One Ocean Beauty interviews Mark Price, CEO, Firewire on leading the way on sustainable surfboards.
Q: What was the motivation to launch Firewire?
Bert Burger, a small-scale, innovative surfboard builder in Western Australia developed a unique surfboard construction that included a combination new and existing of materials, and the end result was a lighter, more durable and less-toxic surfboard that also had enhanced flex characteristics versus a traditional surfboard. We felt that it was a disruptive technology that the surfboard market would embrace so we partnered with Bert Burger to scale the technology and Firewire was launched.
Q: Can you explain how the growth of computer technology has affected the design and development of Firewire boards?
Back when surfboards were almost 100% hand shaped, surfers would often talk about a ‘magic’ board they once had, and they’d try, often unsuccessfully to get a replica when it needed to be replaced.
With the advanced CAD/CAM processes that Firewire has developed, we’re now able to replicate a magic board. In addition, with CAD software, you can manipulate one or more design features while holding others constant, so the design process is far more refined and leads to better outcomes.
Q: Firewire has a proven track record for innovative designs and technology, with multiple WSL wins. What do you think is the future of surfboard technology?
We believe that while refinements to shape does create incremental improvements in performance, exponential leaps forward will come about through new materials and factory processes which will in turn influence design. In addition, greener materials that do not degrade performance will also become more readily available and adopted.
Surfing is truly global now and whether its places like Korea, Vietnam, Malaysia or even Russia, it’s exciting to see people all over the world engaging with such an incredible activity. And of course, down the road we anticipate that China, with 3,000 miles of coastline, will become an important market for us.
Q: Firewire is utilizing some interesting materials in new ways, such as algae, and using them in unexpected ways. Can you tell us about Slater Design’s collaboration with BLOOM Foam?
Toxic Algal bloom happens when algae growth gets out of hand. It’s impact in states like Florida where sea life is dying and drinking water is compromised is scary.
BLOOM foam has proprietary machinery that they set at the edge of lakes and ponds. The machinery pulls algae contaminated water out of the lake and returns filtered water back into the lake.
The leftover algae is then used to make flexible foams that we mold into traction pads. Each traction pad represents 28 gallons of filtered water returned to natural habitats.
We’re proud of the eco merits of our traction pads, but even more so, we’re proud of how well they feel while surfing on them. Because eco-conscious products are nothing without performance merits.
Q: Are there any other interesting materials that you are researching?
Yes, we have an open source approach to product development and some interesting ideas are in work, but always with an eye towards reduced toxicity and equal or greater performance. That said, obviously only the best ones make it to market.
For example, we’ve released a new surfboard leash in collaboration with Revolwe and endorsed by 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater, that is made from 20% recycled content urethane, plastic bottles and Yulex – a plant-based rubber. This has reduced the carbon footprint of our leash by over 80% when compared to other leashes.
This is an example of the two rules we apply to our product development: only release new products that have a substantial decrease in environmental impact when compared to competing products, or a substantial increase in performance, preferably both.
In addition, we’re working with Paul Barron, a surfboard builder in New Zealand, and ZQ Merino, on a fiberglass replacement in our surfboard production that is pretty mind blowing – we’re laminating surfboards with sustainably reared and sheared Merino wool.
It’s strong, light and durable, and is perhaps best summed up by a quote we came across on the wall of the ZQ Merino offices, but no one seem to know who wrote it there, and pardon the inherent sexism J): “What man has created, nature has already perfected”.
Part of our excitement around this particular product stems from our desire to re-familiarize our audience with the natural world. We feel that to our detriment as a society, we’ve lost our connection with nature and we desperately need to reconnect in order to counterbalance everyone’s focus on computer screens at the moment. And wool, as a naturally occurring fiber, shepherded by environmentally-minded farmers in one of the most wave rich areas of the world, is an opportunity to do that.
Q: Any kind of manufacturing has some kind of impact. How does Firewire manage its wastage and carbon footprint?
We’re well on our way to zero landfill by 2020, and in the last 2 years we are reduced our waste per board built from 0.4 cubic meters to 0.02 – a 95% reduction. This was accomplished by ordering raw materials with a tighter spec and by upcycling our EPS waste steams as you’ll see in this video ( Firewire Pavers ).We also switched to 100% bio-resin in 2014 and as a result every Firewire board built is Ecoboard certified. In addition, as mentioned above we are constantly testing new, less toxic materials.
Q: The surfing culture is very in touch with the ocean and with human impact on the environment. Can you outline how Firewire is tackling environmental issues?
Aside from our product initiatives mentioned above, we believe that the world is facing an environmental crisis, which in turn will trigger extremely consequential humanitarian and economic disruptions, and as a company we have a social responsibility to act.
To that end, we support a number of environmental and humanitarian organizations including The Surfrider Foundation, Share the Stoke Foundation, SurfAid and Surfer Against Sewage to name a few. In fact, in 2017 we donated product and funds in excess of 3.5% of our net profit.
Q: How does Firewire engage with and support the global surf community?
As mentioned we support ‘surf-oriented’ non-profits and we use our social media platforms to push both our ‘commercial message’, for want of a better term, as well as help create awareness around the environmental issues that we face. We also sponsor surfers around the world which obviously helps our business but also enables talented individuals to earn a living doing something they love and are good at.
Q: What is the achievement that you are most proud of so far?
Firewire has helped push our industry towards less toxic materials and in doing so, has proven to everyday surfers that you don’t have to sacrifice performance to reduce toxicity. And if you’re serious about your concerns for the environment, no one company can make a significant difference. That has to be through collective action so we’re proud that we’ve helped get that ball rolling in the surfboard industry.
To learn more about Firewire and their surfboards, please visit their website at www.firewiresurfboards.com