Sharp Eye Surfboards is a San Diego-based company that focuses on producing high-performing surfboards for professional surfers and athletes. Many of the top-ranked surfers are using boards under their name, the Storms model, for instance, is the main board used by Kanoa Igarashi, a surfer representing Japan in the 2021 Olympic Games. The price for such a board starts from 800 USD. Needless to say, Sharp Eye’s boards have impressive quality standards enabling top performance, however, sustainability aspects are neglected in most aspects of the production process. The epoxy technology (a finishing that uses epoxy resin making the boards stronger and more stable) of the Storms model requires some of the most unsustainable materials and the production process is very environmentally unfriendly and causes physical harm to the board shapers. Despite having some sustainability efforts in aspects that are not directly related to the production of the boards, Sharp Eye has many of the issues associated with the current surfboard industry - low sustainability incentives and pretty much mass consumption-oriented.
For the Storms model, three different material options are provided on the website. This review will focus on the two options using Sharp Eye’s epoxy technology, as this is massively advertised on their website. The other option would be the PU model (made with Polyurethane blank with Polyester resin) on which most of the surfboards are based.
Epoxy models generally last longer than the traditional PU models, which is an advantage from the sustainability standpoint. However, the negative impacts of the materials largely outweigh the advantages.
Epoxy models have a density foam inside, which makes up most of the board, also known as the blank. These foams are styrofoam, made of either expanded polystyrene (EPS) or extruded polystyrene (XPS). These are cellular plastics that are petroleum-based and non-biodegradable with currently no meaningful recycling options. They cause harm to human health, especially board shapers, as well as the environment. The foam blanks are covered by layers of fibreglass, which is extremely hard to recycle. The fibreglass layer accounts for 5 percent of the carbon emissions of a surfboard. Together with epoxy resin, fibreglass creates the shell of a surfboard. Epoxy itself is a form of plastic made of thermoset polymers. Thermosets cannot be broken down or reheated, making them very stable in temperature changes and desirable for performance surfboards. However, this also means that it is not recyclable nor sustainable. It accounts for around 37 percent of the carbon emissions of a surfboard. It unclear, what accounts for the remaining 48 percent of emissions.
Clearly, the materials used are very harmful to the environment. Although, since Sharp Eye surfboards are mostly made for professionals, there will be hardly any compromises made on the performance aspects of the surfboard. However, unless you are a professional athlete and need the best performing boards possible, I would take a look into boards using more sustainable or recycled materials.
Since not much information can be found on the website on the production process, I gathered the information through a direct call with the brand.
The materials used for the boards come from four different channels, all of them based in the US. Even though sourcing materials from the same country enables more supervision on sustainability, I was unable to find the exact sources they mentioned - this should be made more transparent for the consumer.
The boards are hand-shaped in their local factories in San Diego. Generally, during the surfboard production process, vicious fumes are produced. Sharp Eye ensures that none of these fumes gets released into the atmosphere - a bonus point for them.
Sharp Eye’s representative admitted that the manufacturing process is not sustainable at all. The use of non-renewable materials, the high level of carbon emissions (170 kg per board), plus the toxic materials released through shaping are not only harmful to the environment but also the health of the board shapers themselves. Additionally, around one-third of the raw materials typically end up being disposed of as garbage. Only other materials used that do not form the board itself, such as the pickle wax cleaner made of plastic, is recycled and reused.
I was told that sourcing sustainable material would be time-consuming, result in higher prices, and would not be cost-efficient. The production process is very profit-oriented, which is sadly a current issue in the surfboard industry in general, on top of the extremely unsustainable production process. There is clearly a need to hold Sharp Eye accountable and push for more sustainable production practices.
No information can be found on any sustainable practices or even goals that Sharp Eye is trying to achieve. Despite this, it was comforting to know that they were aware of the negative environmental impacts and were thus not practising greenwashing. Sharp Eye’s representative was very open to sharing the information I required, but only after I had proactively reached out, as they were not at all upfront with the shortcomings on their website. As a San Diego-based company, the boards are produced and shipped within the same country. Since the performance of the boards is the top priority and cannot be compromised, Sharp Eye’s main sustainability practices are found mainly in the shipping process. Packaging materials from their material suppliers for instance are all saved and reused for their product shipping. This is a great practice and should be adopted by all businesses.
Sadly, like most of the big names in the surfboard manufacturing industry, Sharp Eye prioritizes mass consumption and performance. Surfboard makers are victims of health issues through their long-term exposure to toxic chemicals such as resins, glues, and paints - the workers at Sharp Eye are unfortunately no exception. What Sharp Eye does do, is take a higher level of responsibility for their employees by offering the highest cleaning standard possible, with brand new workshops, glasses, and filters every two weeks. Sharp Eye also contributes to the community by supporting the yearly Scholastic Surf Series, a surf competition in San Diego. They sponsor and provide surfboards for elementary to high schoolers to try out, supporting them in a potential surfing career.
To me, this all seems to be the minimum a brand can do that is focused on creating performance surfboards - perhaps a prime example of a typical production company in the current surfboard industry, an industry with relatively low incentives for recycling and sustainability.