I Make A Difference by Niko Traubman

Our friend Niko just turned 15 - he is a freshman at San Dieguito Academy in Cardiff by the Sea, CA and is an avid participant in the sustainability movement in the surfing industry. This is what today's 15 year old has to say. It blew me away. I wasn't thinking like this at his age. I hope you enjoy.

I Make a Difference

By Niko Traubman

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret Mead

My grandparents have always had that quote at the bottom of their emails and I never really got it until now. Working on how I will make a difference I finally put 2 + 2 together and saw how someone as small as myself could, in some way, make a difference. It doesn’t have to be something huge or all at once. It just has to be something you care about that you want to improve or see repaired and then getting after it – first hand. My first project emphasized how horrible the chemicals in surfboards are (both physically and environmentally) and why, despite the incredible experience they provide when used to ride waves. In addition to reviewing how most wave riding vehicles are not sustainable, in this essay I will inform you about how we can make a difference in the way we create and even recycle them for a more sustainable surfing future. I will also share my personal experiences with mentors who have taken it upon themselves to make a difference and, in an effort to make a push for a brighter future, have taken ME under their wings to educate me on what they do, why, and how I can personally take it to the next level by thinking and acting locally to make an affect globally.

To review, surfboards are made of three main materials: foam, fiberglass, and resin. All three of those materials are toxic and are harmful to humans and nature. To prevent further negative impact on humans and the environment, shapers all over the world are experimenting with new ways to make wave riding vehicles more sustainable.

​Wave riding vehicles are typically surfboards, hand planes, paipo boards, body boards, alaias, and so on. To keep things simple, we’ll refer to them as surfboards. The heart of a surfboard is the foam blank. Foam is the most harmful component because of a toxic chemical called TDI. TDI pollution from unneeded, excess scraps from blanks (aka: the bones) goes to landfills. Taking it a step further, water pollution is another negative impact both locally and globally. During the shaping process, foam dust from grinding and sanding contaminates the air and affects the environment and especially humans when they ingest the toxic particles. There are also indirect impacts as a result of polyurethane foam production outside factories and the list is growing every day. So how can we change all of this? For starters, a company called Marko Foam has a solution- Envirofoam. Envirofoam is the world’s first 100% recycled EPS foam blank. The substance consists of EPS blank scraps collected from post-consumer and post-manufacturing EPS sources. Instead of going to waste at a landfill, it can all be recycled into Envirofoam and reused to make surfboards that anyone can ride. Envirofoam is an excellent blank choice for sustainability in the surfboard industry.

​The next key component on the surfboard material list is fiberglass. Fiberglass is the “skin” of the board that protects the fragile foam core. Fiberglass is easily spread in dust particles. Dust is produced when fiberglass is trimmed, chopped, cut, sanded or sawed like when someone is shaping a surfboard. Contact to the fibers present in the dust can happen by skin contact, by breathing the dust or by swallowing the fibers. Health effects from contact to fiberglass can be different depending on the fiber size and type of exposure. To prevent this, a company called Greenlight Surfboard Supply embrace bamboo fiberglass. Bamboo fiberglass cloth is a superb choice for glassing with Epoxy Resins. Natural Bamboo fibers are extracted directly from Bamboo clumps by crushing, grinding, wringing, and then combing the actual pulp from the Bamboo plants. The bamboo fibers are biodegradable and decomposition does not cause any environmental pollution. AWESOME! Now you can see the excitement with real alternatives that will allow us to ride waves without polluting as much as we used to.

​Last is Resin. Fiberglass layered with epoxy resin is primarily used to build surfboards, swimming pools, and boats and many other items. In this case, we are focusing on surfboards. Uncured epoxy resin is, in a surfer’s vocabulary, “Gnarly.” It is a known skin irritant, and explicit health and safety rules should be observed when using it. Resin is a much needed part of surfboards because it gives the board strength, while adding very little additional weight. Resin is probably the most difficult ingredient to be substituted, but a company called Entropy Resins is using a form of pine sap. It is from a renewable biomass stream that they derive one of their main ingredients. The pine-based “feedstock” is an economic alternative to traditional petrochemicals and provides new mechanical properties in their resins. The “Super Sap” technology is the secret to unlocking these properties and surfers are excited to be associated with this whole new genre of creating boards in a more sustainable manner.

One company that I am affiliated with and have been tied to since its inception is *enjoy. Enjoy Handplanes is a company that creates bodysurfing handplanes from recycled materials and environmentally friendly components. They take broken surfboards, old wetsuits and other items that would otherwise end up in landfills (aka: the dump) and make functional wave riding vehicles that are also artistically amazing. All Enjoy Handplanes are prepared with either old foam from broken boards or ruined blanks from the manufactured core of the board, and then neoprene from old wetsuits is used to make the handles. They use resources that do not presently have a means of recycling and would otherwise end up in the landfill. As Ed Lewis (*enjoy co-founder) said, “Each handplane is shaped and custom-glassed with Entropy Bio Epoxy, giving that second chance to a once loved board or ruined blank destined to the land fill.” I myself have been a part of the shaping experience with Ed and his business partner Kip, and have promoted his product from day one. When I asked Ed what his overall goals for the future of shaping were and what direction he is taking as a shaper in handplanes and in the surf industry as a whole, he said, “My overall goal is to have a zero waste production process. We aren't there yet but it is on the forefront of my mind. If we can achieve that, then that process could be handed off to the surfboard industry which would be a good thing. In terms of direction, I'm taking handplanes - I'm focused on building its popularity. The wide use of our handplanes would help clean up the surfboard industry as it provides a very effective way to use waste from it's process in a very positive way.” I also asked him if there any other materials beside recycled foam to make handplanes that are sustainable. Are there options to traditional fiberglass and are there options to traditional resin? He said,” If I wasn't interested in solving the problem of reusing foam from broken surfboards and still wanted to make handplanes, my second choice might be to use reclaimed wood as a medium over foam and fiberglass. I personally feel that the reuse of any resource to make a new resource is better than creating or acquiring new. Using reclaimed wood with linseed oils for waterproofing would be ideal. I'm not a fan of cutting down a healthy tree to make a product, but if the wood exists and can be put to good use then that appeals to me. In terms of foam and fiberglass, using old materials such as polyester fabrics instead of new fiberglass is an option to avoid fiberglass altogether. As for resin, using bio-derived epoxy resins is better then traditional polyester resin because they use less petroleum and do not emit harmful VOCs.”

Another current icon that I am affiliated with is Jon Wegener. Jon is a local shaper that has a better, more sustainable way to shape boards – from wood. Wood is one hundred percent natural because it is from a tree that grows out of the earth, pure and simple. Wood is a lot heavier than foam so most shapers don’t tend to use it because surfboards need to be as light as possible. However, there are many different ways to ride wooden boards and a closed-minded attitude will leave you on the outside looking in. You can ride wooden boards smaller and/or thinner so they are lighter. Buoyancy and strength are big factors. Even if the post-shaping scraps of wood go into landfills, they are completely biodegradable so that so-called carbon footprint will be non-existent. Regarding sealants, Jon uses linseed oils, which are natural oils from flax seeds. Like resin, they seal the board, yet are completely natural and far better for the environment than resin. When speaking with Jon, he mentioned that he uses over fifty percent less foam than most shapers because the majority of his boards (surfboards, paipo boards and handplanes) are made primarily from wood. And if he does use foam, most of the time he tries his hardest to use recycled foam like Marko Foam which I mentioned earlier.

Pierce Michael Kavanagh is a film maker a director. He was the catalyst in getting me involved with this movement where I started to, currently, and will still make a difference in the future. As part of my evidence, I encourage you to go to www.manufacturingstoke.com and review the trailer. You will see me there, surfing, speaking and being a part of the movement (yes, I had braces and my voice had not changed, so don’t laugh!). If you have the time, you can download the entire movie and see the “big picture” of the movement and what I am part of to make a difference. The film is about sustainability in the surf industry and how we can change to make a difference. My Dad (and mentor in this project) and I are both in the film and depict the future of surfing and the industry, and what is important in the sport and life itself. You will also see the people from *enjoy Handplanes, Jon Wegener, and many other people and companies taking the same path. I am also sponsored by LOCAL clothing, who is in the movie. Although they are a clothing company, they too create with sustainability in mind and that is who I affiliate myself with, because my goal is to MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
​Surfing is one of the most natural sports in the world that only takes place in one location - the ocean. It is such a let-down when I see how toxic the materials can be and how big of an impact the chemicals have on the environment and its inhabitants: human, animals, plants, etc. Fortunately, the message is out and people are experimenting with new ways to make surfboards and wave riding vehicles in a more sustainable way. The only way to improve is to spread the message even more, look for new materials, and find innovative ways to make boards. From recycled blanks to alternative materials, the surfboard industry appears to be riding the wave down the line in the right direction (or left if you are a goofy-foot). And the Earth and everyone and everything that lives here needs it. From an economic aspect, the money will always be there. But is that the number one goal? In my opinion? No. Surf companies will always sell. The key is not to sell out. There are people and the environment to consider and as long as I am alive, I will be involved… and I will make a difference.


See Older Posts...