High technology feels so clean—no coal or steam or mess, just cool aluminum, sleek plastics, and polished glass. But that clean surface hides an interior that is far messier and more toxic…researchers took apart 36 phones and submitted their components to X-ray fluorescence spectrometry…then rated and ranked the phones on a scale of 0 – 5, lowest being best:
According to Wegener, this historical Hawaiian surfcraft – which appears to be little more than a flat piece of wood in the shape of an ironing board – may not only be the most enviro friendly surfboard available today, it might be part of one of surfing’s next big leaps in modern board design.
It is also a much-needed design, since the foam boards of today are nearly as toxic as you can make something. The recent movie, ‘Manufacturing Stoke’, discusses this strange development, as well as a detailed post I wrote on Green Surfboards.
The next step is finding the right type of wood that can match the ultra-high performance of the industrial-era poly/resin/chemical boards used by professional surfers today.
Phil Joske introduced him (Tom) to a sustainable board building material called Paulownia wood. With a much greater strength-to-weight ratio than balsa, an easy-to-work-with nature, and an imperviousness to saltwater, Tom used this unique wood and his innovative longboard designs to help revolutionize the genre of hollow wood surfboards.
Many in the industry are taking note of these designs, there is a certain beauty to a glossy wooden board. Especially, knowing that it is handcrafted and great for the environment.
Learn more at Patagonia’s – Wood is Good series (featuring videos, interviews, and lots of links to surf films and designers).
Fishermen were casting their lines into the urban waters of Washington, D.C., into a river notorious as one of the dirtiest in the nation. What’s more, according to a recent study, they represented a small fraction of the 17,000 or more residents of this metropolitan area who are consuming fish from a river that has all the markings of a Superfund site.
Sometimes you just can’t believe it, the article even says that a sewer line directly dumps a billion gallons of human waste every year.
The art of hand-shaping surfboards is being threatened by machines. Shaper Studios is changing that. The Mission Valley shaping school is allowing everyday surfers the chance to glass and paint what they ride. We drop in on owner Chris Clark, who says the studio is luring everyone from pros to groms to surf companies and bands like Foster the People.
“It’s impossible to compare surfboard shaping to anything else,” says Clark, an SDSU MBA grad student and entrepreneur who is creating a unique blend of retail and DIY manufacturing at Shaper Studios.
“Surfing is only half of surfing. The other half is making your own surfboard. When people leave here with a board they can ride, that they make with their own hands, it changes surfing and their experience with the sport forever.”
But what about people who are power-tool-phobic?
We are with you the whole time. We just taught a 12-year-old girl to use a planer (a power tool with sharp blades).
So it’s not just a bro-fest?
No way! We just did a series with French pro Margaux Arramon-Tucoo. We entered a film of her shaping at a local film fest.
Surfboards are some of the most toxic toys.
We use Marko recyclable EPS foam. We also use epoxy resins, which are odorless and have zero VOCs. It doesn’t smell in here so you can even glass your board without wearinga mask.
My project is all about environmental and community responsibility. I’m a custom surfboard builder that wants to help make a change in our toxic industry while also taking action to help protect a rare California coastal habitat.
The technologies required to make a better surfboard are no longer experimental, they’re high quality and available for those willing the invest the time and money necessary. The funding of this campaign will allow me to use plant-sap based resins and recycled foam products to build a collection of beautiful surfboards.
Once my work is finished I’m going to hold an art show/silent auction and donate the profit from the line’s sales to the Save Naples Coalition, a small group of people helping to protect the Gaviota coast from major development.
Larger scale change is always spurred on by grass roots efforts that raise consumers’ expectations. I want to be part of the challenge and help change the demands that customers put on our industry.
Down the street on Magnolia, just a few blocks form the beach, is the ASCON Landfill Site. This 38-acre parcel of land is a toxic waste dump containing waste from construction and oil drilling.
It is considered a California Superfund site, meaning that it is one of the most toxic in the state. According to the California EPA, the area “operated as a landfill from 1938 through 1984…in its early years came from oil drilling operations, including waste drilling muds, waste water brines, and other drilling wastes.
“From 1957 to 1971, chromic acid, sulfuric acid, aluminum slag, fuel oils, styrene (a form of plastic), and other wastes were also disposed on the site. These liquid and semi-liquid wastes were deposited into open lagoons and pits.”
“From 1971 to 1984, some of the lagoons and pits were filled in or covered with solid waste materials (construction debris).”
This news has to be shocking for anyone living in Huntington Beach. Lagoons of sludge 25-feet deep, drilling wastes, pits of slag/acid/oils/sytrene, and then covered over with more waste.
Consider that across the street is Edison High School where thousands of kids, teachers, and parents spend their days, and on the other sides are houses and a popular park, Edison Community Park (another former landfill with methane gas leaks).
The news doesn’t get better.
An investigative report from the OC Weekly in 2004 discusses four children from the area who contracted a rare form of brain cancer.
“Something may be seriously amiss in southeast Huntington Beach…four children from that area died between February 2000 and June 2003 of a deadly brain cancer called brainstem glioma…an exceedingly rare cancer.”
“We know that a cluster of cancers in one geographic area doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something in the immediate environment that caused it…We also know that it is impossible to gather meaningful statistics with only four cases. The causes of most childhood brain tumors, including brainstem gliomas, are unknown. But we do know that exposure to certain chemicals can cause cancer.”
“It seems suspicious to us that four children who lived and played near this toxic waste dump contracted an extremely rare cancer. At the Ascon site, an oil worker became ill after contacting water running off the site. Ground squirrels living on the site appear, from the condition of their coats, to be in poor health…CalEPA recently found a 50-year-old tank of improperly stored flammable fuels that they didn’t know was there.”
“The objective of IRM is to enable assessment of the materials underneath the tarry waste of Lagoons 1 and 2. These waste materials beneath the tarry liquids are of unknown composition and geotechnical quality and have not been assessed with the tarry liquids present due to worker safety concerns.”
The project was completed in December 2010 after “58,000 tons of tarry materials and firming additive have been removed from Lagoons 1 and 2 at the Site, and transported to and disposed of at the designated disposal facility.”
Since then the city and the contractors have been testing the groundwater, stormwater, air quality, etc, and in March 2011, the project was considered complete.
“This site is named for two companies that tried, in vain, to clean up the site. Nesi acquired an option on the site and tried to pump it clean. That did not work and Nesi folded. An attempt was made by Ascon, an acronym for the asphalt and concrete that had been dumped on the site. Ascon was not successful, either.”
What happens next is unknown.
The government agency responsible for the clean-up will continue its slow progress. Further tests, including investigating the lower levels of Lagoons 1, 2 will be conducted. Then planning, public hearings, and finally another clean-up.
With so much waste on-site this will take decades.
At some point, the land will be clean enough for a private company to complete the process. The land is in such a valuable location that many developers will gladly take on the last steps of cleaning to reap the profits.
In the meantime, we all are stuck with a remnant of our industrial past.
The best surfboards in the world are the most toxic. Take any professional surfer and she/he will be riding a high tech stick packed with the latest innovations. It will also be the worst possible board for the environment not only in its materials, but in the creation, disposal, and in effects on workers creating the boards.
The good news is that many small business are developing alternatives. UK-based company, Ocean Green, is bringing back the all wood board by hollowing out a Balsa-wood plank and using bio-degradable fiberglass cloth.
Country Feeling, a Hawaii based shaping group co-founded by Jack Johnson, is developing a soy and sugar-based foam and a solar cured resin.
There is also a movement to recycle everything from the foam dust to the actual boards themselves. Green Foam collects the excess dust tossed out in shaping shacks to make new foam for boards.
The movement is starting to catch on among the pro’s (Kolohe Andino rides a recycled foam board) and the crowds. There is even a new surf film digging into this, Manufacturing Stoke:
No other sport is so intrinsically linked to nature. Some call it a spiritual experience, most call it indescribable. And yet, in becoming the multi-billion dollar industry it is today, a great paradox has risen. Surfers are indeed directly connected to the earth’s pulse and yet a majority of the materials used are environmentally toxic.
Still, this whole story largely unknown. Only a few of the large companies are taking it seriously which means even fewer surfers are interested. Surf wax and wetsuits also have their own toxic problems and are in need of an overhaul.
Which means its all about grass roots growth. Tell your friends, experiment in your garage, and spend your dollars on what you care about.
How did it get this way?
We’ve all seen the classic image of a shaper wearing the breathing mask. Heard the tale of the young protégé shaper sweeping up foam dust. But, have you ever thought about why the mask is needed, can you think of any other profession where people need them?
There’s not many of them left in the country because these compounds are toxic. Most are banned in several states or highly controlled due to their volatile nature. We are talking about cancer, deformations, groundwater contamination, ocean pollution…here are some of their names:
Toluene Diisocynate, Polystrene, Polyurethane, Chromium, Dicarboxylic Acids, and Dihydroxy Alcohols.
An explanation of how we got here starts back in the 60’s with the massive 10-foot long wood planks. They were heavy, so heavy that you had to balance it on your head and cart it around in “woody” wagons. These boards defined the early era of surfing and the longboard riding style (slow, long curves at special breaks).
Then modern technology stepped in: foam, fiberglass, and resin. The wood was whittled down to a thin strip in the center for strength (stringer) and the rest was taken up by foam, then shined up with fiberglass in resin. The result was a lighter, faster, and more agile board.
It revolutionized the sport. Made it the worldwide industry it is today. Then it all came crashing down in 2005.
A series of factors contributed to this change, the largest of which was the shutting down of Clark Foam. This giant supplier of foam for boards worldwide came under the cross hairs of government (all of them). The city, county, state, and federal authorities wanted a cleaner factory and Gordon Clark couldn’t take it.
The story is still unclear, whether Gordon refused to clean-up or the city simply wanted him gone. It is probably somewhere in the middle but the lawsuits, criminal charges, and cancer-riddled workers speak to some truths.
Namely, the growth of the surfboard industry is creating a lot of waste and pollution. As the government stepped in it found that nearly every element of the modern surfboard involved toxic chemicals or volatile organic compound.
The regulators clamped down and the surfboards manufacturers went abroad or went mechanical. Hoping to outsource the pollution or remove the worker from the shaping. Clearly the industry didn’t want to face it’s own problems.
Which now puts the industry on the verge of a new breakthrough. A revolution in materials to bring about a cleaner, safer way to enjoy the sport we love.