Tuesday, 13 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Grow Your Own Surfboard

UntitledBy Emma Townshend

In the past year there's been more discussion than I've ever seen before about how to produce sustainable surfboards. While most amateurs are happy to flump about in the sea on a bit of foamy plastic they get out of the attic once a year, more serious surfers break boards all the time, leaving a fairly unrecyclable mess behind. In 2005 the messiness was brought home when Clark Foam, which produced about 65% of the world's surfboard "blanks", closed down after California introduced stringent new environmental regulations.

Surfers who felt discomfort about all this (especially when they spend so much time going on about being against sewage) looked back into the history of the sport. When surfboards were first invented, those yucky resins weren't even a twinkle in Mr Clark's eye. The original surfboards were made from the wood of the local Hawaiian trees: depending on your status within society, you might end up with a board made of koa or the cutely-named wili-wili. Today, Paulownia is the favoured timber of choice, producing a wood a little bit like balsa - light and floaty - but with more strength.

The wooden boards produce a completely different ride, much lower in the water, and can be difficult to handle. So the Eden Project in Cornwall (possibly no surprise there) has taken on the challenge of devising a mass market option. The Eden Eco Surfboard is entirely made of plant materials, including balsa and hemp.

And if you'd like to check out the balsa tree in person, you can see one at Eden. Those who fancy growing their own Paulownia surfboard, on the other hand, should try tree-shop. But if you're really keen on the genuine wili-wili article, you might have to hurry - a parasitic wasp is causing big trouble for this Hawaiian tree.

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