Healthier for our planet! Healthier for your fun!
Ashley Lloyd Thompson wants to make surfboard building more sustainable. She builds the majority of her boards from recycled EPS foam blanks and glasses them with a plant-based resin. Her original love is longboards, but she lives to build and ride just about anything.
Women shapers remain a rare breed. Thompson got interested in building boards while surfing Malibu as a teenager. After her board hit the point’s rock bottom a few too many times, she learned ding repair, which in turn, inspired her to learn how to make a board of her own. Along the way, she also competed in longboard events — and most recently, was one of the women invited to last week’s Vans Duct Tape Invitational.
After a stop in Santa Barbara, Thompson moved north to Santa Cruz, where she’s been making boards for the past 15 years. Built out by her husband, her workshop is on the second floor of an industrial building hard by the freeway. The loftlike space houses a shaping room, glassing area, and serves as a practice space The Shapes, Thompson’s band.
A few months ago, I caught up with her to talk surfboards. Here’s an excerpt.
“My friend Danny Tarampi from Malibu taught me how to shape. And then I was friends with these guys that lived at The Wilderness [in Santa Barbara], which now has the 101 freeway over it. That’s where I shaped my first board. They taught me a lot about surfboard shaping in between rounds of skating in their backyard pool. It was a really great introduction.
All the guys that lived at the Wilderness or came through there — they all had huge influences for me. Some of them worked for Haakenson’s glass shop who was doing the large majority of Channel Islands boards at the time. They were working for the biggest in the business, but no one had necessarily had heard of their names. I got a lot of knowledge from them that I will forever cherish, just in their after hours.
My first board was the Blue Otter Pop. It is a 9’7” and double-stringer. I always loved longboarding. I didn’t really know what I was doing beyond just sculpting at that point in time. And trying to make something that I thought that looked cool.
Now I have a much better understanding of numbers and function and dimensions and you know, different engineering properties — in terms of what it is to be good hydrodynamics. My first several boards, I still had a lot to learn.
Sometimes people ask me how many women shapers there are. Like it’s a really changing number right now. Everyone used to tell me that I was the only one — but I don’t think I was ever the only one.
Making surfboards is super toxic! And it’s super toxic to the makers, especially the glassing. All of our boards are glassed with a plant-based resin. And a majority of our boards are made with recycled EPS foam. Just as far as our practices and self-awareness and sustainability factor, we try to be on that side of things. I still feel like we have a long way to go with all of that.
When I first heard of it, six or seven years ago, they called it Super Sap. But it was this really amber-colored resin that definitely seemed like it was made from plants. And now it’s just as comparable with other epoxy resin. It is considered an epoxy resin which means it’s a two-to-one ratio. From the manufacturing standpoint, it’s a lot more challenging and time-consuming than polyester and polystyrene and all that.
I started to get some glassers to glass with it, but it was like pulling teeth to get them to do it with my aesthetic or in a timely manner. It was always like, it just wasn’t production level that I wanted. But we wanted to do our boards more sustainably.
So my husband took the bull by the horns and built me this factory, which was amazing and started glassing our boards. In retrospect, I can’t believe we did this. It was challenging, especially the first year. It was pretty much like starting a new business. It’s been two years now.
I feel like, as consumers, a lot of time, people don’t think about the process it takes. They want something that looks cool, that’s trendy and beautiful, and that doesn’t cost any money. There’s nothing good about that for the environment. The only thing that’s good about that is if someone catches a wave and it stokes them out.
I’d like to go a bit further. I care about the people who are making my boards and I care about the environment. So that’s where we’re at. That’s what I’m really passionate about. People have been really stoked on their boards. They’re strong, they’re more sustainable, they’re beautiful. There’s good vibes forming all around them.
And we’re working with flax cloth. That’s one thing, for people who want a classic-feeling log. The flax adds not only another bio-component on your board, but it also helps with the dampening issues. So it’ll feel more like traditional PU foam versus the EPS.
Our resin is considered an epoxy and people immediately associate it with EPS foam — and not everyone likes the feeling of EPS. So we are still boards that are PU foam, but I want to switch over to doing more and more, if not all of my boards, with EPS, because you can get it recycled. But we have to figure out how to get it to feel like the classic boards. So that’s my project right now is to weight it with the flax.
For my personal quiver, right now, I’m building an EPS recycled foam noserider. I’m going to weight really heavy with my flax cloth. That’s probably what I’m most excited about for myself right now.
I like to ride different equipment, to inspire me to not be doing the same thing that I’ve always done. It’s just a matter of finding different lines for the equipment you have. For me, that’s the most intriguing part about it.
I have a shortboard that’s almost like a conventional shortboard, but it’s a 2+1 fin setup. A little bit softer on the nose, so it’s like my version of a standard shortboard. It’s a single to double concave with a kind of tunnel v. It’s really smooth. And it just feels a little more single-finny glide. I call it the Dreamweaver. I really like that board.
I put a lot of love and energy into every board I make, even before I put my hands on the foam. Thinking about the person and what’ll work best for them and my intentions and how it’ll be a really good union — from the designing point to handing over to them. That’s why I write made with love on the stringer. I just started doing it and it felt right.
It’s all in what your trip is, and what path you want to take. We are what we want to be.