West-Coast Grain: Sustainable Board Competition

Give a surfer a fish and you’ve stoked him for one great sesh - but teach him a better way to build one, and...

West-Coast Grain: Sustainable Board Competition


Not to get too Thoreauvian about it, we’re still happy to break away from cliché by invoking one of the great American original-thinkers. Or, we could say that rather than give a surfer a fish, we'll teach him to build one.

Gettin' All Proverbial


by Mike

Do we dare hope that major surf-brands can meaningfully include the environment in their bottom line? Can a dedication to quality and sustainability take its place alongside manufacturability? For thousands of years surfers built their own boards of wood. Foam came along and everything changed, and most would agree that - in the name of cost-cutting and profitability - it's led us down a chemical-strewn path that will be hard to recover from. And in the final analysis, we believe the best board you can have is one you’ve "manufactured" with your own two hands. With that process comes thoughtfulness and attention to detail, a love of the product and process that's unmatched by off-the-shelf goods that were developed to serve priorities most of us simply do not share.

"in my case... instead of studying how to make it worth men’s while to buy my baskets, I studied rather how to avoid the necessity of selling them"

- Henry David Thoreau

Partly in pursuit of propagating that ideal, we’ve been heading out west for years now, and even think of North San Diego County (specifically the Wegener homestead) as our proverbial "home away from home". Each year we go back for surf, to teach workshops and of course, for The Board Room Show. It’s an annual pilgrimage for us, and one we look forward to all year.

Everyone attends the show for different reasons; some go to gawk at the surf-related eye-candy, some to meet the revered shapers that have been critical in making surfing what it is for all of us. But everyone who attends the show gets a peek at what’s happening within the industry, from new shapes and processes to new and better materials.

Everyone likes to see themselves as living an original life, but the reality is that we can't avoid treading alot of the same ground that's been trod before. That may be why we all apply well-worn cliches to what we do, and - no different from anyone else in that regard - Grain's prided itself on "thinking out of the box" and "breaking new ground" for about ten years now. And as familiar as those old tropes may be, it doesn't change the fact that new thinking - however tritely we may express it - is what we need more of.

Give a Surfer a Fish...

These are some brilliant people - some with nearly unlimited R&D resources behind them - who are doing some great work. But having some time to think about my experience in judging the Sustainability Best in Show, I recall that - even as all this progress is happening - on balance, the bar is moving only by fractions towards advantages Grain's had in our corner all along. We’ve always known that natural materials have a critical place in the lineup; wood's the original carbon fiber after all. Use of local materials, bio-based epoxies, whey-based coatings, bamboo cloth and more have carried the torch for core values we've held at Grain since day one.

There's no Cliché in Sustainability

Back in May, we were there again, with a booth, some boards and some bros to talk about what we do, and came away pretty impressed with some of the exemplary things that are happening within the industry. A big part of that came from the “Best of Show” competition which in the past, was focused on categories like best short board, best wood board, best show of creativity and artistry, etc. But this year, thanks to ground-breaking work from companies like Sustainable Surf and Entropy Resins, the one and only category for Best of Show was "Most Sustainable".

That's a big deal for us: we've been building what we believe are some of the most sustainable surfboards on the planet for ten years, quietly agitating in small ways to get the surf industry to pull to our side of things a bit more. With that dedication behind us, we were honored to be selected as one of the judges on the Best of Show panel alongside such greats as Greg Long, Rob Machado, Ryan Burch, Jim Moriarity and others. To be able to dive into the details of all the earnestly good work that people are doing these days to green their game, as well as to be part of the process of identifying the top players in surf-sustainability was a real thrill. But on top of that, the thoughtfulness with which all the judges considered the entries, and the serious and insightful tone of the detailed deliberations on the relative values exemplified in the entrants' offerings was inspiring in and of itself. We feel like we're seeing a real and dedicated response to the question of sustainability in our industry.

The materials used in the best of these boards were a leap beyond anything we’ve seen in previous shows... Some boards were glassed with Entropy's new epoxy that can be literally dissolved so that all the parts of the board may be re-used - even the epoxy itself can be recycled. Alot of boards were glassed with cellulose (wood fiber) or flax cloth instead of energy-intensive fiberglass. On top of that, even major companies are using more wood as a way to strengthen and beautify their foam boards. Pretty sweet! Add to that the inroads being made in the use of compressed hay and mushroom spores, and the growing ubiquity of bio-based resins over all of it and you get the idea. And since most of the industry is concerned with "manufacturability", we can't ignore the latest advancements in algae-based foam - where they use oily by-products from algae farms to replace toxic ingredients normally found in foam. Industrially speaking, without a doubt that's a big jump forward. All of this adds up to a ground-swell of interest in, and demand for, a more sustainable surf industry.

Our new heroes: Jose Lozano of Arctic Foam (algae-oil foam), Maurice Cole (with the only board entered that used recyclable resin) and Gary Linden (100% agave plant-based board)
Maurice Cole looking pretty satisfied after taking the overall grand prize.

Below: The Judges... also pretty pleased.