Westkust and the coming disruption
Disruption is a modern buzzword that for many people has been more marketing jargon than commercial reality. The internet is the most obvious of all disruptive technologies, yet unless you were a newspaper journalist or worked in print the 'net was nothing but a boom. The 'disruption' was welcomed for its convenience and efficiency.
However, the tentacles of disruption are spreading into different industries. Utilising the internet they subvert typical commercial structures and hence unsettle established businesses. Whether or not you think that's a good thing depends on what side of the counter you stand.
The surf industry is not immune to disruptive technologies. The latest being a co-operative out of Amsterdam called Westkust - Dutch for west coast - who design fins and cardboard blanks using open source technology. If you have access to a 3D printer you can download their designs and make your own fins. Same with cutting your own cardboard surfboard blanks.
Their rationale is simple: "We just like to build truly beautiful stuff and share it. It's as easy as that."
Swellnet: Who are Westkust?
Westkust consists of space engineers, entrepreneurs, and designers from a cold country in Europe. We like to keep away from the stage and we rather spend time outdoors or in our shed, making stuff. We're more than OK with that.
Who we are is less important. We are not in it for the money at all. We are doing this because we feel that surfing needs a more open source-based mentality. Make your own stuff, share it, so others can improve upon it. Everything that we design is shared with the public for free. We strongly believe that sharing your work with the world and making the designs public will spark a lot of good things.
Westkust might be considered a counter culture and can from that point of view also be seen as an anti-response on disposables, globalised mass production, the power of chain stores, multinationals, and consumerism. Somehow surfing seems to have sold out to this.
Sounds more like a movement?
Westkust is a social movement with an artisan spirit in which the methods of digital fabrication—previously the exclusive domain of institutions—have become accessible at a personal scale.
The concept of handmade and experimental shapes and materials in surfing has its roots prior to Westkust and is something we strongly support. Westkust is here to use the power of digital fabrication for everyone to experiment with. We share all our work for free. It means that we always release the source code of our designs so other can improve upon it and give it back to the global community. Then again, if you want to buy a cardboard blank or 3D printed surfboard fins we are there to accommodate you.
What material would usually be used to make fins on a 3D printer?
Carbon fibre filament. We have done extensive testing and this is the right stuff. You can use other materials, but then you will need to glass the fin for added stiffness. It's dirt cheap too. A fin shouldn't cost as much as currently is the case. It’s simply ridiculous what FCS does.
Have you experimented with different materials for fins?
Hell yeah, everything that is out there. Even metal. We are currently using a CNC machine that makes a fin in one go out of a single block of wood. It looks sick if we may say so and will cost five dollars in material.
How does Westkust itself make money?
Probably not, we run other businesses that actually make us money. We own several companies in solar, space technology, engineering, and e-health. All social enterprises by the way. We are not in it for the money. It's funny - and completely understandable - that you ask this question. It's one that would not have been asked by Tom Blake's generation or generations before us. It's something that we as surfers have grown accustomed to; build a brand and make money. If we happen to make money it will go straight back into new stuff and the community.
What do you expect fin companies would think of your open source approach?
Haha! Let's wait and see. We hope they learn from it. So many companies have gone bankrupt by new technologies. Kodak anyone? They can either adapt or complain. We hope they will reach out to us and ask us how we can help them integrate this new technology and approach in their business instead of burning down new ideas and approaches. That would be too easy.
Instead of being mass produced, like most other surf fins, Westkust fins are 3D printed on demand, preventing both unnecessary transport and overproduction. Eco-friendly if you will. No waste material. Even better, the designs are printed locally.
With all things new there can be hiccups. Call it Beta. Call it a trial period. We call it evolution and we are upfront and open about it. We are non-commercial too. If people are scared to know how their product is made and fear experimenting with designs, glassing, learning by doing and want world class customer service then they should move on to the big brands. They will be well taken care of by FCS, Futures and whathaveyounot. They will be sweet as a nut.
We partnered with a network of printers with over 20,000 locations in over 150 countries, providing over one billion people access to a 3D printer within ten miles of their home. Westkust fins are all cutting edge open source designs, developed by and with the surfing community not by sponsored athletes. Westkust designs are for the experimental surf tinkerers, artists, makers, and counterculture loving people. Every detail has been meticulously engineered. Structural analytics have been taken into account. The hydrodynamics have been tested. We we even put them in a hydrodynamics testing tank at the University of Delft.
The cardboard blanks are interesting, what is the motivation for creating them? Environmentally friendly..?
One of us works with space technology at the European Space Agency and we saw this thing called grid stiffened technology which is used in satellites we thought it would be cool to make a surfboard with it. Some googling learned that Mike Sheldrake had actually already done this. We loved the way it looked. It really looks freakin' awesome and decided it needed more attention so we started building them. Just to show people that there are more possibilities and approaches. He also released all of his templates and files for free. We consider eco-friendly as normal, not something we specifically focus on to push sales.
How does the strength compare to typical PU/PE boards?
OK-ish, we are fair and open about this. It’s not some high performance unobtainium that makes you go faster and fly higher - recognise the surf marketing lingo? They just look sick and we love the way they surf. It's not going to be some world changing material or success. We know this.
Expect a lot more from us. We are releasing software with the guys from finfoil.io. It’s open source software that lets you create our own fins very easily online. We will be shipping wooden fins made with the CNC machine. We are also working on a new grid stiffened applications. All in all we want to feel connected to surf culture again.