Surfing and the art of crafting surfboards can be traced back to indigenous Hawaiians from many centuries ago. Over time, surfboards have evolved from long, heavy planks of wood to short, light, foam filled boards. After Americans discovered the practice of surfing in the 20th century, it became commercialized quickly and the art of crafting beautiful wooden boards was sacrificed for mass production. This transformation not only strays from tradition, but is not sustainable.
The modern surf industry is very harmful to the environment. In a sport that is supposed to get people out to the ocean and enjoy nature, this is an issue. In 2005, Grain Surfboards founder Mike Lavecchia recognized this predicament, and decided to take action to fix it. Grain is a pioneer in the surf industry, helping bring surfing back to its roots and keeping sustainability at the forefront of its entire operations. The beautiful, locally sourced and produced boards Grain makes should become the industry standard and demonstrate how surfing can truly be sustainable if people are mindful of the equipment they use.
Grain makes its boards and other products from what they should be made of: wood. For far too long surfboards have been commercially made from foam, fiberglass, and toxic resins. Grain’s boards take no part in these materials. The boards are responsibly sourced from local softwoods in Maine, which cuts down on the environmental impact of transportation of materials. Additionally, softwood is known as a more sustainable material than hardwoods because of how quickly it grows. What I like most about Grain’s wood though is how transparent the company is about where it gets it. On the website, they tell you exactly what supplier they use to get their wood currently and in the past. The wood for boards at Grain comes from Northern White Cedar trees, a species deemed as “least concern” of being overharvested by reputable environmental authorities in Maine. The company is transparent that its wood is not certified sustainable, but gives much more insight into the sourcing of its materials than the vast majority of companies across industries I have seen that do have sustainability certifications. I am personally confident that the materials Grain uses are very sustainable, and I have genuine faith in the company.
Typically, surfboards made in the modern day are shaped from an automated mechanical process in a factory-type setting. The foam, resin, and other supplies that the surfboard is made from are also made with help from automation in a lab. When foam surfboard blanks are shaped, some of the foam gets shaved off and goes to waste, ultimately ending up in the landfill. Grain Surfboards, on the other hand, are made by hand. In the wood shop Grain’s expert board crafters spend hours shaping their beautiful wooden boards, letting no material go to waste. The spare wood and shavings Grain produces as a byproduct of making the board gets repurposed into other products, such as animal bedding, mulch, gift certificates, bead and cove strips, sea sleds, and handplanes. The company even limits production of these secondary products to the times of the year where board construction creates a significant scrap pile build-up so that no new materials need to be purchased. Grain is not only using sustainable material, but ensuring through their production process that none of it goes to waste. The only thing I would like to see more transparency from Grain on is in regards to the energy used to power their facilities and if it is renewable or not.
Grain has portraits, names, and role descriptions of all employees on its website. Not too much insight is given into the labor practices at Grain but this is not too worrisome because the company only has about a dozen employees who all seem to really enjoy working for the company. Additionally, Grain hosts an annual Surf Re-Evolution summit in which employees and other guests in the community get together to discuss how the surfing industry can be reimagined to be more sustainable. The event serves as both a way to bring ideas together and celebrate the sport of surfing as a whole. A bit more transparency on wage rates and working conditions would be nice, but I have a good amount of trust in Grain that they are doing right by their employees.