I have been giving this a fair bit of thought recently and I may have come up with a solution, a kind of overview with a message. How to lessen the globalisation of the surfboard industry and in turn do a massive favour to the earth on which we hold residence.
Let's start with the problem. The single largest (and massively overlooked) factor that our re-veered pastime contributes to the pollution of our oceans and atmosphere. Shipping of surf products. That's right. More than the construction of surfboards or wetsuits, it’s the transportation of said goods that really hurts mother nature the most and by quite some degree.
The problem is not a simple one to solve and it grows larger every day with a self-perpetuating motion. Something needs to be done and that starts with someone saying something that makes sense, which is what I aim to do here.
The facts are that making a surfboard (PU-Polyester) is about ten times less harmful for the environment (as regards to emissions) than shipping them from Australia to Europe, or China to the US.
The same goes for wetsuits, as most are made in Asia then shipped all over the world. While the wetsuit problem might be more difficult to solve, the surfboard conundrum may not be that perplexing an issue after all.
The Self Perpetuating Conundrum
As the surf industry has grown, so the demand for surfboards has risen. The answer as is often the way is to outsource and companies that did this had to invest huge amounts of capital. With that kind of lending or investment comes the expectation for return. Balancing books, maximising profit to make it viable. It’s not evil, its just business.
Naturally, the profit eager dudes mentioned above wanted to source cheap labour with minimum environmental restrictions. Asia is where it's at currently for that kind of solution. So boards started to be built there and shipped to the consumers all over the world.
Due to a combination of recessions, a lack of construction knowledge (hells I have a lack of construction knowledge) by the end consumer and being able to provide a cheaper product so the great mass production of ‘overseas boards began’.
How this affected the board building surf industry (apart from above dudes) was a like a short, sharp slap in the face. As we know if something is cheaper on the same shelf as something more expensive and we don’t have the skills to see the difference, past the bright colours, the pointy noses and the salesman's spiel we will go for the cheaper (in this case overseas board) alternative.
As these companies grew, they started to gain a huge market presence, controlling distribution, marketing and had a huge presence in shops. They started to offer ‘repesentation’ for shapers and clients shaping and consuming in different continents ending up in ‘famous’ (not necessarily better) shapers boards being made ‘under license’ by a local company. Which the bigger company control.
Not content with this market dominance, the new companies started turning the screws tighter and skimping on materials, trying to squeeze the last drops of profit from this train wreck of an industry.
Okay, without getting to in-depth here, the small everyday shaper was the one hit hard. Used to being revered they found business harder to come by having to (in some cases) drop their end prices to compete. Less profit means it’s harder to make a living and less young people choosing this as a career path. This was a while ago and while getting a board shaped locally is starting to come back into the limelight with public opinion swinging to more eco-conscious there are still those who champion eco techniques of construction while still shipping from the other side of the world. Mentioning no names of course as that might be slander and our legal team here at Surf Bunker is the about as tangible as the tooth fairy.
All this has lead to a situation that we now ‘rely’ on overseas boards. Not enough new, local shapers.
In the interest of being fully open, its only a partial solution which will take time to implement. It starts with you.
- What we have to do is take ‘custom’ local boards more seriously. If you have to go to a shop to buy a board ask about the board, where it is made, were the blank comes from and how much glass is on the top and bottom. If the salesman can’t answer you, or you don't like the answers don't go for it.
- If you can go and see a shaper to get a custom-made surfboard for you, then do it. They are better, they are made for you and only you. The price difference is negligible. The board will last longer and you will be doing the ‘right thing’ by the environment regardless of construction technique.
- Become a shaper. The world needs more skilled and dedicated people involved, if you have even a slight interest and the skills to do it, then do it. If you are not sure if you will like there are places you can go to learn the basics in a few days and give you a taster. A good example is Jaxxon Surfboards which is in the UK, if you want to know more check the article we did with them here. There are many such places globally if you would like to know your nearest, just send us a message and we will point you in the right direction.
This is not an issue that can be solved overnight and the reality is that we need automation as the population of surfers grows daily. The message here is to stop the curve and switch the currents, give the consumers more product knowledge and realise the difference by championing you locally made surfboard.
This is something very dear to the core of our being at Surf Bunker. We call it a revolution. Join the Surf Bunker Revolution. It starts with you.
Right now off to Primark to buy a bunch of cheap shirts.