The production of standup paddleboards took a major step towards going green with Southern California-based Earth Technologies recently announcing a switch to zero production waste. Founder Ryan Harris is the man behind the move and has spent the past seven years at the forefront of the eco-movement in surf and SUP production. But his story didn’t start out how you might expect.
Ryan Harris’ dream was to become a shoe designer.
After growing up in Oregon and getting a degree in product design, he soon found himself in his dream career. Except there was one problem: he hated it. But instead of settling in and plodding through a 40 year corporate career, Harris made a decision that would reshape both his life and an industry that he knew nothing about at the time.
Harris moved to Southern California and took up surfing. Within a year, it had become his obsession and he was already repairing dings and began dabbling in board shaping. With a little encouragement from his wife, he soon took up shaping full-time.
With environmentalism roots firmly planted from his upbringing in Oregon, Harris fully intended to bring that same mindset to the surf industry. He quickly became one of the first shapers to embrace eco-resins like Super Sap, but the higher price point and yellow color was a turn off to many customers.
“I went full bore into using [Super Sap] and lost most of my customers because nobody wanted to pay for it,” said Harris.
While most might give up on making eco-boards and switch back to using cheaper resins, Harris’ steadfast dedication to the eco-board movement stems from one of surfing’s dirtiest secrets: shaping boards is a deadly business. Prolonged exposure to toxic materials have claimed the lives of countless shapers and Harris would not accept the same fate.
“I love making boards and I want to do it as long as I can,” said Harris. “I don't want to be huffing fumes for thirty years and drop dead.”
Harris persisted and seven years ago opened up the first eco-board factory, which was known as E-Tech at the time. Before long the materials became cheaper and easier to work with. Soon he was making boards for major surf and SUP brands including Channel Islands and Infinity.
“Working with these major labels became the validation we needed that there's this [environmental] movement and I’ve been doing it longer than anybody,” said Harris.
While his eco-boards have begun to find success, Harris was not satisfied. While the boards he was producing were more environmentally friendly, he was still producing a lot of waste. That is, until a video from a man named Eddy Garcia changed his whole perspective.
The video featured mealworms eating a SUP from the inside out. That’s right, worms were eating the EPS foam, digesting it and pooping out organic soil.
“I actually thought it was CGI and didn't believe it,” said Harris. “Then I realized, I could reduce 30% of my waster right here and now from my shaping.”
Harris soon began working towards being able to recycle or up-cycle 100% of his waste. While the foam dust and scraps can be taken care of by the worms, his other production waste goes into a three-step operation: shredding, finer particle separation and then densification through the use of a vacuum infusion system. From there he puts the particulates in a mold and adds his bio-based epoxy to create new products ranging from fins, handplanes and hopefully one day, an entire board.
“It's hard not to be excited about this because it's huge,” said Harris. “It's something the industry definitely needs and I'm never going to be one to patent it because I want every shop to do it.”
Not to mention, Harris has also launched a board recycling and deposit program. If a customer brings in a epoxy board, he gives them a $25 store credit so the board can be properly disposed of and not end up in a landfill.
It’s an ambition effort, but one to applaud for taking SUP and surfboard manufacturing in a more sustainable direction. Of course, this undertaking requires funding and to help offset some of the cost, Harris has set up a Kickstarter campaign to help fund his goal. The money goes towards a worthy cause and depending on the donation amount, gets you custom handplanes, boards, and even SUPs from Earth Technologies.
“10 years ago the materials weren't there, but now there is a green board movement and it’s not just catching on, its solid,” said Harris.
This move has the chance to reshape the surfboard production industry as we know it, pretty impressive for a man who started out designing shoes.