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Cleaner Lines, More Sustainable Surfboards, pt. 2

By Mark Sankey

(For part 1, go here)

Shapers are always looking to garner feedback on their latest shapes, or have them proven in the most demanding conditions by the best riders. Last year, Mark Roberts built a 9′ 6″ Hawaiian gun for former world big wave champion Carlos Burle and invited him to put it to the test on Oahu’s North Shore.

“I wanted Carlos to validate my boards and production method in the most challenging surf on the planet,” Roberts explained.

The project came together with help from one of Burle’s sponsors, the Cornwall-based Finesterre, an ethically-minded technical apparel company for cold-water surfers. Roberts and the crew at Finesterre got to know each other through their shared passions for surfing, the environment and design innovation.

“We love what mark is doing with Glass Tiger and it fits with our own ideals, so opening up the door was an easy choice. Mark shapes beautiful boards and big wave surfing is the ultimate testing ground, so it seemed perfect to send it to our ambassador Carlos Burle,” Finesterre’s Ernest Capbert explained.

Roberts and Burle worked out the details of the board over the phone and when it arrived in Hawaii, Burle was blown away by how it looked. It is not easy to persuade professional surfers to deviate from what they are used to, so it is a testament to Burle’s open-mindedness in that he was prepared to jump right into this project.

“When it comes to big waves, these guys have specific boards they go with and so moving things on to another board is a gradual process. But he loves the board and has been getting a feel for it on a few less-critical days,” Capbert said. “Carlos is a man of few words but his feedback for Mark was positive. He said ‘it looks good, is strong and built to last, it goes well and is definitely a board to keep in my quiver.'”

Another of Roberts’ eminent customers is Dr. Andrew Norton, a sustainability expert and surfer living on the wild west coast of Wales. A few years ago, after reading about Glass Tiger Surfboards, he became intrigued by the sustainability, quality, and beauty of the boards.

“I was in the market for a new board and what Mark Roberts is doing is something I believe in, so I ordered one and fours years later it’s still flying,” Dr. Norton proclaimed. His speciality is renewable materials – in particular forestry, timber supply chain, fiberglass, and high-tech bio-composites. Alongside his work in sustainability studies for companies such as the World Bank and Lotus Engineering, he has been looking into the carbon footprint of the surfboard industry.

According to Dr. Norton’s calculations, the production of an average 6’3″ thruster produces about 65kg of CO2, compared to about 41 kg of CO2 for the equivalent Glass Tiger board. Around three million surfboards are manufactured each year. If everyone who buys one or more of these converted to a Glass Tiger board then the carbon saving could be in the realm of 60,000 tons per year. Yet, these figures do not include the benefit of the sequestered CO2 in Glass Tiger’s wood veneers and rails.

Carbon is sequestered when it is removed from the atmosphere by photosynthesis as a tree grows and is then stored in the wood. So, the natural materials in a Glass Tiger board will store up carbon for its lifecycle. Making the already substantial savings all the more great. In addition to the sequestration, a very important factor is how long the boards lasts.

“If you can double the life of a board, it will have half the environmental impact, and I personally found this to be the case with my Glass Tiger board,” Dr. Norton said.

Ultimately, the effect of the surfboard industry on climate change and the environment as a whole is tiny in comparison to the impact of travel and other far larger industries. Greener surf products are not the answer to climate change, but every bit helps and however you look at the figures, they add significant environmental value to the other steps you are already taking. They also show there is a better way and that not everything should be made as quickly and cheaply as possible.

For more from Mark Sankey: http://rumblesandscuttlebutt.blogspot.co.uk/

*Photos courtesy Mark Roberts and Dr. Andrew Norton

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