Environmental organisations such as Sustainable Surf condemn modern surfboards as the ‘complete opposite of being strong, local [and] non-toxic’ and claim they are a recipe for environmental disaster. While the heavy environmental impact of surfboard manufacturing is undeniable, buying an ‘Ecoboard’ isn’t the only way to improve the surfboard industry’s sustainability. Tracks explores some greener alternatives to dumping your old and broken boards in the bin.
When I walked into local shaper Greg Frost’s shop in Port Macquarie, a lively chap named Tony introduced himself to me.
“I just snapped my board out at Lighthouse, I need a new one,” I mumbled to him under my breath.
“Have you got the board with you? I’ll give you 20 bucks for it,” he said.
My eyes lit up. ‘Is this guy insane’, I thought to myself. I was just going to put the thing in the bin but here I was, a poor intern journalist, about to make a profit off this schmo. Little did I know that Tony was no schmo, he’d done this before. He’s a board recycler, one of many around Australia who reuse old and broken boards and give them a new life.
“When guys come in and they say they’ve snapped a board we try to get it off them and we repair them,” he said. “What we do is we try to sell them cheap to people that are trying to learn how to surf.”
“Anyone that comes in and picks the board up… we always tell them that it’s snapped,” he said. “It’s just an integrity thing.”
Although the snapped boards are usually pawned off to beginners, Tony believes he has a method of fixing the boards to make them super strong.
“I repair it using a process so that the boards aren’t too heavy,” he said. “We know it’s never going to break again… in the same spot. Sometimes it goes better.”
Profit is a minor goal for Tony and the team at Spirit Filled Designs (he’s going to sell my board for $250. A decent profit). Overall, the goal is to “reduce the impact” of surfboards on the environment.
“It’s not just the snapped boards either,” Tony said. “People bring in their broken legropes and we use the pads as straps. We also turn broken boards into hand planes. It all helps.”
The process of turning snapped boards into bodysurfing hand planes is one that artist Chris Anderson has also latched on to. His Ecto-Handplanes are currently all sold out, such is their popularity. The design graduate says the success of the hand planes comes from their chic appearance as well as their functionality.
“They are popular and it’s not just because they’re recycled. I’ve got the design side of things a little bit fresher now and people seem to be really digging it, ” he said.
The hand planes are also extremely functional, as shown in the video below.
“[On the wave in the video] you can just get barrelled the whole way through and make it. Once you get a few waves like that you start thinking ‘this is so much fun’,” he said.
The materials for Chris’ hand planes are entirely recycled from broken surfboards. These snapped boards were used in his art installation ‘1000 Surfboard Graveyard’ which garnered significant media exposure in 2011.
“It was an art campaign as well as a few different things. Its meaning did cross over a few boundaries,” he said.
“[It was] raising awareness about the unsustainable practices of surfboard manufacturing. But it wasn’t just about the waste, it was also about the emotional connection you get to a good board.”
“It highlighted the relationship with the board and when you break that board, the feeling of loss. It’s got multiple angles.”
Chris’ artwork was the first of its kind but since he completed the work, board graveyards have been created in commemoration of surfers. Notably, Ricardo dos Santos was recently honoured with a board graveyard.
“It was pretty cool to see that happen,” said the 25-year-old, who may have started a new surfing ritual.
Chris’ 1000 board graveyard may have been the first of its kind, but he is not the only artist using deceased surfboards as a medium and symbol.
Zach Bennet-Brooke is a Woollongong local who uses old and broken surfboards as blank canvasses for paintings. Being Indigenous, Zach believes that he has an innate spiritual connection to the land, which is reflected in his artworks.
“My Indigenous background greatly influences the style of art which I create. I call it a modern twist on traditional Indigenous art infused with surf culture,” he said.
The 24-year-old initially came up with the idea for using boards as canvasses while waiting for other works to dry.
“I was doing a painting for a local school, I was getting a little impatient waiting for sections of the paint to dry. I saw on old surfboard I had laying in the back of our garage and thought I’d paint on it while the other artwork dried,” he said. “I was blown away with how surfboards could make rad and unique canvases.”
“I could combine both my Indigenous and surf cultures together in an original way.”
For Zach, recycling surfboards also became a great use for something which would otherwise pollute his and his ancestors’ land.
“Through recycling surfboards and fins they are provided with a second life, one which is not spent in land fill or on a pile of rubbish, but rather to be admired and looked at for years,” he said.
Whether it be for art or for a profitable enterprise such as fixing the board and reselling it or turning it into a hand plane, a snapped board does not have to end its life in the bin. If you’re a schmo, like me, you can sell your board for $20. If you’re smart you could reuse it for much more.