Pull the Woolight over your eyes
Of the three main materials in a surfboard: blank, resin, and fibreglass, it's the latter that's considered the least environmentally damaging. Hence it gets the least amount of coverage when the conversation turns eco-friendly.
Fibreglass, known as fiber glass to our American friends, is infused with resin to laminate a surfboard. Together, resin and fibreglass provide a hard shell that protects the soft foam underneath.
The resin and foams used are usually a plastic derivative, while fibreglass is made from silica; molten glass is blown into thin strings that are then woven into matting.
Despite the lower priority, various alternatives to fibreglass have been proposed over the years: Jim Banks experimented with hemp cloth decades ago, while Gary McNeil still uses flax seed, and some comnpanies have even woven coconut husks into matting for surfboards.
The latest material to create a laminate alternative is wool, and fittingly the idea arose in New Zealand.
Paul Barron has some runs on the board as an inventor. Through his company Barron Surfboard he devised and patented Barron Flex, more commonly known as Flex Bar since it was licensed to Channel Islands and widely used on their boards.
Nine years ago, Newton's Apple fell when Barron was in his factory glassing a board and got resin on his woolen jumper.
"I tried to glass a board with it," Barron told the New Zealand Herald, "but it just didn't work, so I chucked it in the corner of the factory."
He kept at it, however, and a few years after the original idea Barron devised Woolight, a wool-based substitute for fibreglass. Woolight works the same as fibreglass, providing internal reinforcement to whatever resin is being used, though its appearance - at least at this early stage - is different. Woolight has an uneven shading, not unlike resin tint colouring.
Barron then established two important deals, one at home, one abroad.
The first was with New Zealand Merino. They'd supply him with quality wool, and he'd potentially kickstart a stagnant industry.
"The global fibreglass market sees about 29 million square metres of fibreglass used every year," explains Hadleigh Smith from New Zealand Merino, "and it's expected to grow by another 30 per cent in the next five years. If we can get even 1 per cent of that global market for sustainable businesses, that's going to make a huge impact for the New Zealand wool industry."
And there could be another agreeable side-effect: if farmers sold wool to surfers they may be less hasty bringing out the firearms when surfers crossed their properties.
Rob Machado with Woolight Firewire
The second collaboration was with Firewire, who've spearheaded the push for eco-boards, even vowing to create a landfill-free board by 2020. By using bio resin to harden Woolight - an organic material - Firewire have created a less toxic laminate.
"With Woolight, we are matching or even reducing the weight of our existing surfboards," says Firewire boss Marc Price, "so you've got this strong sustainability story with a performance story that's at least as good if not even better."
The first boards Firewire made from Woolight were the Rob Machado-designed Go Fish, which were shown at US SurfExpo last January. At the time it was expected they'd be available in Australia late this year, however it now appears New Zealanders will be the first surfers able to ride woolen boards. Firewire will begin selling Woolight boards there in April or May 2019.
At this point, it's unsure which boards in the Firewire range will be available in Woolight. It would make marketing sense to focus on Rob Machado's boards, however Woolight Omnis have been sent to technology publications to review, indicating they may use Woolight across the range.