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The Surfrider Foundation and VISSLA recently teamed up to host the 3rd annual Creators and Innovators Upcycle Contest which brings together surfing’s most out-of-the-box thinkers, all with a common goal of creating products that are completely recycled, or in this case “upcycled”.  Quick review: to upcycle is to completely repurpose used material, transforming the old and wasted into something new and improved. This year, the contest was swept away by a Santa Cruz man’s entry of a surfboard made from over 10,000 discarded cigarette butts.

With some help from his friend, filmmaker Ben Judkins, 24-year-old Taylor Lane built his cigarette-butt-board after a long summer spent collecting some 10,000 butts along Northern California beaches, sidewalks, parking lots, and other places where they, quite frankly, make everything look like crap. What started as a contest entry turned into a loud and clear statement about our environment – we’re covering it with s***, and there’s a giant change in order. Lane said the goal of the project was to emphasize the pollution problem created by cigarette butts on the beach.

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“We’re taking something from the bottom of the barrel that people think of as complete waste, and we’re turning it into something beautiful,” Lane told The Inertia. “We’ve created this art, but we’ve also created this huge discussion. Looking at this board is like looking at an example of what we need to do to grasp this issue of ocean pollution. It’s a hugely complex problem with many facets to it, but there are also a lot of great solutions.”

Lane showcased his upcycled surfboard alongside several other clever homemade boards on October 20, at The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. Though Lane took first place, other winners included a board made from recycled wooden pallets, old styrofoam, and cardboard and a shortboard shaped from a discarded stand-up board. Other entries included boards shaped from potato sacks, flat-screen TV packaging, fins made from a wooden dresser, and a wine cork hand plane. Building a nice board is one challenge. Building a board via methods that haven’t been widely utilized (a method that you’re not even quite sure will work) — now that’s a real challenge. Lane had shaped two surfboards before but this was different, and he wanted it to make an environmental statement.

I might be bias here, but cigarette butts are the most polluted item on beaches in the United States. Picking up this harmful waste and building a usable surfboard out of them is the ultimate upcycle (especially for those of us who love to ride waves). And it’s also the ultimate statement–rolled into one beautiful piece of rideable art, which they’ve dubbed, “The Roach Tail”. The thing looks good, and apparently it surfs okay too for being such a beast. Lane and Judkins made several short videos showing off the 17-pound twin fin’s capabilities in the water.

“The board itself represents surfing,” Judkins said. “But it’s also about connecting surfing to the bigger issue of ocean pollution and ocean health.”

VISSLA founder, Paul Naude, said that he started this contest as a way to get folks to think creatively about sustainability. The ethics of upcycling can easily be seen in his company’s products, such as their board shorts made from coconut husks.

When Lane’s “Roach Tail” appeared in the contest, he knew he was doing something right. “If that’s not a message, I don’t know what is,” Naude told me.

Alongside Judkins, Lane has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the funding to make a documentary film, showing the process of creating the cigarette butt twiny. Of course it would highlight the real problem, too: the seemingly infinite issue of pollution on our beaches, that eventually enters our oceans.


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