Nick Carroll On: A Quietly Radical Notion

18 Oct 2016 37 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer


Early in September, around the time of the Hurley Trestles Pro in San Clemente, California, the WSL management convened a very hush-hush meeting.

Invited was a range of surfboard makers, surfboard materials manufacturers, and green-thinking consultants. The meeting was designed to sound out a notion of quietly radical proportions — so radical nobody’s ever dared bust it out before.

Pro surfing’s owner and governing body may soon begin to regulate the equipment ridden by its elite competitors. In other words: tell ‘em what sort of boards they can ride.

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This notion is being driven by a seemingly laudable goal: sustainability. It’s been widely known for decades that the classic PU/PE board is an environmental peril of sorts. Blanks and resins involve toxic chemicals, including known human carcinogens. Exposure to these chemicals and others has taken a small but steady toll on surfboard workers worldwide over the generations.

On top of that, the things are effectively inert, taking centuries to break down in surface landfill. And  speaking of breaking — they break. Especially if you’re a pro. The CT’s surfboard disposal count is off the charts.

Not exactly sustainable.

But what if the CT roster were all riding boards made with specified, ruled-on eco-style materials? Recycled foams, uncatalysed bio-resins, vacuum-bag laminates that keep waste to a minimum?

A modern eco-board, in fact?

You can see how an eco-board might fit the WSL’s idea of itself. Sustainability is a key interest of the WSL’s investor, and of the guy who is clearly the sport’s lodestar and guide, Kelly Slater. The organisation even has its very own non-profit eco-arm, WSL Pure, which raises and funds ocean-related research and environmental causes.

It might even be a shot in the arm for the surfboard industry: a CT-ready Eco Range, limited availability, $250 extra on the price tag.

But the WSL team is looking at this one in a hush-hush way, because they knows this is an epic hot-button issue — one that could blow up in its face in a second.

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Every other sport has some rule about gear. The size of the football, the width of the cricket bat, all that. But nobody’s ever told anybody what board you’re allowed to ride. Indeed, it’s such a part of our fantastic ridiculous magnificent surfing culture that until now, the thought hasn’t even crossed anyone’s mind. We’ve just gone ahead making boards, trying different stuff in case it works, getting stuck here and there, but generally moving ahead, through trial and error and what looks a lot like a semi-accidental yet near-perfect free market of ideas.

If a lot of modern pro boards look similar to each other these days — simple, clean, low entry, flats to concaves, neutral outlines, back end rocker — it’s because that’s what works for a top end pro surfer, not because the boards have to fit into some jig, or be weighed before competition.

Imagine, after a lifetime of this, you’re Joe Boardmaker with a pre-CT super grommet on the team, and someone sends you an email listing the kinds of foam and resin you’re allowed to use.

According to our sources, not all of those invited to the September meeting were super impressed by the idea. Some came away shaking their heads. “What does ‘sustainable’ even mean?” was one very well known boardmaker’s sardonic response.

But others are already on board. Firewire, the label now part-owned by KS, already carries an eco-board certification issued by Sustainable Surf, a company devoted to ecologically sound board making. Sustainable Surf’s co-founder Kevin Whilden, who attended the WSL meeting and hopes to act as an adviser, says he thinks eco-boards can be part of the solution to global warming. “We believe surfers can change the world,” he told us.

Not without their shaper mates on board, they won’t.

More meetings are planned at central tour stops in the coming year. Stay tuned. I guess we’ll know soon enough just how far this one will go.

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