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Reshaping the surfing world

Eco-Flex technology gives sport a smaller carbon footprint

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Moss Research founder and 16-year veteran surfboard shaper Jake Moss has been pioneering the creation of a sustainable surfboard for the past five years.

In February 2011, Moss Research, based in Solana Beach, earned the Gold Endorsement of Sustainability from the Sustainable Surf Coalition for its Eco-Flex design technology. The endorsement is the first of its kind to be given to a surfboard company in the field of environmental awareness and worker safety.

Moss Research Eco-Flex Technology uses 100 percent domestic repurposed EPS (expanded polystyrene foam) waste for the board’s core, natural fibers such as bamboo and hemp for reinforcement and recycled plywood bamboo flooring scraps for the fins. The overall construction process also admits less VOC (volatile organic compounds) from plant epoxy at 55 percent bio-concentration.

Tobias Schultz, a consultant in renewable energy system design and founder of the Sustainable Surfing Coalition, awarded Moss Research with the gold rating based on several categories including use of renewable energy, use of low-impact materials and minimizing health effects towards workers. The sustainable report, posted on mossresearch.com, shows an overall improvement in worker safety and environmental awareness.

“The traditional surfboard manufacturing material (polyurethane blanks and polyester resin) is far from perfect in terms of sustainability. Polyurethane boards are being dumped in our landfills as a non-recyclable plastic. This is the embarrassing reality of surfing, which would otherwise appear an environmentally-minded sport,” Moss said.

Moss Research, based out of Solana Beach, has developed a surfboard that is friendlier to both the environment and board shapers (above) than was has typically been available in the industry. Photo by Robert Lundahl/courtesy Moss Research

Since the mid to late 1950s, iconic surfboard shaper Hobie Alter, alongside whiz-kid glasser Gordon “Grubby” Clark, produced the first polyurethane foam, fiberglass and polyester resin surfboards, revolutionizing the surfing world by making boards smaller, faster and lighter.

Clark went on to start Clark Foam, which monopolized the surfboard core market for the next 50 years. In 2005, Clark Foam stopped producing polyurethane blanks because of several issues with the Environmental Protection Agency.

“After the Clark Foam closure and the subsequent information regarding the health and environmental downsides of just the blanks, I wasn't feeling great about my craft. I also was experiencing respiratory issues,” Moss said.

Moss Research now mainly uses EPS foam blanks, which release far fewer toxic emissions than polyurethane, providing a safer work environment. In fact, expanded polystyrene can be found in household items such as Styrofoam cups and packing peanuts, and is said to be safe to consume.

“For us, it’s about making better choices,” Moss said. “Our Eco-Flex technology uses post consumer EPS foam that is hydraulically blown with clean steam, as opposed to MDI or TDI (diisocyanates – potentially dangerous chemicals) blanks, which are toxic to shapers.”

Many shapers do not use EPS foam for a substantial part of their production, because of the high cost. Foam manufactures charge more for EPS/epoxy construction, because the casting process takes three times as long to cure as polyurethane. This has led to a 30 percent price markup for epoxy boards.

EPS is also more difficult to shape, paint and airbrush. So it takes longer to make one epoxy surfboard opposed to the standard polyurethane surfboard.

One big upside to using EPS foam is that it only works with epoxy resin as opposed to polyester resin. Epoxy is a safer alternative because it emits 50 to 75 percent fewer VOCs than polyester, making it safer for workers and the environment.

Epoxy resin is lighter, harder (fewer surfboard dings) and more buoyant than traditional resins. Moss’ bio-epoxy surfboards last twice as long, making them a more environmentally friendly choice, since fewer surfboards end up in landfills over time.

“In order for surfers to support such a shift, I knew that the performance would have to be as good, or better, than the industry standard. Our eco-boards have been refined over the past four years and are better to surf than conventional boards,” Moss said.

Some surfers and surf companies will argue that epoxy surfboards are less responsive due to the buoyancy and that polyurethane surfboards allow more maneuverability, especially in steeper waves.

“With the wrong approach or poor research, even the best intention can end up being a bad apple that spoils the bunch," Moss said.

Moss Research has spent the last four years adjusting dimensions, rocker, contours and fin placement to find the most applicable function for epoxy surfboards.

“New technology should always be tested in all conditions and pass for ‘better’ than what’s come before it," Moss said.

Moss’ new surfboard designs are receiving a lot of fanfare and good reviews from some major surfing publications. Moss has also seen an increase in sales in 2011.

“What we are doing is making a better performing and more sustainable board while supporting our own economy and also addressing the needs of the surfer," Moss said. “We want to create something of value that people can get behind and feel good about. The real challenge is fostering education, and getting people to change their thinking and practices that have been industry tradition for the past 50 years.”

Patruno is a San Diego-based freelance writer.

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