, to the point where you can almost not wear masks.”
Barahona believes that the EPS blank quality is below that of a polyurethane blank.
“Shaping an EPS is a lot harder than poly because it’s less dense and has pit holes. You have to be careful not to shred it apart with the planer,” he said. “The blank comes in as a square, which adds time to shaping, as opposed to a poly blank that’s already in the general shape of a surfboard.”
EPS blanks are a collection of compressed beads, which Barahona demonstrated by breaking off a piece of a an unshaped blank and crumbling it into little balls.
“For the more traditional surfboards, epoxy never really sets a nice finish and resin tints show little divots that look like dark specks,” he said. “A recent repair at our shop of an epoxy fish with a resin tint looked like a backyard job because of the imperfections of the foam and the darker spots caused but the pits.”
EPS has been around since the ’80s, yet didn’t really catch on in popularity until after the 2005 closing Clark Foam, then the blank supplier to 90 percent of the world’s surfboard shapers.
“A lot of the old timers would have nothing to do with and were afraid of epoxy,” Barahona said. “Wayne Miyata wouldn’t touch it.”
Mangiagli Custom Glassings does do Epoxy boards, but Barahona said it is “a very small percentage” of their work.
“It’s simply a lot harder to use,” he said. “The building process takes more time and they are more expensive to laminate.”
Barahona said EPS surfboard materials affect board builders differently than poly. Laminators have to take precautions to prevent epoxy resin from contacting their skin. With poly chemicals, you sweat out the toxins. Epoxy never leaves your system.
Another problem with the two competing materials is the risk of cross contamination.
“A drip of polyester, even pigment for coloring,” Barahona said. “EPS is a specialized material that calls for an air-conditioned laminating room.”
For the traditional feel of heavier type of surf equipment, Barahona feels that epoxy is just too buoyant and light compared to a board glassed with volan. He also believes at this point in time, an all “green” surfboard is a myth.
Board Builders info:E-tech etechsurfboards.com/Surfboards by Davenport adamdavenport.blogspot.com/Brog Surfboards/Soul Performance soulperformance.com/Barrahona Surfboards facebook.com/BarahonaBrosSurf/info