Surfing the Permaculture Wave

By 2050 the ocean will contain more plastic than fish, as indicated by the report of the World Economic Forum. Most of us have seen the horrible images of what non-recycled plastics do to the animals in the ocean, so we need a major rethink of what we use and how we dispose of it. Surfers are amongst the first in line experiencing the effects of pollution in the ocean – but what many don’t know is just how toxic the surfing industry is.

Historically, surfers used natural materials – big wave surfers in Hawaii started on cedar or redwood boards weighing over 60 kg (132 lbs). Unfortunately, the never ending battle for lighter materials has led to an incredibly toxic evolution in the surfing industry. Most boards made today are from two types of foam: polyurethane or polystyrene. These boards are then covered in epoxy or polyester resins and fibreglass cloths. It’s time to face it: the 7.5 billion dollar industry is not eco-friendly, so we need to find a more sustaianable solution for the 300,000 surfboards sold every year.

A couple of initiatives have been launched to try to offer an alternative and encourage the big surf companies to develop sustainable boards. The charity has launched several projects to change the industry, including The ECOBOARD Project, an environmental initiative, focused on the verification of a surfboards’ eco-credentials. It has also launched a “Waste to Waves” program, where the charity collects polystyrene foam from packaging, which will be used to create “recycled” surfboards.

Image Credit: Erik Lang
Image Credit: Erik Lang

Sunseed Desert Technology is a British and Spanish charity focused on environmental education. At this project, not far from the waves of the Mediterranean, we decided to challenge the traditional way of making surfboards and make a sustainable version. Sunseed was hosting a Permaculture Design Course, where we discovered fascinating and unexpected synergies between surfing and permaculture, and the surfboard project became a neat example of the 12 permaculture principles.

1. Observe and Interact: By studying the nature around the project, we discovered that the locally grown agave was the ideal solution. Its invasive nature also highlighted how in this case the problem was the solution: by harvesting the stems we could help control how much it would spread.

2. Catch and store energy: The design was definitely ensuring that the surfboard would catch the energy of the ocean and give the rider some amazing feelings!

3. Obtain a yield: We’ll be cheeky by saying we’re sowing happiness. The sustainable surfboard project could also be seen as a future source of income if, for example, surfboard making workshops were held in the future at Sunseed.

4. Apply self regulation and accept feedback: From the south of Spain (where we are located) to Canada, agave can be found in most places around the world. Not taking more than the earth can provide, we collected the plant from abandoned agave fields in the region.

5. Use and value renewable resources: Most people walk past the agave without knowing that it is one of the best solutions to building surfboards (lighter than balsa). The plant can grow in semi-arid and arid areas where nearly nothing else can grow, which makes it a very eco-friendly perennial. An agave will grow a tree-like flower once in its lifetime. After 7 to 30 years, the plant will die as it grows the stem. However, the offsets at the base of the stem and the flowers on the stem will ensure the plant lives on.

6. Produce no waste: We opted for the leading eco solution in terms of epoxy resins. Entropy epoxy was found at, where the biomass is sourced as a co-product or from waste streams of other industrial processes and significantly reduces carbon footprint. Hemp or agave cloth have been used by several professional shapers (including Gary Linden) to replace traditional glass and have had great results. As Agave is incredibly light, but is more fragile than balsa, we chose to use Aerialite glass which offered us guaranteed durability through its strength.

7. Design from patterns to details: We designed the concave bottom of the surfboard based on the natural patterns in the wood, ensuring the most efficient way for the water to circulate under the board.

8. Integrate rather than segregate: We are finding multiple uses for the wood that was not used for the board, it will be used for musical instruments and when needing firewood for making pizzas in the Sunseed cob oven.

9. Use small and slow solutions: This project had a small scale, most of the work was done by hand planing or hand sanding. This ensured that more care was given to every aspect of the board, from the nose to the tail. The wood was collected locally and the board was designed and shaped at Sunseed.

10. Use and value diversity: We used three different types of agave, the americana (that grows with a curve and is quite wide), the thinner straighter agave sisalana, and the agave fourcroydes. These provided the most beautiful pallet of colours (from yellow to dark red).

11. Use edges and value the marginal: This sustainable surfboard idea is definitely marginal and eco-surfboards are still sadly too few. We have filmed and documented the entire process, so that more people can find out how to make their own board – the eco-way!

12. Creatively use and respond to change: The surfing industry needs to change, as has been expressed by many professional surfers, including Kelly Slater (who is powering his latest wave pool on 100% solar energy) – and we hope this project might inspire others to build their own eco boards.

Get to know some of your eco-surfing options:

Grain Boards has been handcrafting locally sourced wooden surfboards in Maine (USA), they offer workshops and some fantastic craftsmanship

Kuntiqi is a small company (Spain/Germany/France), which is growing and has focused on producing Balsa surfboards with 55% vegetable oil based resin

James Otter offers workshops in Cornwall (UK) to build your own surfboard from wood. If you need inspiration, check out his TED talk

If you’re looking for wooden longboards in the UK, look no further than The Williams longboarding company inc. provided Sunseed with the fibreglass and eco-friendly Entropy Resin.

Image Credit: Erik Lang
Image Credit: Erik Lang

For further information about Sunseed,

Please visit their website:

or contact [email protected]

Please note that none of the companies mentioned are linked with Sunseed or sponsored us, they are simply great companies that are doing good work to improve sustainability in the surf industry.

Feature Image Credit: Erik Lang


  1. Nice note….I’d like to add to it 2 more options:
    * paulownia, this big and super fast growing tree, that can be coppiced again and again, delivering a high quality and very light timber…best example of craftsmen using it, the Wegener brothers…
    *Bamboo….though so flexible it actually is a concern for product longevity, some people are using it to shape boards (as well as bicycles)

    Good surf everyone!

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