It’s the dirty little secret every wave rider knows: our boards don’t last forever, but the materials they are made out of do.
From the first foam and resin boards made in the 1940s to the EPS boards sold today at the local surf shop, broken polystyrene boards have been making their way into landfills for over 65 years. While the boards might be trash, scientists tell us that the broken pieces of foam will sit in the ground for 1 million years before they fully biodegrade outliving their one-time owners by 999,900+ years.
Recycling programs can help, but the trucking, melting, reconstituting and more trucking that those programs require diminishes the good they do, and recycled blanks often have as little as 25% post-consumer material and 75% virgin foam.
But what can we do? For years we’ve been told that the industry is working on the problem, but the solutions they’ve offered us have been largely cosmetic. Covering a foam board in a thin layer of paulownia veneer and bio-epoxy might make the board look the part, but the only difference between these “Eco Boards” and their foam-white brethren is that, in the case of the Eco Board, someone had to kill a tree.
The situation might be even worse for bodyboarders, but at least surfers have Danny Hess or Grain Surfboards to turn to. We prone riders, eager as anyone to lower our environmental footprint, have very little options available to us.
Enter Dave Hahn. Dave’s business, California Surfcraft, is an odd mix of shoestring start-up, backyard science fair, and aerospace design firm–the kind of surf company that only San Francisco could produce.
“I’ve been working on this for about 18 months now,” Dave says, motioning to what looks like a thin bodyboard made out of stolen grade-school bulletin boards. “At first, I was working with wood, but my boards ended up too expensive, they dinged easily, and they needed a lot of chemicals to seal properly. Honestly, I think if wood was our best option, then we never would have invented foam boards in the first place. I came across cork and I never looked back.”
Dave’s boards, a mix of bodyboard and paipo that he calls a Bodypo, are made out of sheets of cork vacuum-bagged between layers of fiberglass to create stiff-yet-flexible sandwich composites. The cork surface and rails are left exposed since they, like the fiberglass, are naturally waterproof.
“I figure you can either make your boards out of something that can’t get wet, then seal the hell out of it,” Dave says, “or you can make them out of something that can get wet, and let it get wet.”
Often used for traction pads or binding layers in wooden surfboard construction, cork has rarely been used as the core material for surfcraft. But the benefits are obvious. Unlike wood, cork is harvested (not cut down), and a single cork tree can continue to produce cork for 150 years or more. Rot-proof, waterproof, and 85% air, perhaps cork will unseat paulownia as the surf industry’s eco buzzword in 2015.
“At first I was just trying to mimic a bodyboard, just with more sustainable materials,” Dave continues, “but after a few prototypes I noticed that the placement of the fiberglass and the thickness of the board made unique flex patterns that I could feel on the wave. Eventually I found a combination I liked, thicker in the middle for stiffness, and thinner on the rails for speed and flex and I thought, ‘Man, I think this is something new.'”
Could Dave’s cork be the new go to material for future wave riding vehicles?