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Riding the Green Wave

Lifelong surfer Clay Peterson is on a mission to build greener surfboards.

The quest to build a “greener” surfboard has been one of slow starts and grinding stops. First, a sugar-based blank showed potential, then soy and plant-polyol blanks popped up on the market. They surfed well – but not as well as boards made with oil-based polyurethane or extruded polystyrene (EPS). At which point, the surf industry realized a crucial variable that few had fully counted on: Surfers want to go green, but never at the expense of performance. Soon, the lesson sunk in that any successful green board would have to surf exactly like its traditional counterparts.  

Enter Clay Peterson. A lifelong surfer, he knew what level of performance a “green” board would have to meet. What’s more, as a manufacturer of EPS foam products (including blanks), he had some pretty solid ideas about how to get it done. In the late 2000s, Peterson began tinkering with the idea of a partially recycled blank. Right away, one of his suppliers hit a grand slam, delivering foam that was 100% recycled. Peterson’s company produced a run of 400 perfect blanks. The green surfboard had arrived. But then, the supplier went out of business during the 2008 financial crisis and since then the results have been unmatchable. They were recycling foam scraps produced in-house, which is perhaps why the results proved untenable in the long run. Peterson was undeterred.

“I’m devoted to this course of action because I love the environment,” he explains. “I’m not going to stop pushing forward. This is my goal: to decrease the amount of EPS produced and to help make surfboards that are inline with the ideals of surfers.”

The attempts to get back to the benchmark set by those original 400 boards has been frustrating – currently Peterson’s company, Marko Foam, sells a blank that is 25% recycled. Still, that means that 25% less new EPS is being used per board. It’s not insignificant by any stretch. Moreover, Peterson is using his partially recycled blanks to start bigger conversations – bringing together industry insiders for green symposiums, setting up recycling bins outside of surf shops and partnering with Sustainable Surf’s Ecoboard Project since its inception.  

“Putting a green surfboard on the market isn’t something that can be undertaken lightly,” says Kevin Whilden, director of Sustainable Surf. “Clay and Marko are committed and as a result they’re making the greenest blank in the industry.”    

As if that weren’t enough, Peterson is also just a month away from launching the Boathouse Collective – an event venue turned green hangout in Costa Mesa. Planters and vertical hydroponics will separate the outdoor tables. Forget farm to plate; this is better – with greens and tomatoes sourced 15 feet from the kitchen. The interior features recycled art made by Peterson himself, including a giant wave made completely from used surfboard stringers.

“Wanting to solve problems and shift the ‘throwaway mentality’ is in my DNA,” Peterson says. “I’m not in it for the marketing, I’m in it for my kids and myself. It’s who I am.”

Curious about “green” surfboards?
Get more information from the
Sustainable Surf, Boathouse
Collective and Marko Foam websites.
:: markofoam.com
:: boathousecollective.com
:: sustainablesurf.org

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