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In A Nutshell: The Journey to a More Sustainable Surfboard Blank

Updated: Feb 10

Whenever we take delivery of a shipping container from Arctic Foam you’ll see fresh white blanks spilling out of the doors, stacked up in the yard and taking up every inch of space in the factory. Since 2019 Cord Surfboards have been the main UK and Ireland distributor and sole agent of Arctic Foam (the world’s leading polyurethane surfboard blanks manufacturer), from California, USA. All our boards are made from the stuff: it’s the lightest and most durable foam we’ve ever used, and you can truly feel the difference when you’re riding it.

Not only do Arctic Foam make the best board blanks on the market, but they are also on their way to creating the best sustainable board blanks out there, too.

The San Diego-based surfers behind Arctic Foam recently partnered with the UC San Diego California Centre for Algae Biotechnology and eco-conscious material science and technology company Algenesis, to create the world’s best biofoam surfboard blank. Prior to the collaboration, Arctic Foam had made huge steps in elongating the life cycle of surfboards from manufacture to disposal, but through the extensive research conducted at the university and Algenesis, they developed their first sustainable prototype Algae Foam blank, made out of 100% sustainable algae oil.

Stephen Mayfield, a professor of biology and algae geneticist at UC San Diego, explained, “Most people don't realise that petroleum is algae oil. It’s just fossilised, 300 million to 400 million years old, and buried deep underground.” Instead of drilling for oil, researches at UCSD and the California Centre for Algae Biotechnology (Cal-CAB) created their own sustainable algae oil. This was in turn worked on by a group of undergraduate chemistry students from the same university to work out the exact measurements of catalyst and silicates required to enable the polyols to expand into a foam-like substance that hardens into foam so that it can be used for a surfboard's core.

With the discovery that it was possible, the university called on the help of Solazyme, Inc, a California-based biotech firm that produces renewable, sustainable oils and ingredients. Solazyme supplied a gallon of algae oil to make the world's first algae-based surfboard blanks. Paired with the chemistry work conducted at the UCSD, Arctic Foam blew and shaped the original Algae Foam surfboard. As algae oil is completely clear, it meant that the surfboard was visually indistinguishable from boards shaped from synthetic polyurethane foam.

“Almost from the first blank out of the mold” the Algae Foam surfboards were showing the same kinds of density, cell structure, flex, torsion and ‘shapability’ that were expected of Arctic Foam’s premium PU blanks.

“So this is the great thing about this project: Not any one of the groups that participated in it could have done this on their own,” Mayfield said. “As biologists, we can produce the algae oil, but then we need the chemists to convert that into polyols, then we need the surfboard companies to blow that into foam and shape the surfboard. We needed Solazyme, the big commercial algae company, to give us enough oil to do this so we can do it at a commercial scale, so that we could make a board that is sustainable and that comes from algae as a biological source."

Whilst the team was ecstatic about their creation, they were met with a few inconsistencies in their first prototypes, such as occasional softness. After more extensive research, Arctic Foam, Algenesis and UCSD trialed blending a nut shell polyol with the algae polyols, which improved the density greatly. However, 2/10 boards in each batch made still didn’t reach Arctic Foam’s exacting high standards, and were slightly too soft.

Taking a gamble, Arctic Foam decided to remove the Algae entirely, and replace it with nutshell oil. Mixed with the right catalysts, silicones and other key components, the final product was eventually ready for testing. “It passed with flying colours!” said Arctic Foam, “It passed our standards of cell size, flex, strength, shaping, glassing and even surfing.”

A member of the team at Algenesis said, “While Algenesis aims to change the face of bio-based chemicals for the planet, Arctic Foam's mission is to change the face of surfboard foams in the surf industry. Together, our partnership takes sustainability to the next level, creating a superior experience for the surf community, while also decreasing the environmental impact the product has on the earth.”

As the UK’s only supplier of Arctic Foam, we’re excited to be bringing this innovative and eco-conscious product into the country. The world’s first ever “real science” sustainable foam surfboard blanks, known as the Arctic Bio Formula, is also extremely durable. Regardless of what it’s made of, if your surfboard is more durable then it will last longer and won’t need to be replaced so often meaning that it ultimately uses fewer resources and has a lower carbon footprint. If the materials have a lower impact on the environment AND the surfboard is harder wearing, then the planet is on to a winner. Pair those eco-credentials with high performance characteristics, which is what we’ve been focusing on whilst testing these Bio Blanks here at Cord, and you’re looking at the future of surfboard blanks. Head shaper Markie Lascelles has shaped identical Cord Swordfishes, one in regular Arctic PU and one in the nutshell oil-based biofoam, to allow him to ride them extensively himself and directly compare the performance characteristics, flex, under-feet feel and durability. We've also had team-riders Lucy Campbell test-riding a biofoam board (pictured above), and Noah Lane's latest stick (below) is a gold-standard certified Ecoboard - we understand that it's the first standard-construction surfboard to achieve this certification in the UK.

We’re stoked to be offering Arctic Bio Foam and Entropy Super Sap® bio-epoxy resin on request across the full Cord Surfboards range, whilst we continue this in-house testing. If you’re interested in having a greener surfboard that’s just as white as a regular surfboard, then ask us about Arctic biofoam when placing your next custom order.

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