Join us as we delve into the Carve Classic archives for some all time trips and interviews. Sharpy investigates deeper into the dark art of foam blanks and how they are produced. Originally featured in issue 184.
When you order a new board you think about the shape, dimensions and possibly a fancy spray job. As long as it paddles well and gets you where you want to be on waves then your shaper will be happy.
While researching rocker, tail shapes, concaves, fin systems and volume do you ever give a thought to the meat in your fibreglass sandwich? The foam blank is the heart of your board, and not all foams are created equal and did you know you can ride blanks made here in Cornwall? ProFoam, previously Homeblown, is now headed up by Martin Mynne who took over from Tris, and we went for a look at the process of taking chemical soup to a ready for shaping blank…
First up what the hell do you do here?
Make surfboard blanks from start to finish. We blow the foam on site, try and source everything as locally as we can and really try hard to head down the green path as much as we can. We’re talking to chemists at the moment and we’re developing new formulas for a whiter, greener foam, so we can have barrels of chemicals without skull and crossbones on them…
Has the main chemistry changed since the ‘60s?
Not for most manufacturers, for us it has, as the company was originally started with a different formula. An MDI versus a TDI technology, one is basically a lot less volatile than the other. The MDI (methylene di-phenyl di-isocyanate) which we use, which took a lot of time to perfect, is safer for the end user, safer for us blowing it and it doesn’t become airborne like TDI does. So the shapers aren’t getting exposed to anything bad either. TDI (toluene diisocyanate) is toxic as hell, carcinogenic, volatile and explosive, a total nightmare.
There must have been a lot of cul-de-sacs with regards to trying different chemical mixes?
I’ve only been involved less than a year. I’ve come from a composite race boat background, so I’ve got lot of contacts in the chemical industries, so I’ve been pulling strings with people there. It’s an avenue that wasn’t open to the old owners. We’ve been working on new stuff for six to eight months so we are bench testing new formulas now.
Must be a long process to experiment with blanks?
You can’t just knock something up and put it out on the market. It’s a lot of work, a lot of testing before you can even blow blanks. But when we do we’ll give out some free blanks to the shapers to try then get feedback from them and get their riders to try and destroy them.
We’re working with quite advanced chemists so they’re giving us mixes to try. It’s subtle changes. They’ve been here on site so they know what we are trying to achieve. The problem they’ve had here over the years is the yellowing of the foam. The trade off with the safer, less polluting method of production is the blank goes yellow quicker. They all do eventually due to age and UV exposure whatever the method. The only way to get a pure white board is to spray the foam before glassing. Which makes a lot of sense, there’s no point messing with the chemistry of the whole blank for a superficial surface effect. Whiteners affect the reaction for the whole blank so it’s a tricky one to work with. As surfers we’re vain and want pure white boards, if we were happy to ride patchy brown boards we could make really environmentally sound foam. Polyurethane foam without additives isn’t the nicest colour but it’s the safe and more environmental option.
Is most of the foam used in the UK blown in the UK?
No. We’re the only UK manufacturer of blanks, so there are still plenty of imports. We are here to compete with that. The advantages of us being here are obvious. We are down the road, you need a specific blank, say you want to work on a gun blank, we can work with them on that and share the costs of moulds, you want to do a custom rocker we can do that. Order turnaround is fast. You’re not waiting on a container ship to chug across the Atlantic. Our foam is as good as any other foam on the market and it’s non-polluting, responsibly sourced materials.
Clark Foam is the historically famous US blank manufacturer, did they close because the EPA was on their case?
They used the TDI chemicals, nasty airborne volatiles, you wouldn’t have been allowed in to to take photos of the blowing process. It’s nasty stuff. Full respiration suits and all that to work with it. To do that process you’d need a site bigger than our whole operation just for the filters and scrubbers.Breathing that stuff in isn’t any good for you. Understandably using those chemicals is prohibitively expensive for good reason. Our process makes the health and safety side a hell of a lot easier.
Before you started ProFoam what was your path?
I’ve gone full circle. My first job was actually on this estate: polishing windsurfers and surfboards for Limited Edition when I was 15. From there I learnt to sand, laminate and then went away and did some boat building for a few years. Then Chops Lascelles called me to come run his factory as he wanted a rest. That turned into an eight year stint. We were so busy, putting out a 1000 boards out a year. Then I went back to the racing yacht building side of things. America’s Cup and Volvo Ocean race stuff. Worked on five different Volvo boats and recently been working with Hugo Boss on their Vendee Globe boat.
How much is an America’s Cup boat?
Five mill for the full package. It’s pretty nuts. They’ve just released a new ruling so its back to monohulls as the catamarans were more about the tech not about sailing. So now it’ll come back to more real sailing expertise. I keep my finger in that world with maintenance contracts still.
Where’s the material research happening?
F1 is glamorous but it’s a production line laser-cutting carbon, boat building is a lot more creative, so for what we do the boat side is more relevant. They are the avenues I have to draw technology from. It’s not a fast process. There aren’t any other guys to compare notes with it’s a niche operation. But our foams are used outside of surfing, tooling, signs, model makers, so we’ve got other guys to create for.
How long does it take to make a blank?
From wet chemicals it’s 10 minutes to pour, 20 minutes to expand in the mould, then we cure them overnight. It’s like something out of Wallace & Grommit as you’ll see in a minute. It’s a mad machine with a computerised pouring head. One thing with our method, our foam is constant density all the way through, which makes the shapers lives a lot easier. Imported foam gets softer in the middle with a harder crust. It’s also closed cell which is waterproof so handy if you ding it.
Finally what do you want people to know about ProFoam?
We want to push it to surfers, we’ve got a massive carbon footprint, wetsuits, boards, leashes and travel. And people are paying over the odds for shadow shaped imports. Buying your blank and board from guys down the road is a start at least. Shipping miles are reduced and it’s supporting local shapers, Markie, Skindog, Luke and loads of others are doing boards equally as good as anyones. Make a relationship with someone here. And they’re now working with foam that makes their life easier. Consistent density foam is so much easier to work with than the alternative. The boards go well which is the main thing and we can make their work easier. We’re working on a new gun blank with Luke one that the guys surfing Mully will be riding, rather than working from a cut down longboard blank. We just want to innovate and be at the heart of people’s boards in the future.
Join us as we delve into the Carve Classic archives for some all time trips and interviews, we caught up with Thruster inovator and surf legend Simon Anderson. Originally featured in issue 183.
Monday mornings are generally are a bit disagreeable. This one wasn’t. A morning spent drinking fine coffee whilst chatting with one of surfing’s most influential figures is a pretty good way to ease your way into the working week… Interview & photos by Sharpy
First up: what the hell are you doing in St Agnes?
I’m here working with Jeremy at Walters, shaping some new boards and sorting out the boards we’re doing. That and actually going surfing, sounds like we timed it well as it’s been really fun. Plenty of swell, good conditions, it’s been nice down at Porthtowan. We were supposed to go for a surf this morning but we had to meet up with you so thanks for that … (chuckles).
Right. Let’s get to the meat of it: In board design is there much experimentation left to do or is it more refining what we already know?
Good question … I guess there’s experimentation left to do. I’m not sure who’s going to do it. Generally if you’re going to come up with something it has to fulfill a need you might have. In surfing today, especially at a pro level, the way they’re surfing on a wave it’s hard to imagine what more they need from their equipment. They’re going higher than they need to go on aerials. They’re going so fast on a lot of occasions they have to grab the rail to keep the board in the water. So I don’t know where the inspiration is going to come from, but if there’s a new design, a new step forward, it’ll obviously be a great thing for all levels of surfing.
Was that how it went down when you conceived the thruster, how long did it take for everyone to adapt to the classic three-fin set up?
That’s kind of what happened, it didn’t just help me competing on the world tour at the time. It helped all levels of surfers. It took me a good 12 months to adapt, it gained acceptance after about six months in ’81. I’d won a couple of events and was leading the tour so it was pretty obvious it was working. Pretty much after the comp season in Australia it was accepted worldwide. There were still doubts how it would go in Hawaii. That was my mission for the rest of that year: to prove it in Hawaiian waves.
If design is pretty much levelling off are materials the next big leap?
Yeah, maybe, I’m always hopeful there are better boards around the corner. That said, I’m not a chemist, I’m not good at sourcing new materials. Obviously there are people working on that kind of stuff. We have a system. If it ends up under the feet of the crew on the WSL then that’s all the validation you need. I keep my eye firmly on those guys to see what they’re doing and see what they’re surfing. At Trestles a lot of them were surfing epoxies. There’s been a bit of a merry-go-round with epoxy technology for a while but it seems to be gaining traction. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads. There are a lot of new combos of carbon and stuff, it’s mainly cosmetic, stylish even, not sure how functional it is.
It seems whatever shapers try we always loop back to the classic construction from fifty years ago?
Yeah that’s right, that’s been the case over the years definitely, we always end up back with regular foam and fibreglass. It’s a damn good combination, it goes well, it’s fairly durable, easy to shape, it looks good … it’s our standard. If a board doesn’t look like a normal board there’s been a problem with that in the past. The marketplace now seems to be more accepting of different looking boards, new technologies, and eco-friendly construction and all that so it’s in a healthy place right now. Getting back to your earlier question there’s no new stuff, there’s just the application of combining old style with modern elements.
Which shapers have inspired you?
I’m always looking at what’s coming out. When I was learning how to shape I was inspired by the local northern beaches crew in Sydney. I had guys like Geoff McCoy, Terry Fitzgerald and Col Smith to aspire to. In the case of Col and Terry they were great surfers and good shapers so I was lucky enough to be around those guys and learn from them. In the years after the thruster came out Al Merrick and Rusty did a lot of good work with the shape of that style of board. Of course a lot of guys contributed to the shape of the modern surfboard we see today. More recently Tomo is doing some really interesting stuff. There are a lot of shapers I keep an eye on. If I see anything that I like, the fact we work on laptops with shaping software is so useful, if you see something that catches your eye you can commit it to the program and pump out your take on it. It’s a nice time to be a surfboard designer. In the old days if you wanted to try something new you had to do it from scratch from the blank, it took quite a while to shape it, to change a board just slightly was a difficult thing back in the old days. These days you can you can make an eighth of an inch adjustment nose and tail and be fairly certain it’ll be accurate.
Are the top level guys that attuned they can pick up eighth of an inch differences?
It’s a great thing, especially for the high level guys, to get that 5-10 percent edge on their competitors. Some guys will get ten identical boards. Say Mick Fanning, he’ll get ten, disregard three or four just by looking at them, surf the rest and within a wave or two he’ll know if they’ll go good. He can evaluate ten boards pretty fast. You can change a rocker by an eighth of an inch which you can’t see but you’ll certainly feel it.
With boards for the common man is the future short and fat?
That’s a good question. The tour guys have been on similar equipment for a few years, and they’re pretty small. Not sure if they gone that much wider, but the nose and tails are. The rockers are a bit flatter. They’ve gone down and now they’re coming back up. Kelly was on 5’8″s and 5’9″s now he’s on 5’10” or 11″. For the recreational surfer they’ve got such a wide range of practical shapes that’ll give them more fun in the surf. One of the challenges of our profession is to make boards that work in crappy one-foot onshore surf and also go well when the waves are good. Unfortunately it can’t be the same board.
So the ‘one-board quiver’ is a myth?
(Laughs) I reckon it is. I don’t think you can have a one board quiver and really cover everything properly. For me the more boards the better, obviously it depends if you can afford it, if you can there’s nothing better than having a proper quiver.
Do you still tinker with fin design?
No. No I don’t muck around with fin design. It’s too complex. The best advice I can give is find a fin you like and stick with it. That said if a board isn’t feeling that good it’s remarkable the difference a change in fins can make. So keep an open mind.
Are glass-ons the ultimate?
Glass-ons have a different feel, yeah they are probably the ultimate in performance because they’re super smooth going through the transition of turns. But you do get used to the feel of fin systems and they’re way more practical. Also, unless the factory specialises in it, board makers aren’t as skilled as they used to be at doing fixed fins. Single fins aren’t hard, but doing three fins has always been a difficult job. That’s why the fin systems came out. The leading systems are all pretty good.
Kelly’s pool has been in the news just a bit. You think it’ll be useful for design feedback?
I’d like to hire the pool for a week and ‘do some testing’ (chuckles) do you think he’d let me do that? It’d be great but all it would be good for is fine tuning. Finding that super magic board. You could do what we talked about earlier. Surf ten boards and see how they go. The wave is perfect, just like Kelly.
What advice would you give the WSL moving forward?
Commercially I couldn’t give them any advice in financial matters as I’m not that smart. To me the current situation is idyllic, it’s everything we would’ve dreamed could happen for surfing. I know the surfers on it have some complaints and some issues. If I was to give them any advice it’s to listen to the surfers. They know where the sport needs to go and they know the deficiencies in the tour. To me it looks it pretty damn good. I know they have to make some money at some point. But I love the product, I love watching it … if the time zone lines up.
Finally … surfing in the Olympics?
Personally I’m against it. Purely because some host countries are landlocked. It doesn’t seem a good fit to me. Maybe in a wave pool situation I’d be in favour of it. It would need to be run like gymnastics not how it is now. It would definitely be controversial whichever way they do it. You’ll still end up with John John getting an eight and Jordy getting a 7.9 and everyone shouting. That said it could be interesting…
How many times do you fly a year to surf? One long haul and a couple of short hauls are pretty standard for the regular punter. For the WSL pros, it’s double-figure long haul just for the comps before you even factor in photo trips and filming strike missions. So it’s no surprise the newly woke WSL is committing to doing something about their vast environmental footprint.
The question is, do we all need to take more drastic action? Is it time we knocked the overseas flights on the head? Awkward for a sport with exotic travel entwined in its salty DNA.
We asked some pros for their take and looked at what the hell is happening to our increasingly crispy planet.
The initial seed for this story was the worrying spring warmth in the Arctic. As I was researching the article France suffered a record meltingly brutal heat of 45.9C in June; nearly two degrees up on the previous 2003 high.
It was so hot baguettes spontaneously combusted; champagne is now only available as a vapour and cheese has replaced Orangina as the national drink. Mid-forties Celsius is the kind of temperature you associate with Qatari World Cup stadium builders’ working conditions, not our nearest neighbour.
So another summer, another heatwave and here’s me with a good swag of long haul flights under my historical belt and all of two trees planted. Yes, reader. I was having one of those ‘shit. I’m one of the bad guys?!’ moments.
As the deadline grew closer the UK scorched towards its hottest ever day, 0.4C off the record of 38.5C initially, the new record was avoided by an errant bit of cloud slipping in from France; it could well have been a cloud of Gallic sweat. But then Cambridge Uni’s Botanic Garden came through with the disturbing trump card, and after a few days of Met Office tech checks, it got confirmed as a new highest temp on record in the UK. On the same day, other Northern European countries like Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands all set new all-time high 40C+ records. So thank you world events for fitting into my topical story about tropical temps in temperate climes perfectly.
Research is as easy as typing a few words into a computer these days (try ecosia.org instead of Google as they plant trees). As is realising that the UK was hotter than the Maldives. But it’s also a bit overwhelming: These are all news stories from 2019.
-February. The UK records warmest winter day on record. The first time it’s got over 20C in winter.
-February wettest winter on record in the US. Hottest summer in Australia on record. 2.14C above average.
-March second warmest on record globally since 1880, 43rd consecutive March and 411 successive months with global temps above average.
-April second hottest globally on record.
-CO2 record level in May.
-Late June, France, Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic recorded their highest temperatures for June. Hottest June ever in Europe, average temps 2C above normal.
-June 2019, an intense heatwave northern India. Some regions experienced temperatures surpassing 45°C for the better part of three weeks.
-July, Alaska, all-time high record temps, not just a matter of 0.1C difference either, by up to three degrees hotter than the previous record (since records began in 1952). Anchorage hit 32C when it should be 17C. June also warmest on record, five degrees above average.
-Guadalajara, Mexico. Two-metre deep hail storm during a 31C summer.
-Svalbard, Arctic Norway. Temps have risen by 4C since 1971, five times faster than the global average.
-Precipitous fall in Antarctic sea ice, losing as much ice in four years as the Arctic has in 34.
-Unprecedented Arctic wildfires across Canada, Siberia and Greenland emitted as much CO2 in June as Sweden does in a year.
So it’s not exactly a big call to say something isn’t right. Even though it seems to take a Swedish school kid to let the world know it’s on fire.
The facts are brutal. Nine out of the ten warmest years on record were this century. The only outlier, 1998, scrapes into tenth place.
Three studies published recently in Nature and Nature Geoscience use extensive historical data to show there has never been a period in the last 2,000 years when temperature changes have been as fast and widespread as in recent decades.
Now climate change is not new. As much as everyone seems to be finally waking up to it, like the plastic crisis, just recently, it’s been an issue for a very long time.
I did a geology degree between 1991 and ’94 in Welsh Wales, and it was a big discussion back then. For a large part of the course, we studied the drivers of historic climate shifts as the climate is written in the rock record and more recently the ice and sediment records. Significant processes are at play, of course, the movements of the Earth and the sun that give us the vast sawtooth of ice ages and interglacial periods over hundreds of thousands of years. It was more academic then, questions like: does climate drive CO2 or the other way round?
The Milankovitch cycles, as they’re known, where variations in orbit (eccentricity) axial tilt (obliquity) and axial precession affect the solar radiation reaching different areas of the planet along with variations in the suns activities were what it was all about. Older professors saw the new-fangled’ hockey stick’ graph upswing in temps – when the theory said the world should have been cooling towards another ice age – as ‘natural variability’, the younger Drs saw a human-induced problem.
The thing is with geological records is 200 years isn’t even a blink of an eye. In the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s history, humankind’s time is a split hair on the end of the timeline. The portion where we’ve been spewing shite into the sky another micro fraction of that.
Not to mention the global climate system is an insanely complicated thing that’s taken decades of research by thousands of boffins to get a handle on. Feedback loops in the weather system and carbon sequestration are poorly understood; not to mention the volcanic emissions wildcard. Supercomputers and satellite data were becoming valid research tools, and as such, the upswing in greenhouse gases since industrialisation was, for many academics, a blip.
I’m guessing most of those earth science professors might think differently now. Like 97 percent of climate scientists do. Nearly 30 years later not only have the wheels have come off the clown car but the tyres are on fire as well.
But don’t worry:
The global warming, it’s a hoax, it’s a money-making industry OK. Donald Trump
But then Cheeto Jeebus does confuse weather with climate. A lot. It is a massive problem that the leader of the free world isn’t on board with the issue and happy for industry to keep on polluting. Politicians around the world are failing miserably to get to grips with the scale of the clusterfuck train barreling down the line towards us. It’s not a problem for 2050. It’s act now or who knows what’ll happen.
Some facts I jotted down from Dave Attenborough’s ‘Climate Change – The Facts’, which is well worth your eyeballs on iPlayer:
-All of this is happening far faster than we expected.
-Twenty of the warmest years occurred in the last 22 years.
-CO2 was 280 parts per million pre-coal burning/industrial revolution, now at 400+.
-Methane is 21x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
The global population has exploded since the early days of the industrial revolution and continues to swell. The countries that were later to industrialisation than the west understandably don’t want the brakes put on their progress thanks to us getting ahead of the game pollution wise. So there’s a thing called equity where they get to keep on pumping pollutants as they achieve the infrastructure, hospitals, schools, and the standard of living they want. Poorer countries also, and rightly so, think it’s a bit cheeky for us to tell them not to chop down their virgin forests when we’ve cleared ours wholesale. Just over one whole percent of the UK has original woodlands left.
So consumption is increasing, power needs are soaring, there are more mouths to feed than ever before, and forests are disappearing. Even as renewables are coming online things are running away towards a tipping point not using plastic cutlery won’t save us from.
Back to the original question: UK aviation industry contributes something like seven percent of the countries CO2 emissions, but there’s a kicker, as the other gases and the industry overall has an impact three times its CO2 contribution. Global tourism is responsible for five percent of greenhouse gas emissions and tourism has surged in recent years to unsustainable levels in many areas. Air travel has increased by 300 percent since 1990 and is set to continue booming.
Your return flight to Indo for your annual nasi goreng and tube fest generates more CO2 per passenger than the average emissions of the citizens of the 97 countries at the bottom of the emissions league (in the region of 2370kg per person). Even a hop to Lisbon for some pastel de natal and shralping emits 245kg. One tree can absorb just about two Portugal flights in its lifetime, which is not good math.
It’s an impossible task. In a world where growth is all and resources are limited, something has to give. Tourism is bad for the planet but good for the local communities that benefit from it. Unless the locals can’t even rent a flat because AirBnB has priced them out of their hometown. It’s enough to make your brain overheat.
The simple fact is we need to stop.
Consume less, fly less, work on getting the 13 tonnes of CO2 we’re each responsible for down a good whack.
Ryanair has approx 600,000 flights a year, that’s just one airline, and aviation fuel isn’t even taxed. Maybe that’s a starting point.
We need to use less power and more of it from renewables. Which in the UK at least we’re kicking ass with and as much as the government stopping help for solar installations it looks like the land-based wind will be making a comeback as long as nimbyism doesn’t bugger it up again.
As things get hotter and the Arctic continues to warm at an alarming rate the permafrost melting is going to release more than Anthrax infected reindeer carcasses (yes, that happened). Methane, which as noted by big D, is a real dick when it comes to its effect on infrared radiation being bounced back into space from whence it came.
The short version is: the permafrost melts, vast reservoirs of frozen methane from centuries of rotting peat and bio-gunk bubbles out into the atmosphere. Making all those grassy cow farts seem like a cheeky toot. Cue more warming. More melting and those of us that survive sitting in caves with crude bandanas and spectacles held together with plasters telling the ragamuffin kids what life was like before the scorching. CO2 isn’t the only bad guy in this shit show. It’s not even number one, as much as it’s the poster child for global warming. Methane, Ozone, Nitrous Oxide, CFCs and a host of industrial chemicals contribute but none more so than good old water. Yep, water vapour accounts for the main chunk of the greenhouse effect. Byproducts of fossil fuel combustion, it’s spewed daily by volcanoes, and of course, a warmer planet creates a feedback loop meaning more water vapour. How this all acts on the climate is like trying to grab steam; it’s poorly understood even now.
Urgent isn’t a good enough word. Renewables need to be pushed globally. Any bright ideas about how to convince the US to engage? The Chinese are going mad for solar at least; even building massive desert arrays in the shape of pandas. Elon Musk and friends need to figure out large scale battery storage as any British and Irish person knows you aren’t going to heat our houses in winter from solar. Wind maybe, but we need to be able to store energy from renewables in the boom times for when we need it. The electric vehicle revolution will, of course, help reduce emissions. But the resources and transport required to make batteries at scale is a whole other source of emissions. When we do go electric, the energy supply is going to need a wholesale 30 to 40 percent capacity increase. In short, emissions aren’t slowing any time soon.
Faced with this is planting trees going to fix it? It’s the cheapest option but a slow one and large scale industrial CO2 hoovering is in its infancy. There are definite signs of progress in pumping into underground stores, but it’s a long way off being a solution. As hopeless as it seems we all have to try and do our bit.
Ensure our dwellings are insulated, increasing energy efficiency and saving us cash on bills. Buying once and keeping it longer, ditch fast fashion, single-use and purchase wisely: everything has a footprint. Eat everything; food waste is a huge issue, which is even more galling as food banks are needed. Grow your own, if possible, as air-freighted fruit and veg is insane. And I, ex-McDonalds employee, steak lover, gravy connoisseur, burger licker have cut down on meat and dairy. Pretty much down to a roast chook on Sundays and a bacon sammich for brekkie Saturdays. The weekdays are meat-free. Cutting down on meat and dairy saves those nasty methane emissions. As a side note, cutting out fish is also a better option for saving the ocean, to be honest, even if they are darn tasty and good for you.
We can all knock two tonnes off our carbon footprints with some effort. Because we have two options:
1) Do something.
2) Say things like ‘We’ll have a climate like Barcelona? Brilliant.’ Then buy some air conditioning units, a lifetime supply of suncream and perhaps some stilts for the house if you live near sea level.
As for the WSL pledging to do better? It’s a start. But with the current tour schedule, the CO2 emissions per surfer on the men’s tour are approx 13,170 kgs, times top 34 plus two wildcards is just short of half a million kgs. That’s not even counting judges, WSL peeps, production crew and the women tour. So it’s probably looking to be about a rough mill. Which depending on where you look for stats is somewhere between 2000 and 4000 trees a year they need to plant. So a healthy forest a year, which is no bad thing … Assuming said forests don’t burn down of course.
Do you think frequenters flyers should be taxed?
Why only frequent flyers? I know nothing about taxes or airport/flying taxes, but a few quid on any flight not just frequent flyers to plant a few trees seems like a good idea to me, and I’m sure it’s even an option when you book through some travel companies. Andrew Cotton
This would make people think twice about the amount they travel. However, I’m not sure it’s necessarily the best option. I think the airlines themselves should almost use the benefit of good publicity and take environmental action themselves, planting trees, protecting parts of the Amazon / rare species, whatever they decide. We can then choose to fly with the airlines that are doing their part, and if it means their flight prices go up a little, then that’s fair enough. Lucy Campbell
Yes. I think those of us who have the means (flying more than a couple of times a year) absolutely should. I also think huge responsibility lies with the aviation industry to improve fuel efficiency, cleaner air travel and put an end to excessive waste. Pressure needs to come from people and governments, not always blaming individual behaviour. Restoring the natural, especially coastal and marine ecosystems, is one of the most critical climate solutions. Easkey Britton
I would be more than happy to be taxed on my flights throughout the year so long as that money was going towards bettering the state of the environment. I think most people would pay an extra few bob if it meant trees would be planted to help counteract their carbon footprint. It would be great if airlines made an effort to offset their negative impact by contributing a small percentage of each flight towards saving the planet. Conor Maguire
I guess the logic behind a flight tax works. Just plant enough trees to offset each journey and job done. But from what I’ve read, our ability to offset the CO2 quickly is pretty limited. Planting trees is cheap and easy but takes a long time to soak up the carbon and takes up a considerable amount of land. Other technologies to suck carbon from the air seem like they’re still a little way away too. So even if everyone was to pay a “green tax” on their flights, I don’t know if we actually can suck all the carbon out of the air quickly enough. I think it’s best we all do our bit to try and limit our consumption wherever we can, at least until we’re confident in our ability to sequester what we pump out. Either way, though, a tax would help fund any sequestration schemes or technology advances that are already out there. Jobe Harriss
Surfing is powered in large part by the dream of travel. Do we, like Ferg, all need to enjoy our front yards as opposed to flying?
I think this is very much down to the individual and their ambitions and goals. I love my front yard, but I’m also pretty ambitious with my surfing, which unfortunately means I feel the need to travel to find the biggest waves. Not to say it can’t be done without flying and reducing my carbon footprint it just takes a bit more planning and time, definitely something I’m conscious of, and I try to reduce if I can. In a vast amount of jobs, industries and careers, air travel is essential and routine part of the working week, month or year. I see my travelling as part of my job. Cotty
I don’t think we should stop travelling. A lot of coastal communities around the world are now highly dependent on tourism to survive. I do believe we have to travel a lot less than we do and move slower. Flight shame is real thanks to Greta. There should be more incentives for this; to go by rail, sail or bike! I wanted to take the Santander ferry home from an event in Spain, but they don’t take foot passengers. So I went by train & took Irish Ferries from France. I appreciate this takes more time and time can be a luxury. But those who can, should.
There are those of us where travel is also part of our livelihood. So taking responsibility for that is essential. If you’re sponsored or a competing athlete the events and sponsors should have carbon offsetting, and it’s even better to invest in ‘blue carbon’ initiatives which absorb a lot more CO2 like Sea Trees & Project Seagrass.
I think professional surfers need to be more vocal ambassadors for protecting what they love not just the products they wear, learn about these solutions, and give them a voice because they have a platform and followers. They have influence and can put pressure on the companies that sponsor them and the events they go to. Easkey
I think Ferg’s approach is very honourable and inspiring. Change always begins with the consumer, so to make that decision is a great start and not easy. Especially when you’re dream is to be a professional surfer who chases swells around the globe, like Ferg used to. Ferg was lucky enough to live the dream for years and travelled far and wide consistently for a long time. That’s how he made such a big name for himself. He sacrificed his professional surfing career out of guilt of destroying the planet and gave up flying to set up a farm and live more sustainably. Something few people would be prepared to do.
If there were more people with Fergal’s attitude and willingness for change, then we might see a difference. Some may argue that the plane will be taking off regardless of one person’s decision not to fly, which is a valid enough argument. As much as I’d love to see fewer planes taking off, there are so many flights every day and so many people that want to see the world, that I can’t see things changing drastically anytime soon unless a more eco-friendly mode of fast travel is implemented. Conor
In an ideal world, of course, we should ditch flying and hunting down waves around the world. But I can’t see anyone doing that anytime soon, and it’s all very well for me to suggest that after I’ve already travelled pretty extensively. I do think we all need to embrace and enjoy our backyards a bit more, but there are so many benefits to travelling besides the waves that can’t be ignored. Travelling lets you see all these beautiful places around the world and makes you appreciate them so much more, making you more inclined to try and protect them.
I’m not sure on the numbers when it comes to how much better it is to travel an equal distance by car rather than by plane, but yeah maybe driving, catching the train and getting ferries is the best of both worlds. It might take you two weeks to get to Indo, but it would be the most mental experience. Jobe
Can you imagine being a British/Irish surfer without flying?
That’s a really tough question, and I think I always looked at Oz or Hawaii thinking they had the perfect waves, so I may be ignored what we had so close. Europe is fantastic with a huge variety of waves which can all be done by car or van. Cotty
Yes, sure it would be a long chilly winter (I realise I’m pretty jammy to be able to say that), but with the waves, we get especially in Scotland, Ireland, France and Spain I can’t imagine it being a big issue. It would probably be complicated to compete on the QS though. Lucy
I’ve found great joy in staying closer to home these last few years and exploring more of the nooks and crannies of my coastline. Unless I feel the potential positive impact of going to a place, like the importance of creating positive cross-cultural connections, documenting and sharing diverse stories that celebrate our diversity and differences to help humans better understand each other, outweighs the environmental cost of the travel, then I won’t go. Even then, I’m still planting trees like mad on the west coast of Ireland to make up for all the years of having the luxury to travel so much. Unfortunately, those days are gone. As much as possible, I’m embracing the fact I’m a cold water surfer, and this is my habitat. Easkey
Luckily, I’ve had the opportunity to travel a bit so I think I’d be happy enough to live out my days surfing in Ireland if I had no other choice. I might be very deficient in vitamin D, but at least I’d still be getting barrelled. There are still so many places I’d love to visit so I can’t see myself giving up flying just yet. Conor
I haven’t left the country for over 18 months now, so I feel like I don’t need to imagine haha! But if you’re wanting to build a career out of surfing it would be virtually impossible to do it without flying. Getting to contests and warmer waters in winter to train would be a ballache. For anyone else, though it would still be super tough, seeing all the videos and pictures of waves from around the world gets you too frothed, you have to find them. Jobe
What, in your mind, is the one most crucial act any surfer reading this can do to help stop climate change?
Do your bit, change habits and be conscious. No matter how small it all makes a difference. Cotty
I think everyone, not just surfers, should all be aiming to reduce fuel usage, eat fewer animal products, clothes swapping/buying vintage / supporting clothing brands that make products from reclaimed materials. Be mindful of plastic usage and buy more locally. Lucy
Surf local. Support a blue carbon initiative like the Sea Trees. If there’s no surf, instead of chasing waves, try other ways of immersing yourself in the sea while you wait – go dive, swim, kayak. It’s all good, and you learn new and different things about yourself and the sea! Easkey
Living more consciously and taking steps towards living more sustainably is a good start. Being aware of your day to day habits that negatively impact the Earth’s future is step one. I find that once you take baby steps and try your best to change small bad habits, then your efforts begin to snowball. Things like picking up rubbish on the beach on your way back from a surf, refusing single-use and trying to shop plastic-free are all a great start. It’s nice to see more prominent companies starting to catch on to the consumer too. Lidl (in Bundoran anyway) now have recycling bins at the exit for packaging so you can leave your plastic/cardboard there. I know they should ditch the plastic packaging altogether, but at least it’s something. Conor
I don’t think it’s possible to narrow it down to “one most important thing.” Climate change and pollution are so multifaceted that everyone needs to be doing anything and everything they can. That being said, I think being entrepreneurial is a goody. Big business and politicians seem to be doing nothing about climate change. I hate all the cringe talk of “We need to be the difference” or “be the change you want to see in the world” haha, but in a nutshell, it’s right. Create, make or build a business/product that addresses the environmental issues you want to tackle. No matter how much we all hate it, money talks and if you can create something which makes money and is good for the planet. It’s a win-win. Jobe
Carve started in the spring of 1994, a time when democracy finally came to South Africa, the Channel Tunnel connected our wet rocks to the continent, war raged in the Balkans, and the legend that was Ayrton Senna raced his last. The US and Russia also agreed to stop the nuclear dick swinging exercise and focused on not wiping us all off the face of the earth. Meaning Berlin returned to the folks of Berlin, armies left Germany, and the world breathed a sigh of relief after decades of Cold War-inspired overly tight sphincters. It was, in short, generally a time of positivity and hope. A pervading feeling that things might be alright. The internet was becoming accessible to the general public, and some bloke called Jeff Bezos started Amazon to flog books from his garage. He figured he’d go bankrupt soon enough unless this new-fangled internet thing caught on.
Into this new age of peace and harmony Carve was born. Wide-eyed and full of beans ready to literally rewrite what a British surf mag could be; a mag that would be punching on a world level, not a surfing backwater one. Stunning photography was, of course, the key to the project and surf photography, along with photography in general, was a very different scene to how it is now.
35mm single lens reflex cameras, (SLR) had been around since the turn of the 20th century, but it was the Nikon F, introduced in 1959, that perfected the concept. It became beloved by photojournalists and catalysed the transition from bulky, slow and unwieldy large format cameras to the reportage friendly SLR format that has defined the art ever since. It was a Nikon F that stopped a bullet for legendary British war photographer Don McCullin in Vietnam.
Manual focus, manual wind, film cameras were very much still in use when the mag started (this kid was rolling with a Canon AE1P in ‘94). So the hipster #shotonfilm thing happening now is harking back to an age not so distant in the rearview mirror.
The mag’s big lens in those early days was the Canon 800mm bazooka. No autofocus here pards, this weapon was manually focussed using the thumb wheels on either side. Now if you’ve ever played with a long telephoto lens these days, you’ll know that even with modern autofocus systems getting a speeding surfer in focus is tricky. Imagine doing it on the manual. It was a real skill, an ability that meant the guys that were good, cleaned up. Sports photography in the late ‘80s was dominated by the guys that could get stuff in focus, hard in surfing, even harder at an F1 circuit or football pitch. So much as our generation whinged when digital came along the manual focus mob were pretty bummed when autofocus came along — rendering their fine motor function skills irrelevant.
By the time Carve started autofocus cameras were in their ascendancy, the legendary EOS1N came out late in ’94, and that and the EOS3 were the default pairing in most surf photog’s arsenal. A spare body was essential in those days as things weren’t as reliable as they are now. A lot more moving parts to go wrong, especially when being bashed around by travel.
The last great film camera came with the new century, debuting in 2000, was the EOS1V, a £1500 beast that could shoot a whole roll of 36 frames in 3.6 seconds. Which when that roll of slide film cost you £10 to buy and process was pretty painful.
Consider that for a moment, when you are getting the hump over the price of a memory card, one roll of 36 Fuji Provia/Velvia slide film cost you £10. A big trip, like a Hawaiian season, you’d take a minimum 100 rolls, typically 200. So that’s a grand or two up front before you’ve even started. No instant review, no way of knowing if you’d got the exposure right, just fingers crossed you’d nailed the moment of the season. No fixing stuff in post if you’d forked it up. This was why every photog lived with a light meter dangling off their neck on a lanyard. A light meter was your best friend; especially when shooting in Europe.
The film investment was worth it, if you were good, as surf mags were how we got our dose of what was going on. Sure it was a month between Pipe going off and you seeing it in the mags but it was a gentler, less immediate time, the only reason you went online was to check your email and the forecast WAM charts.
Getting shots into the mags was also a massive pain the derriere. These days you can WeTransfer a raw file from pretty much anywhere in the world where there’s a mobile signal seconds after shooting it.
In the ‘90s you could feasibly shoot a roll in the morning, hot foot it to a lab, pay the extra for two-hour processing, and have your slides by mid-arvo. If you then needed that shot to be somewhere ASAP, it then required to be drum scanned. Generally at a repro lab, by geeks using an expensive machine where your precious slide would be coated in oil, then scanned at £40 per slide for a scan big enough to go double spread in a mag.
So. Let’s add that up, shall we? £10 for the roll and processing, travel costs to the lab, plus £40 for ONE FORKING IMAGE. Considering that surf mags paid £50 per page then it will come as no surprise that not many folks were getting their own scans done.
Getting a drum scan, which is what the mag would do anyway if they used your image, was a lifesaver. As it meant you didn’t have to FedEx your slides to one mag, who’d sit on the shots for a month before sending them back so you could FedEx them somewhere else at £50 a pop. But that was the way of things, sell a trip or banger of a shot to one mag in one country then try and sell on to the US, Oz, France, Spain, South Africa, etc. Syndicating to the many mags that used to exist was the key to making coin. Same shot, ran five times equals ch-ching. Or the motherlode get an ad shot with one of the brands; the elusive worldwide buyout would net you north of $3000.
Of course, sending slides by courier meant they got lost, damaged or destroyed. The internet made everyone’s lives easier as it has to this day. That said sending 40MP high res scans via dial-up internet to an FTP was an utter balls.
The ‘90s ended with the first volley across the bows of the good ship print media with the Hardcloud, Swell and Bluetorch episode. Big league, well-financed US surf websites headhunted the best people from the mags and basically said ‘the internet is the future’. The sites looked sick, but the internet speed for most of the world wasn’t up to it, the video was far from easy, and they’d forgot to figure in any way of actually making money. A brief bubble saw a lot of journalists and photographers nursing a scorch mark in their wallets where they’d been promised the farm and never got paid.
The internet went back to being where you looked at weather charts, and message boards and surf photographers of a certain age were generally found to be moaning, a lot, about this new, fangled Digital photography.
The earliest commercial digital camera was the Kodak EOS DCS3 that came out in July 1995, and it was all of 1.3MP, so only of use for newsprint guys. The Kodak EOS D6000 that hit at the end of 1998 was a game-changing 6MP; useful and the press agencies with deep pockets started to adopt it.
The view in surfing was it would never catch on. The quality wasn’t there. The holy grail of a big drum scan from Velvia was going to take some beating. But the writing was on the wall, digital photography was the comet, and the processing and repro labs were the dinosaurs. The eco-system that existed for getting images to newspapers and magazines for decades vanished in a matter of years. The cost went down for the mags at least with no need to spend thousands every issue on drum scans and repro but did the photogs fees go up as they were doing more work? What do you think?
By the middle of the noughties, Canon had released the 1D2 and the 20D both 8MP cameras that became the new default. Any photog still refusing to go digital was basically out of a job as with the repro houses gone most mags insisted on digital submissions only.
So for the last 15 years, life has been easier in magazine land, but the romance, anticipation and excitement of shooting film has gone.
Magazine websites and Surfline ticked along, and all was well, Canon delivered its first full frame sensor camera, the phenomenal 5D, in 2005 and then lit a firework under surf photography in 2008 when they brought out the first DSLR that could also do video: the 5DII. The era of hybrid shooting had arrived, and guys like Kai Neville were filming on DSLRs as opposed to video cameras.
But 2008 brought the crash not to mention the iPhone 3G. The wheels came off the surf industry like many others as the world went into recession. Surf photographers felt it hard. Digital photography democratised shooting, bringing a new generation of keen shooters, more competition, new kids giving brands ad shots for a box of clothes rather than a four-figure buyout and the ever-growing spectre of the internet left many adrift. Magazines started closing as print became less relevant. Social Media arrived in the form of MySpace, and attention spans went where the content was free. Surf photography as a profession has never recovered.
Sure there are more people than ever shooting, but the professional surf photographer is a relic. No one can afford to do it anymore when there’s not the magazine support, or amount of mags to sell to, and the brands don’t spend on ads like they did as there are not the mags to put ads in.
All the big money goes to filmers not stills jockeys. They’re all reduced to chucking stuff on Insta and working a real job to pay the bills. Which when the state of the art Canon 1DXII costs five grand and the mighty Sony A7RIII with its ten frames per second of 42MP glory is over three grand you’ve got to wonder about the economics of it all.
Surf photography in 1994 was about doing it for the love as it is now. A few lucky souls have made a living doing it in between times. Throughout Carve’s 25 years the crew that have worked with the mag have been supported with buyouts for shots, money for travel and advice and/or piss taking from the editorial team. They’ve slaved in the harshest environments possible, found new spots and put themselves in harm’s way to get the shot. To nail a double spread that gets them all of a £100.
Helping new guys has always been vital, where there’s undeniable talent we push in the right direction when the shots are bangers they’re eligible for P1 even if it’s their first submission to the mag (like Gabby Zagni and Conor Flan’ last year). The roster changes as people come and go but Carve wouldn’t be where it is today without the stellar work of Alex Williams, Mike Searle, Chris Power, Stu Norton, Mickey Smith, Will Bailey, Bosko, Swilly, The Gill, Ester Spears, Tim McKenna, Chris van Lennep, Pete Frieden and many more heroes with wonky spines and bad shoulders from carrying too much camera guff around the world.
As for what’s next? Thankfully the camera arms race is nearly at an end. It’s plateaued, so no need for a new camera and water housing every two years as it has been for a long time. Cameras like the Sony A7RIII and A9 (which can shoot 20fps with near flawless autofocus) means that missing the decisive moment is not an option. The only limit is your vision. Making money to pay for these expensive cameras is the tricky bit. Carve still pays for shots, as any real magazine does, but you’ve got to nail a good few main features a year to make a decent dent in your credit card bills. The brands still need awesome imagery for their own channels and with the film costs gone just shooting for shits and giggles with your mates isn’t as painful as it was. Documenting surfing is fun, that’s why we’re here, that’s why we’ve always been here. The methods change, but the song remains the same. Getting out there, looking around the next corner and hopefully scoring and then sharing the stoke with you lot.
An educational essay in a short series on the salty bits of the planet. Atlantic HERE and Pacific HERE.
The Indian Ocean is the youngest, warmest and smallest of the major oceans covering 20% of the blue salty bits on the planet.
It might not have the raw majesty of the Pacific or the brutality of the Atlantic but the mellower, friendlier nature of the Indian Ocean has meant a couple of things. The earliest civilisations developed on its shores in Mesopotamia and Persia and because it is a far calmer ocean, trade developed centuries before it did in the big two.
The seasonal trade winds meant for easy navigation, heading west in the dry season and back east in the wet season. Which explains how the Indonesians ended up settling in Madagascar and the Egyptians were trading with the Somalis in 2500BC.
These trades also have benefits to surfers, regular offshore winds, predictable as the sunrise, make the islands in the trade wind belt: namely Indo, the Maldives and Sri Lanka some of the most perfect surfing real estate on earth.
Of course the sun and offshore means nothing without swell.
The other reason the Indian Ocean is home to the most perfect waves on earth is all down to the unruly neighbour getting all feisty down the bottom of the planet: the Southern Ocean.
Antarctica is surrounded by ocean and a never-ending procession of storm cells dance around the bottom of the Earth flinging swell northwards. As the storms squeeze under South Africa the systems get a turbo boost and fire long lines of swell, uninterrupted by continental shelf, into the Indian. These swells have travelled thousands of miles by the time they hit Indo and any randomness and noise from the swell has gone, leaving pure, lined-up, quality swell.
Which when brushed by a trade wind turns into all-time waves. The lack of continental shelf and tectonic collision geography also means the waves break on coral reefs around islands, not muddy bays and sandy shoals like we’re cursed with.
It’s not all fun and games though, the Indian Ocean coast of West Australia is far closer to the swell source and in the winter can cop a mean pasting.
The warmth of the ocean means phytoplankton production is stunted limiting abundant fish life. Not so useful when fishing to feed some of the most populated countries in the world.
The Indian is also the most dangerous ocean for people. Piracy is alive and well and not just off lawless states like Somalia. Indonesia has its modern Jack Sparrows. The northern fringes are prone to earthquakes and as we now famously know tsunamis as well.
The Indian Ocean is home to mystery and romance and amazingly in this day and age lost tribes. There are islands between Indo and India that no westerners can visit and there’s also the elusive military islands in the middle that could well be holding world class waves.
It is an ocean you should visit as much as humanly possible. Surfing in water that’s as warm as wee is a treat.
A short informative series on the big blue, see part one, the Atlantic, here.
The Pacific is the daddy, the largest ocean on Earth, the spiritual and historical home of surfing and the scene of much of the art and sport of surfing’s history so far.
Let us begin with some numbers to impress your trivia-loving colleagues. The Pacific covers 69 million square miles, which equates to 46% of the planet’s water surface. So nearly half.
A.I. Photo Sharpy
Ergo it’s the big dog, the alpha ocean, so big it covers nearly a third of the planet. It’s also home to a couple of records: the Mariana Trench is the deepest point in the whole world and somewhere in the inky blackness, amongst some severely weird fishes, it gets down to 10,911 metres. That’s right. 10km straight down. To counter this deepness Mauna Kea, the highest part of the Big Island of Hawaii, is an impressive 4,206m above sea level (high enough for snow and snowboarding) but the really impressive part is if you measure it from the sea bed. In which case it’s 10,200m from base to tip. Which dusts Mt Everest’s puny 8,848m, so while Everest is the highest mountain in the world it’s not the tallest. Geek fact gold right there people.
Ironically the name ‘Pacific’ comes from ‘Tepre Pacificum’ meaning ‘peaceful sea’ in Latin. Something the explorer who named it thus — Ferdinand Magellan — might have reconsidered if he’d seen a close out set at the Bay.
Still, the boy done good, it’s a better name than the one the first Europeans to see the ocean gave it: South Sea (or Mar del Sur in Spanish as it was then). Ironic then that the shores of the oh-so-placid Pacific make up the famous Ring of Fire. The class-leading tectonically active regions that make living there that bit more spicey.
Mole, Mexico. Photo Sharpy
From NZ up to Japan across the Bering Strait and down the Americas it’s earthquake central and there are plenty of volcanoes knocking around as well.
All because the Pacific is getting smaller, it’s surrounded by (with the exception of Antarctica and Australia) subduction zones. You’ll remember from school geography that’s when an oceanic plate slides underneath a continental one. It tends to be messy.
Dodging quakes, lava flows and tsunamis are run of the mill for residents around the Pacific. For the blighters that live in the middle it’s generally only tsunamis they need to worry about, but unlike the Indian Ocean there’s been an early warning system for decades.
Dorian. Photo Sharpy
Now. Them people on the islands are responsible for what we love: sliding around on waves. It’s the islanders of the Pacific, who migrated from Asia across the ocean in crazily optimistic sea voyages, not knowing if there was anything to sail to. That gave us, via Captain Cook and his crew, surfing.
The Polynesians made it to Tahiti and spread from there to Hawaii, New Zealand, Easter Island and more. Their bravery, exploration and athleticism laid the groundwork for what surfers should be.
So it’s fitting then that Hawaii and Tahiti, to this day, one in the North Pacific and one in the South are some of the most important real estate in world surfing. The biggest, craziest waves and surfers that transfix us still.
The Atlantic is catching up but for a few more years at least the Pacific IS surfing…