story by Catharine Lo
photo by Dana Edmunds
Surfers have long been chided for being environmental hypocrites. They love the ocean, critics say, yet they ride boards made with dastardly toxic materials. Recognizing that disciples of the big blue should go green, veteran North Shore shapers Jeff Bushman and Kyle Bernhardt are fashioning boards made of soy- and sucrose-based foam (if you don’t want to ride it, you might eat it). To glass the surface, they use solar-cure resins that reduce the noxious emissions produced by conventional resins by 70 percent. They incorporate natural fabrics—hemp, silk, organic cotton and bamboo—to beautify their truly eco-friendly sticks.
Over the past seventy years, surfboards have evolved from the 100-plus-pound wood tankers that Duke Kahanamoku rode at Waikiki Beach to lightweight, throw-away foam boards; a pro surfer might go through two dozen in a North Shore winter. Advances in materials and technology considered only performance—what would make the boards go faster, turn tighter? Then, a wake-up call came in December 2005: Clark Foam, the Laguna, Calif.-based company that supplied 80 percent of the world’s foam blanks, shut its doors. The owner cited years of mounting pressure from the EPA as the reason.
Until then, “a lot of surfers never really thought about what was in their boards or about the toxicity of the industry,” says Bushman, who developed the idea for Country Feeling Surfboards. “Even though the amount of pollution is minor compared to the auto industry, we’re the ones playing in the ocean.”
The materials add a little more weight to the boards, but recreational surfers won’t notice a difference, says Bushman, who has been shaping for pros and amateurs for three decades. Country Feeling specializes in alternative shapes—fishes, twin fins, single fins, eggs, funboards and longboards that are “more about people enjoying the feeling of surfing than about winning a contest.” Starting at $695, they’re a little pricier than traditional foam or epoxy boards, but it’s a low cost for being Earth-friendlier, which Bushman argues brings surfers a little closer to the soul of surfing—that connection with nature he calls the “country feeling.”
“When somebody new shows up to the North Shore, they feel the magic—that first rainbow, that first time they drive over the pineapple fields and see the wind blowing back the surf,” Bushman says. “They paddle out, the sun’s setting and they realize the beauty we have here. That’s the country feeling.” HH