The ProTest in Hawaii Puts Eco Surfboards in the Spotlight

Surfers are very good at playing the “green” game, touting our love for the ocean and respect for the natural world – We’re even good at it as we paddle out on our never-gonna-breakdown petroleum-based foam, wrapped in petroleum-based fiberglass.

But the ProTest ECOBOARD Challenge, an online surf edit contest, aims to highlight boards that are made of materials that are better for the earth and the oceans.

“We can’t point the finger unless we’re going to be more eco-conscious ourselves,” Kahi Pacarro, Executive Director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, tells ASN.

The ProTest challenged pro surfers to ride Ecoboards in order to show how well they perform. Miguel Blanco’s heavy submission. (Arakawa shape, Marko Enviro-Foam, glassed with Prolink Bioresin.) Photo: Courtesy of Miguel Blanco

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii is an organization that tackles large scale beach cleanups.

“Most of the debris that washes up on our beaches is from Asia. There’s some from California and Mexico. Then there’s the commercial fishing waste. And we want to basically say ‘Hey guys, clean up your sh*t.’ But then we looked at our own consumer behaviors in Hawaii,” Pacarro says.

He talks about a Hawaiian term, Akamai, which means “cognizant and knowledgeable.”

“Locals in Hawaii are not very akamai when it comes to our consumer behaviors and waste streams. We had to look at our land and compare ourselves to places like San Francisco and Portland, which have great sustainability practice,” explains Pacarro. “We couldn’t be hypocritical when we told people to clean up their mess.”

Pacarro is a surfer, and surfing is the sport of kings in Hawaii. But a surfboard is a mix of toxic products that aren’t biodegradable. He rode wooden alaia boards for a few years, throwbacks to what ancient Hawaiians would take to the waves on, and even won some alaia events in the process. But eventually he wanted to get barreled and do airs, so he needed a surfboard that was made of natural, sustainable materials … not “poly-whatevers.”

Alternative materials were a point of conversation even before Clark Foam shut down in 2005 (the facility that produced the foam for an estimated 90 percent of surfboards made in the U.S. and 60 percent worldwide). Since then, there have been many materials introduced to surfboard manufacturing, but none has replaced fiberglass and foam – both made of fossil fuels and neither biodegradable – in the majority of performance surfboards.

The California eco-organization, Sustainable Surf, has been guiding the industry toward more environmentally responsible boards since 2012. They’re creating a baseline and credibility for board builders which verifies the use of more sustainable materials like bio-resin and recycled EPS foam, designating them as verified ECOBOARDS.

Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith have ridden these boards in World Tour events, and Michel Bourez even won the 2014 Vans Cup at Sunset on a certified ECOBOARD.

“Ecoboards have yet to be adopted by the masses,” Pacarro explains. “And we believe the adoption is so slow because the boards aren’t being ridden by pros. When I was a kid I wanted to ride whatever Kelly was riding. Now, it’s whatever John John Florence is riding.

“Markets are based on what’s under the feet of the best surfers. And brands spend so much money on it. We had to figure out a way to get the best surfers riding ECOBOARDS and document it.”

Casey Goepel lays all that recycled foam on its recycled rail. (Glenn Pang shape, Marko Enviro-Foam.) Photo: Courtesy of Goepel

That eventually led Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii to the ProTest ECOBOARD Challenge, a chance for pro surfers to test out ECOBOARDS. Surfers on the North Shore of Hawaii were given the winter to collect footage of themselves on boards that are made of at least 25 percent non-toxic materials.

The surfers were invited to submit their finished edits to the ProTest. The submission process ended on March 1 and now the public is voting on the best clip. The winning surfer gets $10,000 and the videographer(s) make $1000 for their effort.

The ProTest required all surfboards to have this label. There were 60,000 verified ECOBOARDS made in 2017 globally, by over 150 shapers. The boards incorporate more bio-resins and recycled Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) in the foam.

Hawaiian filmmaker, activist and soon-to-be PhD, Cliff Kopono encouraged surfers to ride the boards and also hit up the surf brands for support. Vans believed in the project and lent financial support with Parley for the Oceans, and SURFER Magazine donated the website frame. Eight solid edits were chosen as finalists and voting closes on April 13.

Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii essentially had a library of boards that surfers could borrow from. Each of the boards has been rated as a “Level 1” ECOBOARD by Sustainable Surf according to its carbon footprint. Seven of the ProTest entries are boards from the library (Jimmy Apeahi rides a wooden alaia in his edit).

Any board made with experimental material is more expensive. But Paccaro explains that the idea is to increase demand, which increases the supply and creates an economy of scale. That drives down the coast of the materials and the consumer price. “If we increase the research and development, we bring on the next wave of eco technology,” he says. “Eventually we get to a guilt-free biodegradable or recycled board.”

The winner of the ProTest Ecoboard Challenge will be announced on Earth Day. Goepel in the spot. (Matty Raynor shape, Marko Enviro-Foam and Entropy Resin.) Photo: Courtesy of @tiralongo

The ProTest is the catalyst. Think of it as a cross between Taylor Steele’s Innersection, Surfline’s Wave of the Winter, and a Surfrider Foundation campaign.

“Surfers have a strong connection to the ocean, which is made even stronger when their board directly reflects their environmental values. That’s a great starting point for the surfing community to further reduce their ocean footprint in every way,” Kevin Whilden, co-founder of Sustainable Surf tells ASN.

The public has until April 13 to cast a vote. The winner will be announced on Saturday, April 14.

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