The creation of one standard surfboard produces nearly 600 pounds of CO2, which is a lot considering that most boards weigh in around six pounds. In 2012, determined to find a solution to this, Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden cofounded Waste to Waves and challenged surfers to help cut that footprint in half.
The response was extreme. Stewart and Whilden put a call out for foam waste—the kind used as packing for TVs, computers, or anything from Ikea—and they got plenty of it. Thousands of pounds of Styrofoam were collected, loaded into semis, then transported to factories to be reground and mixed into blanks. But the process was inefficient, it wasn't cost effective, and due to the varied densities of the foam being blended, the blanks were inconsistent.
Progress, they say, often stems from necessity. So the program adapted.
Enter one industrial-grade machine and something called "foam densification." Standard Styrofoam is 98 percent air and 2 percent plastic, but using this process you're able to remove the air and reduce the Styrofoam waste to 1/90th of its original size. Basically, the machine allows you to transform various foam waste material into a new solid block of plastic that's the exact same material used to create virgin EPS blanks.
Stewart and Whilden found access to a densifyer and put the compressed plastic back into the market, which Marko Foam (the leading supplier of surfboard foam in the US) now uses to make new, fresh blanks with 60 percent recycled content. Blanks that could be your next board.
"At its base, pilot level, Waste to Waves was just a Styrofoam collection and recycling program," said Stewart. "But then we had a moment where we realized we had way more foam regrind than there's a market for. We weren't going to send the excess back to the landfills, so we decided to turn it all back into recycled EPS foam, and now Marko can buy as much back as the surfboard market can handle."
Marko's recycled blanks, called ECOBOARDS, are stamped with the green arrows and shipped out good as new to shaping bays across California as an option for anyone who wants an EPS board.
"We're creating ways for surfers to look for a recycled label on boards that are already produced," says Stewart, "or if they're getting a custom from Patterson or Biolos or Stretch or Cole or any of these guys, they can simply say 'Hey, make it with a recycled blank.' It's really that easy."
Torrey Meister can vouch for how simple it is. "I was interested in finding a surfboard that was better for the environment but would still work well," said Meister. "Waste to Waves and Marko offered to make me a blank, and I got Roberts to shape me a little groveler. Honestly, I couldn't believe how great it worked. I had my doubts, but as soon as I got it in the water the thing went insane. I didn't feel any kind of negative differences between the recycled blank and a normal one. If anything, I felt like the recycled blank had more pop and speed then a normal one. The potential is huge for these boards."
All said, it remains undetermined what exactly it'll take to encourage surfing's masses to buy recycled. But demand runs economics, and demand is built one board at a time. "The program is in place," said Stewart. "Now it's really just about educating surfers that there are recycled options out there."
Learn more at WasteToWaves.org.