Surfing is a sport that's often linked to the well being of nature and the ocean. Many of the sport's most famous locations are considered to be outdoor paradises. When you're surfing it's just you and the ocean... and your toxic fiberglass board.
Surfboards are terrible for the environment. They're fragile and not recyclable or biodegradable.
In the past years, surfers and manufacturers have noticed the problem. Even big name brands have taken important steps to reduce the waste created with their production process. This has lead to the creation of the ECOBOARD PROJECT, a protocol to certify boards to help clean up the manufacturing process.
Recently, I discovered Notox, a small French company who build boards that are not only less destructive for the environment, but also healthier for the humans creating them.
Below is a write-up of my phone chat with co-founder Pierre.
Why did you guys start Notox?
One of my colleagues had been making boards for some time and we decided to visit him.
The first thing we noticed was the horrendous work conditions. It was so bad that we decided that we had to do something. This is why we started working on what eventually became Notox.
It wasn’t about eliminating waste but rather creating a healthy work environment?
It’s a weird paradox for a sport that’s so in-tune with the environment like surfing. What’s the point of trying to create eco-friendly surfboards if the process is killing the human behind it?
We started working with a doctor to build a workplace that was healthy for the people working. Afterwards, we actually started building boards. That’s when we realized the significant amount of waste that was created.
For a 3 kg board, we were creating on average about 6 kg of terminal waste.
We took a look at the industry to see what other people were doing with this problem. Some manufacturers were using balsa wood, but these boards still used fiberglass and toxic resins. Then we took a look at hemp but to this date, it’s still hard to build a quality board with this material.
Today we’re using fiber made from linen. This allows us to create a high-quality board that is lighter and also less harmful for the environment. The waste from the production process is recovered and used as insulation or in rooftops. We now finish with only 1 kg of terminal waste instead of 6.
It’s not perfect yet, but we’re getting there.
Which materials in a surfboard are toxic?
Fiberglass tends to create a dust version of itself when you’re working it. It’s extremely toxic to breathe and it's often correlated with lung cancer. The resin also has problems. You can’t recycle it and it's created with the use of dangerous gazes. It weakens the immune system and it can also be carcinogenic.
How is organic resin different from regular resin?
Organic resin is still not completely ‘green.’ It comes from epoxy that is 50% from a renewable source and that needs less petrol to be created. We’re constantly on the lookout for new materials that can make this part of the board even greener.
Why aren’t more surfboard companies following these environmental technologies in their manufacturing process?
Simple. It’s the price. The big surfboard companies manufacture their boards in Asia and each board cost around 150$ US. Our boards, with materials chosen by us and locally sourced, cost around three times the price. These environmentally friendly materials cost more and make it harder for companies to turn a profit.
But your boards aren’t more expensive than brand name boards…
Our distribution is different. We build our boards here and sell them directly to the public. A big surf brand, like Channel Island, for example, needs to ship their boards across the world. Then they have regional distributors and local shops. All of these middlemen also need to make some money.
How is the new Korko board different from your other boards?
The Korko is currently the most affordable environmental friendly board in the world. It has a rugged and durable surface and it’s completely covered in cork.
The development on the Korko started after surveying our own community. The feedback received demonstrated a demand for a board that was geared more towards beginners and intermediates. Something we were not currently offering in our current selection.
Are there any businesses that inspire you today?
In the surfboard world, no one to be honest.
Otherwise, Patagonia. We follow their story and we like their philosophy. Like us, they are not without flaws but they are constantly on the lookout for new solutions.
Are there any materials that you have not worked with yet but that you would like to try?
We played around with cellulose while working with the University of Grenoble. We can really do incredible things that very little people know about. With cellulose, we can create a waterproof cardboard that does not lose its recyclable properties.
We also tried to create cores made from GMO seaweed (which mean no petrol in the production process).
Work in progress.
Where is your favourite place to surf?
I have to go with the classic response: Kelly Slater. He’s been able to stand the test of time.
He’s also been investing in sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses.
Absolutely. We’ve seen a lot of change going on at Firewire since he’s purchased shares. More and more models are made with eco-friendly materials.
Do you have any suggestions for someone who is visiting the French Basque Country?
Our workshop! Everything is made right here. Come say hi and we will gladly give you a tour.
Thank you so much for your time. Where can people learn more?
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