The Future of Surfing: Part I

The Future of Surfing: Part I

Original article published 28 April, 2021

​​[10-15 minute read]


Welcome to the first of a two-part series asking innovators and crafty folk from the surfing world about the future of surfboards and the wider realm of surf culture. Part I comes from the East Coast of Australia and involves four innovators we know here at Wave Changer from various conversations and connections via mutual friends. Part II (with American and French flavours) will follow later this year.

Spooked Kooks create softboards made from post-consumer plastic waste in a range of fun colours and shapes for all ages. Eco Evo Surfboards make high-performance surfboards made with progressive, eco-friendly materials. Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards produce custom, hand-crafted eco-boards with no limits to the colours and shapes imaginable. Surfboards by Grant Newby exhibit a range of natural materials, specialising in bespoke timber finishes to create beautiful eco-surfboards.

Without further ado...


Tell us about the type of surfboards you create, and the materials and processes involved.

Grant Newby (Grant Newby Surfboards)

I make boards from a wide range of materials and combinations, and a wide range of surfboard designs from 4'8" Mini Simmons to 14' Gliders. I use EPS and PU blanks [EPS = Expanded Polystyrene and PU = polyurethane]. PU glue and vacuum bagging. Paulownia timber, cork, native hardwoods and exotic timber. Mostly epoxy resin. Flax cloth, linen cloth and basalt cloth. I have finished boards in lanolin alone, varnish and epoxy. So basically, nothing is off the table. I like to experiment.

Shane P-J Luke (Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards)

I handcraft all my boards. I use a variety of sustainable materials such as flax, basalt, jute, paulownia, cork, hemp, PET (recycled plastic bottle cloth) and plant cellulose fibre. I focus on obtaining my materials from within Australia as much as possible. I vary my built materials to suit the style of board I am creating. My blanks are recyclable, and I sometimes use recycled EPS foam made local to me. The company that creates them has my specific blank files which helps me minimize waste and they also take my off-cuts and dust and recycle that. They use solar and recycled rainwater.

​I use bio-epoxy resins on all my boards, and any fiberglass I use is direct size – meaning non heat treated, so less VOCs [volatile organic compounds] are released upon manufacturing and a stronger result. All Australian made. We also run our entire production with solar energy. I'm also very impressed with Ry Harris from Earth Technologies [in Los Angeles, USA] with their zero waste initiatives, and have this as my goal for my business.

Mark Zanotto (Eco Evo Surfboards)

At Eco Evo Surf we have spent thousands of hours researching, developing and testing, to bring a unique combination of eco-friendly and performance-driven components. We found that the 220g flax material closely resembles fibreglass, yet in its raw form it grows with very little water or soil nutrients. 

​We coat this with a bio-based epoxy resin over a tightly beaded recycled foam blank, we are seeing our boards last a lot longer, they show very little visible deck compressions, as well as being light and 'drivey'. We continue to develop our range and the components of our boards to be more environmentally conscious.

Tom Hobbs and Rupert Gillies (Spooked Kooks)

We make softboards that contain post-consumer recycled plastic waste. Post-consumer plastic means it was actual trash in the environment and not industrial waste, the majority of this waste is ocean-bound plastic. All the hard plastic (HDPE) in our boards is 100% recycled plastic sourced from our partner company Plastic Bank. This includes the slick (underside of the board), fins, fin key, leash plugs and in some of our board models – the fin boxes. We worked with plastic experts from across the globe to help us successfully incorporate the recycled plastic. Recycled materials melt at a different rate to virgin plastics, so our manufacturers had to learn a new way of tooling the materials.

To date, we have used over 7 tonnes of recycled HDPE in our boards. We also don’t wrap our boards in shrink-wrap and have estimated to have saved over 300kg in soft plastics by avoiding this. We plant a mangrove tree for each board made, and so far, we have planted over 1500 mangrove trees with our partner SeaTrees. Each tree, over its life period, and taking into account a percentage of die-off of saplings, will sequester an average of 320kg of CO2 per tree, taking our current total to 499,000 KGs of CO2 that will be sequestered through our partnership with SeaTrees.

A note on the The Plastic Bank; they work predominantly in developing nations and have formed a circular currency around recycled materials as it exchanges plastic waste with collectors for basic family needs such as groceries, fuel, education, tools, and more. They have termed this plastic as Social Plastic as it has a positive social impact as well as a positive environmental impact.


Apart from a plank of locally grown timber, what do you think is a realistic prediction for the future of mass-produced sustainable surfboards?

Shane – Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

I believe that creating a durable performance-based surfboard made from sustainable materials that can biodegrade once finished with is the way of the future.

Mark – Eco Evo Surfboards

There are various products out there for shapers and board builders already in place, that can and will attribute to a sustainable future for surfboard production. Many of the systems for production are refined for economic efficiency which, surprisingly, in some cases also improves the environmental implications of the product. That said, there's a lot of room for improvement. I feel like the greatest challenge is the adoption of sustainable alternatives by the general public, so when the demand grows, so will the investment in a better standard for surfboard production.

Tom and Ru – Spooked Kooks

Each sustainably focused surf company has quite unique and different ways to tackle the problem of human-caused environmental damage. Consequently, there are lots of little improvements being made in different areas each year. The difficulty is bringing these improvements to market on scale and sharing the improvements to the rest of the industry in such a competitive market. Unfortunately, this has led to some companies buying the rights to a new technology and not allowing other companies to use this tech; it's a practice that hinders many industries. On top of that, often the sustainable option is more expensive, so combining all of the options may price you out of the market.

If we dream for a moment and imagine that all companies share their tech, there are no exclusive deals, and costs for each sustainable alternative are closer to virgin materials than they currently are – then we’d have softboards that were made from a mixture of recycled plastics and algae, with bio-resins to glue them. However, to our knowledge, only the HDPE would be 100% recycled, with the other areas being mixes of virgin and recycled or plant-based alternatives to a maximum of 20-30% ratios.

For us, the next major focus for the industry as a whole should be working on an alternative to EPS/ PU/ XPS cores. We understand that one company managed to recycle EPS and incorporate it into a board up to a maximum level of 25% recycled and 75% virgin mix. Unfortunately (we understand) these blanks were not financially viable to scale, and the percentage of recycled materials could not be increased because it made the EPS too brittle, and the breakage rate of the final product was too high. This would have cost the company a lot of money to essentially find out there’s quite a low level of recyclability to this material and a high level of labour/ machine cost. Other companies create entirely “recyclable” softboards out of virgin materials. This puts the onus of any environmental gains on the customer and requires recycling stations in each region to correctly recycle the used boards. While this does not appear to be scalable in a financially feasible sense, and the recycled boards would not be able to be turned back into surfboards or any performance hardware above 25% (or thereabouts, with current tech), it could however lead to the surfboards being recycled back into packaging or other non-performance products of some sort. 

Grant – Grant Newby Surfboards

I would like to think that there will be more investigation and experimentation with resins and foams that are far less toxic. Nature has a vast source of unexplained possibilities, and we really need the surf industry to invest in this area. I believe that alternatives do exist, they just haven't been a priority yet. If we can make so many things that we use daily made from fossil fuels, could we not reverse the chemistry to recycle them back to nature?


What role do pro surfers play in the whole sustainability movement?

Mark – Eco Evo Surfboards

As leaders of the sport and icons of the industry, pro surfers have a responsibility in leading the change. They will be influencing youth to make smarter decisions by representing sustainable brands in the water. I’d love to see a professional surfer take on the opportunity to leverage their influence for a positive change and create a legacy for sustainable surfboards as part of the WSL [World Surf League] Tour.

Tom and Ru – Spooked Kooks

They play a huge role in education. One of the biggest hurdles the sustainable movement faces is lack of education or misinformation about new technologies, systems and processes. For example, in NSW [Australia] our recycling bins can be different colours from council to council; this is only going to invite confusion from people which will lead to lack of interest in getting involved. Sustainability is vital, but the message should be exciting, fun and simple. Pro surfers can help achieve that level of message.

Grant – Grant Newby Surfboards

You would have to say that pro surfers play little to no role in the sustainability of surfing, which is a shame. The top surfers are role models for a wide range of surfers and could play a significant part in changing the outlook of sustainability in surfing. I imagine that the WSL is probably the most suitable governing body to be talking to. I'm not aware of the specifics of the type of equipment that they need to use, but an 'Eco Event' would be a very good start.
Shane – Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

Pro surfers play a major role in the whole sustainability movement. The industry's sales model is mostly based around what the pro surfers are riding. If John John Florence rode an eco-board and the industry and the WSL promoted it, then 90% of surfers would do the same. If you put Torren Martyn or Asher Pacey and a logger in there and bingo, we're cooking.


It seems like the most exciting innovation is coming from grassroots or backyard shapers and designers, do you agree?

Tom and Ru – Spooked Kooks

Yes. You can assume that it would be hard for larger companies to change their supply chains for materials the industry deems as risky. We would hope that there is a reasonable amount of R+D going on with these companies, but we have not seen anything that has led to a dramatic product shift from the big names, as of yet. 

Grant – Grant Newby Surfboards

Yes, this is probably right as the industry as a whole does very little R+D on new products or processed as they have little time and money to go down that path. So, it is left to those who have the time and are willing to think outside the box to experiment. I also think there must be a willingness to accept innovation and change when it is presented.

Shane – Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

Yes, I definitely agree with that. The industry is very slow to embrace change as a whole whereas the grassroots/ backyard shapers and designers are more willing to experiment with alternative materials and designs. We are fortunate enough to not have the pressures of large production structures and the responsibilities that go along with that style of business model. Our passion [at Rocket Ace] for creating each individual board for our customers is still our main goal. Add to this the growing concern for the environment, and our own personal health as board builders, and you have a recipe for sustainable creativity that has an opportunity to be a very positive influencer for change in the future of the surfboard industry as a whole.

Mark – Eco Evo Surfboards

We see innovation coming from all realms of the industry; there are recycled plastic boards being 3D-printed in the south of France, and bamboo seedlings being grown to build surfboards by backyard shapers in Japan. I feel like the industry undercurrent is moving towards a more conscious approach to what we are taking into the water.


Is there anything outside of surfing that really excites you, in an environmental context?

Shane – Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

The entire eco/sustainability, circular economy movement really excites me. We can all be a bit more mindful with all our actions and decisions, no matter who we are or what we do for a job, sport, hobby etc. Every day I am coming across new eco-friendly and sustainable innovations in all aspects of daily life. I am definitely a glass half-full kind of guy, and I have great faith in humanity that we will continue to develop and grow in our custodianship of this wonderful Planet we call Earth.

Tom and Ru – Spooked Kooks

Packaging is forging ahead with some really good alternatives to plastics. A lot of companies are using organic materials to make home compostable packaging. But again, education is key here. Most first-world nations have a lot of apartment complexes, and these typically do not have home compost facilities, nor do a great many (if not the majority) of standalone homes in first-world countries. So, the compostable packaging goes to normal waste and acts similar to plastic in the length of time they take to breakdown and the damage to environment.

New technology needs to be accompanied by constantly updated education. The trouble is – it can be stifling for the new product to heavily educate people about something they want to be easy. But there are some great emerging companies doing some good things in interesting ways in this area. Check out Grounded Packaging as an example. Aside from that, new organic and non-organic mixed plastics is the future (bio-plastics).  We're excited to see how these bio-plastics develop.

Mark – Eco Evo Surfboards

I cannot pinpoint a single aspect. There's been an amazing shift in so many industries (old and new) to approach the market with a sense of responsibility. There's some fascinating work being done with electric vehicle batteries and also energy efficient architecture. It's an exciting thing to witness, there will undoubtedly be a massive shift in our lifetime.

Grant – Grant Newby Surfboards

I think the exciting thing is that there are more groups of people who are wanting to make the wider population aware of the options and possibilities as they come to the fore. And it seems this message is being shared in a more passive way than we've seen in the past by some 'eco-warriors' who have divided the community. Wave Changer is a good example of this. [Aww, thanks Grant].


Any final thoughts on the future of surfboards or surfing in general?

Tom and Ru – Spooked Kooks

We have a growing number of plastics in the world today, and ultimately it would be ideal to slow/halt the production of new plastics and then find a way for the already existing plastics to be re-used as much as possible. Our dream is to create a closed-loop where you can recycle an old surfboard into a new surfboard, or at the very least, down-cycle old surfboards into other surf products. We have enough waste on the planet now, let’s turn that into useful stuff again. 

Shane – Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

I am really excited for the future of surfing and surfboards. As surfers we have an instinctive connection to mother nature and a responsibility to care for her. I can see a future where all boards will be sustainably built and eco-friendly.

Mark – Eco Evo Surfboards

Sustainability comes at a financial cost. In an industry notorious for being a 'tough nut to crack’ the backyard shapers are being cut short, yet they are the foundation of the very existence of our sport. I feel as though we, as consumers, need to be prepared to pay a little extra for craftsmanship, sustainability and the relationship with our shapers. It could be as simple as asking questions like: Are the surfboards Australian made? Are they sustainable? What inspired the shape? And so on.

Grant – Grant Newby Surfboards

Surfers as a group are said to have grown by some 30% during the Covid outbreak, and so there is a whole new group of people who are all excited by their newfound sport. That's a lot of new people to talk to (and educate) about the ocean and the craft they use it in. This is a new group of people who are excited and passionate, that come with new ideas and maybe a fresh respect for this part of the environment they now play in. This could bring new opportunities and insights.


Thank you, Grant, Shane, Mark, Ru and Tom.

Click on the links below to find out more about our featured interviewees. Treat yourself to an awesome new surfboard while you're there:

Surfboards by Grant Newby

Rocket Ace Eco Surfboards

Eco Evo Surfboards

Spooked Kooks



The content in this article has in no way been paid for or sponsored. It's also worth pointing out - despite our interest in the past and the future - we're not secretly building a time machine.

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