Writing

New Shapes, Old Bones: Foilboard by Earth Technologies

August 2019.

Walk into Earth Technologies, a surfboard shaping company in Torrance on the southern side of Los Angeles, and you would initially be forgiven for thinking you had entered a used board shop. A corridor lined with old longboards, shortboards, SUPs, and bits and pieces of odd shapes are an underwhelming—maybe even misleading—preview of the work that actually goes on in this industrial building: the design and construction of some of the world’s most progressive, high tech, and eco-friendly surfboards. Stroll a bit further, and you’ll find the main attractions: a giant CNC mill capable of cranking out everything from shortboards to giant SUP race boards, two large shaping bays, and a glassing room big enough to fit a dozen boards at a time. And then there’s something else: focus on your nose for a moment, and you’ll suddenly realize that the very thing which defines a surfboard shaping facility, the smell of epoxy resin, is completely absent. Weird? Yes. Intriguing? Definitely.

One of the few African-American surfers and shapers in the LA basin, Ryan Harris’s confidence and charisma immediately got my attention from the word go. In building Earth Technologies, Ryan managed to influence how the surf world, and some of its biggest personalities, related to the environment, all while staying true to his one-off clients like me. From the very first email to when I picked up my board, I was speaking directly with Ryan, and his suggestions turned my design into a better final product. He can shape a board for John John and still make my humble design feel important, too—that’s a rare thing.

When I digitally shaped my first foil board, I knew I wanted it made in the most eco-friendly way possible. At 3’6 x 18 x 2.5, it’s tiny, and that provided Ryan with an interesting opportunity: “I took the flattest section from an old SUP like this one,” motioning to a dinged paddleboard sitting at the entrance of the shop, “and since your board is so small, it was the perfect size to cut out and upcycle the blank into your shape.” Afterwards, Ryan took the end sections of his rolls of carbon fiber cloth, usually too small to use on a normal surfboard, and applied them to my foil board. “It’s another great way to use perfectly good material and not let it go to waste, which is one of our manufacturing mantras. Making a surfboard is usually super inefficient and wasteful, and for a typical board, about twice the amount of material actually needed to make the board gets cut off or wiped away and thrown in the trash,” Ryan says. “While we don’t actually produce zero waste, we describe it as zero manufacturing waste, meaning that any excess gets recycled into something new.” Cloth scraps, excess resin, gloves, foam—it’s ground into small chips which we repurpose into fins, handplanes, or even drink coasters. And the lack of smell? “I helped develop bio resin, made by Entropy Resins, and it’s basically an environmentally friendly version of traditional epoxy resin, and we use it to build all our boards,” says Ryan. Sustainable Surf, an organization launched in 2012, helps to “focus on reducing carbon footprints, increase the use (and reuse) of renewable, recycled and up-cycled inputs, and reducing toxicity within the surfboard manufacturing process.” Major brands like Firewire (the world’s largest surfboard manufacturer, owned in part by Kelly Slater), Channel Islands, Pyzel, Lost, Album, Starboard, and many others, have since become certified ecoboard manufacturers. My Earth Technologies foil board is a “verified level one” ecoboard, meaning it has at least either ameasurably reduced carbon footprint, renewable, recycled and/or up-cycled material inputs, or uses materials and processes that reduce toxicity during manufacturing.”

As for foils, Ryan is clearly stoked about them. He’s currently building Infinity’s foil boards, along with a regular list of custom orders from private individuals. Both of us agree we can’t wait to see where the shapes will go as the sport evolves.

The article that inspired me to make my next board an eco board: https://sustainablesurf.org/eco-education/why-asking-for-a-greener-surfboard-really-does-matter/

Sustainable Surf Eco Board project: http://www.sustainablesurf.org/ecoboard/

3’0 x 18” x 3”, 26L

3’0 x 18” x 3”, 26L


Paddling Out to Catch a Bigger Wave: Why Avasol Sunscreen Goes Above and Beyond for the Common Good (originally written for Starboard Blue)

July 2019.

It’s hard to relate to inconvenient truths. Yet the ocean, my playground and spiritual home, has become a place defined by them. It needs little repeating that we are in the midst of a deep and severe ocean crisis, so widespread and complex that it’s difficult for anyone to truly grasp. That’s why, when we have the opportunity to make responsible, sustainable personal decisions, we must. One of the easiest things we can control is what sunscreen we use, not just for our own benefit, but for that of the sea. Thanks to years worth of intense scientific research surrounding sunscreen’s effects on marine ecosystems, we’ve learned two things: one, conventional sunscreen is terrible for marine life, and secondly, we know terrifyingly little about the long-term effects of the artificial chemicals we’ve been putting on our bodies for decades.

Conventional sunscreen is filled with chemicals like oxybenzone and a host of other risky ingredients that are known toxins and hormone disruptors. Now, with so called “natural” and “reef safe” sunscreens rushing to fill the void, we are discovering that these may be no better, since most use clear zinc oxide, an engineered nano particle that is mostly unregulated. Studies are showing that these sunscreen nano particles may damage the DNA, immune and reproductive systems, and cause deformations in algae, sea urchins, fish, and marine mammals. It is abundantly clear that if we intend to do anything about the degradation of our oceans, we must make the choice to transcend the profit-driven cosmetics industry and take responsibility for our own awareness and education about what we consume.

Avasol Suncare was founded in 2010 by Chris Wilkinson, an entrepreneurial waterman from Southern California, with the simple goal of making a sunscreen that didn’t exist. It had to be a product he could put on his kids, but that would live up to the demands of the ocean lifestyle. Ten years later, Avasol is a global phenomenon used by moms and professional water athletes alike. It’s made of cosmetics and food-grade ingredients, all of which are responsibly, sustainably sourced. Going beyond the concept of organic, many ingredients are wildcrafted, such as Tamanu from Madagascar, meaning it’s picked from wild sources by natives, helping fund local economies and preventing deforestation. Avasol’s two active ingredients, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are both truly non-nano, making them safer for sea life, and much better for us, too. Further, a lack of artificial preservatives means Avasol is parabens-free. As Avasol is a holistically sustainable brand, the stick’s plastic-free packaging reflects the love and care put into its contents and is made from recycled paper, making it biobased! The stick is meant to be refilled and reused—just send it back to California for more.

Avasol is truly a waterman’s sunscreen. It’s designed to go on your skin and stay there for your session, all without running into your eyes or getting your skin oily—and does so while smelling amazing. The sunscreen is officially certified to last 80 minutes in the water, but it’s lasted an entire day on my face while SUP paddling and kitesurfing. When prone foiling or surfing, I tend to reapply every few hours for good measure. As always, one of the most critical aspects of long-term sun protection is not relying on the sunscreen to do it all—use clothing too! In the water, the durability and effectiveness of your sunscreen comes down to your activity and skin type. Everyone has different skin with unique sensitivities, but because Avasol is free of toxins or synthetics, it’s unlikely to cause reactions across the spectrum. The shea butter and coconut oil even hydrate your skin, a bonus after a day in saltwater!

Avasol itself is a fantastic product, but the genuine passion, care, and love that’s driven Chris Wilkinson to constantly innovate for the last decade is perhaps more impactful, and he truly embodies the mentality of the brand’s global family. Not cutting corners or turning a blind eye for the sake of profit, voting with our dollars, skipping convenient solutions in pursuit of what’s most responsible/sustainable on a global scale, and listening to our instincts so that we might get back in touch with our bodies and the environment—this is the larger message for which Avasol is the microphone. I think that’s something to which we can all relate.

“The greatest gift I gave my children was teaching them to farm—to plant a seed. Every time I send out a package of Avasol, it feels like I’m planting a seed all over again—a seed of responsibility and sustainability. And that seed goes all the way back to the people who picked out the ingredients, to their families and the thousands of people who are affected every time someone wears Avasol. It doesn’t get old.” —Chris Wilkinson

Avasol Surf Barrier Stick, 30SPF

Avasol Surf Barrier Stick, 30SPF