Most surfers are conservationists by default. However, if we were to unpack the materials surfboards are made of, we may start to question our altruistic naturalist stance.
Surfboards of polished wood
Gone are the original Hawaiian days of surfboards made of polished wood. Surfboards are built out of non-biodegradable foam, plastered with fiberglass, and then coated with toxic resins. Surfboards are made almost entirely from petroleum and have a very high carbon footprint. One of the ways in which surfers are trying to mitigate the damage is through organizations like Sustainable Surf. Their Ecoboard certification program promotes boards and shapers that use recycled or biological materials.
Firewire is the global leader in board design & construction. With some $20million invested into Research & Development and with uber elite boardrider, Kelly Slater as co-owner, they lead the market in sustainability, board design & durability. Their niche pricing & proven designs also enable good reseller value.
We chatted with South African eco-entrepreneur Jamii Hamlin, a qualified product designer who is conceptualizing, designing and manufacturing more sustainable products and recently showcased the ARRA Ecoboard.
Q: What is your background and interest in surfing?
I began surfing at about 12 and after graduating as the first Product Designer to qualify in Cape Town 1990, I started exploring the waves around Cape Town. At 26 I started surfing competitively and won the Boland (Cape Winelands) Masters category. I also participated in the SA Regional & National Champs. On the brink of exploring big wave surfing, I discovered surf ski paddling. This opened a whole new paradigm of ocean awareness and endurance sports that expanded to canoeing rivers, sailing, mountain biking and other outdoor adventure quests.
I qualified as a lifeguard at the tender age of 45 and won numerous National Titles at the SA Lifesaving Champs. I now do a little surf ski coaching at Strand Life Saving Club and am very pleased that one of my juniors is part of the SA High-Performance Team heading to World Champs in November.
Q: How did you conceive the idea of the Ecoboard?
The AЯRA is a concept Ecoboard to explore two aspects. One is to expand surfboard design principles that can accelerate advancements in surfing with ‘bidirectional’ control like snow, skate and wakeboarding disciplines. The other is to place an emphasis on environmental sustainability in the material choices and construction methods of the board. Each of these two aspects needs deeper elaboration to fully understand the technical details and thinking behind them, so I hope I can expand and explain it in a simple manner.
Q: What sets the AЯRA apart from the rest?
AЯRA is an acronym for Asymmetrical Яevisable Refined Alaia. For those wondering, an Alaia is a traditional Hawaiian wooden ‘plank like’ finless board that is subtly designed to allow for frictionless surfing across a wave. It requires a surfer with definite ability to master and control the board. Much like a magic carpet would skim along easily to glide, spin or drift in the waves pocket and power source.
Briefly explained the AЯRA is a very short board at 5’2” x 20” x 2.5” with sufficient volume of about 30 litres to aid catching waves. The anticipation is to experiment and refine conventional surfing to allow for completely finless or finned surfing by placing a traditional fin cluster on one Nose/tail end or instead using nubby fins on either end for bidirectional surfing.
In essence, the R4 in AЯR4A stands for Refined, but the mathematical power of four represents the environmental aspect to Rethink, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. The Ecoboard was conceived & constructed with these underlying themes.
Q: What materials do you use to make the Ecoboard?
The foam was an old discarded block of polystyrene that I once used in ‘anything that floats’ surfing competition. The 4WayFin plugs where scavenged from broken surfboards and repurposed. The plywood nubby fins were sourced & shaped from scrap offcuts. In collaboration with Cobus Joubert and his team at the WaWa factory the cloth used for glassing is hessian. It’s a natural fabric dyed red with organic beetroot dye that gives it an interesting unique tapestry. We used Entropy epoxy that is a natural resin extract that’s non-toxic and void of any phenols. It’s 100% safe to use without ventilation or gloves.
Q: What successes have you achieved with the Ecoboard?
The AЯRA was showcased at the J-Bay Pro 2018 as part of the Corona/Parley Ecoboard Challenge Exhibition to highlight, educate and change conventional consumer perceptions towards environmental sustainability.
As surfers, we are at the forefront of consciousness and have a huge responsibility as custodian of the environment to lead the way. So whilst it might take time before the AЯR4A reaches any commercial significance as a ‘go to’ or acclaimed surfboard design, hopefully, it might help broadcast the message that we need to start thinking and doing things in a smarter, cleaner and more sustainable manner. Failing this our waterways and oceans will become too toxic and polluted for us to enjoy.
Q: What are you doing when you aren’t making boards?
The AЯRA is the first board I’ve shaped so I can hardly call myself a board maker. Just prior to the dawn of the new millennium, I became very conscious of the environment. I realized the pivotal role I have as a product designer to influence the relationship between designing and manufacturing of ‘consumer goods’ for mass consumption.
Since 2004 I have been very focused on Ecostake, a multi-award winning & patented agricultural trellising and fencing system similar to Lego and Meccano. The system also has enormous versatility as a DIY solution for other universal applications like shelving, staking, lattice or overhead configurations. I am currently tooling up for our Smartstake system for overhead shade net structures for apples, berries and other export producers requiring more clinical and sustainable trellising methods.
Jamii won the Green Inventor of the Year Award. Check out his interview below on Popular Mechanics.
My ‘green eureka’ moment dawned when I read about the annual coastal clean up on Robben Island. The clean-up collected 22 000 bags of consumer goods rubbish that had blown or flushed into the waters surrounding the Mother City. This became the catalyst for me to re-evaluate my professional work and lifestyle choices to align with a more sustainable and eco-friendly philosophy.
Apart from focussing on Ecostake’s endeavours fulltime and developing other top-secret inventions, I’m working on a few other fun projects for surf ski paddling.
The first is a ‘foamie’ surfski that will seek to offer custom design and a CNC shaped bespoke craft for individuals wanting a more ergonomically ski tailored for their paddling needs. I anticipate exploring flex patterns and design principles from surfboard design and to offer greener constructions methods like the Ecoboard.
The other is very exciting and currently in vogue in water sports. I hope to pioneer the adoption of hydrofoils for surf ski paddling by redesigning the traditional shape of the craft to accommodate the inclusions of the hydrofoils. Then I need to figure out how to paddle further, faster with greater efficiency.
We wish Jamii every success in his entrepreneurial adventure.