Australian government ban on EPS foam threatens Asian surfboard production; puts Firewire and Kelly Slater biz model at risk!

Too much nanny state?

Melbourne is the home of UrbnSurf, Australia’s first commercial wave tub or “basin” as Joe Turpel refers to them.

It’s also the home of a muddy little ditch called the Yarra River where an environmentalist has called pollution by EPS foam (used in Firewire surfboards), “disrespectful.”

EPS foam, also called Expanded Polystyrene or Styrofoam, is a petrochemical polymer and the core material used for almost all Asian surfboard production,  including of course, our beloved Kelly Slater surfboard designs.

The consumer use of EPS is under threat from an Australian government initiative designed to cut down on plastic waste.

Last week the federal govt bought forwards a planned phase out of EPS for consumer products from 2025 to 2022. In a National Plastics Plan the government has said it would consider regulatory action if industry phase-outs didn’t happen.

In a sign of the times, forward-thinking manufacturer Hayden Cox of Hayden shapes surfboards, creator of the biggest selling surfboard of all time, the Hypto-Krypto, has already diversified his offerings to include PE construction which is a surfboard made with a PU core and epoxy resin.

That’s not new technology; it’s been refined over many years by shaper/designers including Maurice Cole.

PU or polyurethane-cored surfboards have been the industry standard since 1950’s when WW2 technology was used to replace the prevailing balsa board standard. PU has been denigrated as dinosaur technology in comparison to the use of EPS and epoxy but in actual fact PU was not formulated until 1937 by Dr Otto Bayer, while EPS was accidentally discovered in 1839 by German apothecary Eduard Simon which makes PU the far more modern material.

EPS gained a huge leg-up in the market when US blank manufacturer Gordon “Grubby” Clark walked away from his factory on “Black Monday” Dec 5, 2005, citing excess green tape in California.

In the ensuing blank shortage, surfboard manufacturers were forced to incorporate alternatives into the blank mix.

Floridian mad cat Greg Loehr, an early proponent of EPS/Epoxy construction was so bullish at the time he claimed anyone left behind still using PU blanks and polyester resins would be “mowing his lawn” in the near future.

That did not come to pass.

Overwhelmingly, we still shred on our PU/PE’s.

Somehow, despite being branded by Heidi Tait of the Marine Debris Initiative as a “horrifying blight” on the marine environment, EPS has come to be branded as the more ECO-friendly material to use as a core to build surfboards with.

A true victory in marketing and greenwashing.

Our favourite agent-provacateur against EPS boards and Asian production more generally is the flamboyant Peter Schroff, who built his empire in the 80’s. He is not Robinson Crusoe, of course.

Many, many others have either joined in the off-shoring or been equally vocal in less artistic ways. Long-time San Diegan shaper Tim Bessel described the use of styrofoam to me as a “plague” and an environmental nightmare.

Why use EPS?

It’s incredibly light and incredibly cheap.

Unlike Polyurethane (PU) it doesn’t have to be blown by surfboard specific manufacturers into surfboard shaped blanks. Any old EPS can be hotwired and used.

Which makes it perfect for mass-production in Asia.

And, to be fair, for certain backyard applications.

Phasing out of EPS for surfboard production would, in effect, be a tax on Asian surfboard production. It would be a huge boon for local surfboard manufacturers, a giant blow to Firewire and others, including Wavestorms and other soft tops.

Not insurmountable.

There is some PU/PE mass production in Asia, notably Indonesia. Smaller operators like HaydenShapes can pivot, and have already done so.

But the retooling and loss of profit margin would damage market share immensely for Firewire.

Potential high times in the surfing board biz.

Major competitors’ biz models being taken out by government fiat.

Unprecedented demand due to Covid kooks and stimulus checks being spent on new whips.

Lack of workers.

I see many price hikes in the near future.

Might be high times to get the quiver sorted now.

How do you see?

Too much nanny state, let my people ride EPS?

Or fcuk that horrible stuff, makes shitty surfboards anyway.

Me: the latter, very much so.

Photo: Rusty Escandell via Facebook
Photo: Rusty Escandell via Facebook

Attention-starved giant manta ray steals spotlight from Florida surfer doing his very best: “It wasn’t until I reviewed the photo that I saw what was going on in the background!”


And there you are, in central Florida, doing the absolute best job you possibly can. Surfline calling 2 – 3 and getting it very wrong, per the norm. But you are a surfer and from central Florida so paddle out anyhow into the unseasonable chill. Excited.

You notice a man sitting on the beach snapping photos, focusing on the lineup and think, “If I get a good one maybe he’ll get a shot?”

And like that, as if summoned, a wave comes directly your way. You paddle, pop up, wiggle a turn then another, bash off the lip maybe and feel like Kelly Slater himself, though then get stuck behind the whitewash for a little too long but still whoosh out and finish with a serviceable cutback. Not the best you’ve ever done but there were certainly some moments and you look toward the beach at the man snapping photos and hope.

Later that evening, your jaw drops to the floor as you see a photo of yourself from earlier, on the wave where you wiggled and bashed and cutback. Except the image captures none of those. It captures you behind the whitewash but still. A surf shot of you on the local news.

Then you hear the news anchor talking about the “viral photobombing giant manta ray” that has “captured hearts around the world” and your eyes wander up.

You see the attention-starved bastard poking his head above the water, pulling all focus.

The news anchor continues, reading amazed comments from Facebook like, “Wow, I’ve seen whales, sharks and small fish jumping but first time I’ve heard about Manta Rays jumping…great photo.” and “Awesome shot. We were sitting at a club watching it jump repeatedly. He would jump 2-3 times, then an hour later, same thing. He didn’t wander very far.”

The news anchor then interviews the photographer, Rusty Escandell, who owns a local automotive business. He says, “To be frank with you, I was actually focusing on the surfer. I was doing a burst, catching several frames, and it wasn’t until I got home and I was reviewing the pictures that I actually saw what was happening in the background.”

What is happening in the background, though, is all anyone cares about and your moment is ruined forever.

Damn giant manta rays.

Chicago-born honey blond, former sparring partner of Kelly Slater and star of Endless Summer II named President of John John Florence start-up Florence Marine X

"We have a great history working together," says Pat O'Connell's new master John John Florence.

To the surprise of very few, Pat O’Connell, who is fifty, has been anointed president of the John John Florence-Bob Hurley start-up Florence Marine X.

Patty, the star of Endless Summer II, is a former world number eleven, a serial surf company executive (The Realm, Hurley) and, for two years, was the WSL’s Senior Vice President of Tours & Head of Competition.

He was a very good buy for the WSL, then, a Peter Pan to Sophie Goldschmidt’s Wendy, and gave the company a meteoric surge in talent levels at the Santa Monica office where VALs patrol the hallways with apparent impunity.

“We have a great history working together,” said his new master, the two-time world champion John John Florence.

“There couldn’t be a more perfect individual for this role,” said Jeff Hurley, the company’s CEO and Bob’s kid. “Pat has a long-standing rapport with John, and brings a wealth of experience and positivity that’s unmatched.”

“I want to be everybody’s friend,” Pat said in an interview in 1998. “I suppose that’s a character flaw in pro surfing.”

No word, yet, on when Florence Marine X will kick the website into life. 

And, watch a little surf-off tween prez and master, here.

Modern face of surfing Jonah Hill (pictured) sitting with all those shaper billions.
Modern face of surfing Jonah Hill (pictured) sitting with all those shaper billions.

Shapers, glassers rejoice as global surfing boards market projected to reach $11.5 billion by 2027: “I can finally buy mammy that house up in San Clemente she done been dreamin about!”

Two words: surfing boards.

Yesterday, it was revealed that world famous surfboard shaper Matt Biolos had drastically changed his look, transitioning from Orange County bad boy to cool mom chic. Today, we maybe learn why. Yahoo! Finance, in partnership with market analysis organization Report Linker, has projected that the “global surfing board market” is on pace to balloon to $11.5b by 2027 and WHOA let us study the details together:

– Global Surfing Boards Market to Reach $11.5 Billion by 2027

– Amid the COVID-19 crisis, the global market for Surfing Boards estimated at US$7.8 Billion in the year 2020, is projected to reach a revised size of US$11.5 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR of 5.7% over the period 2020-2027.

– The U.S. Market is Estimated at $2.1 Billion, While China is Forecast to Grow at 9.2% CAGR

– The Surfing Boards market in the U.S. is estimated at US$2.1 Billion in the year 2020. China, the world`s second largest economy, is forecast to reach a projected market size of US$2.5 Billion by the year 2027 trailing a CAGR of 9.2% over the analysis period 2020 to 2027. Among the other noteworthy geographic markets are Japan and Canada, each forecast to grow at 3.1% and 4.5% respectively over the 2020-2027 period. Within Europe, Germany is forecast to grow at approximately 4% CAGR.

And WOW do you think co-Waterperson of the Year Dirk Ziff wishes he bought …Lost Enterprises instead of the World Surf League? I’d imagine or at least hope.

Also, China. If we had our wits about us, we’d move there, open a shaping shack and get in on some of that $2.5b. We could live in Fuzhou, described by noted travel writer Bo Brennan thusly, “When I stepped outside of the Fuzhou train station last year, I felt an overwhelming sense of apathy.”


Early visor sketch and patent drawings from mid-eighties.

Margaret River inventor Ric Gath comprehensively refutes US man’s claim to have invented the world’s first surf-specific helmet!

Take a lil stroll back to 1986… 

Yesterday we ran, unquestioning, Terry Simms’ claim that he had invented the world’s first surf-specific helmet, something Simms repeated “many, many times,” says Chas Smith. 

Simms’ helmet, the Simba, with its Roman Gladiator styling, is certainly eye-catching. 

But it ain’t the first.

In the late eighties, early nineties, y’couldn’t find a lineup in Western Australia that wasn’t filled with surfers wrapped in Ric Gath’s eponymous surf helmet. 

Ric launched it at the 1989 Margaret River Masters, a contest won by Dave Macaulay wearing the wild-looking plastic thing. A photo taken on the day appears to show Dave’s wife hugging the helmet. 

That same season, Tom Carroll won the Pipe Masters with a Gath. 

Kong won it the year after, wearing a Gath. 

Tommy won Pipe again, the following year. 

Tom Carroll, festooned in Gath.
Tom Carroll, festooned in Gath on a trip to Indonesia.

“It was a dream launch,” says Ric, now sixty-four.

He ain’t too concerned about anyone claiming to’ve invented surf helmets.

Still, his story is a good one. 

Ric, who is a big-waver from Margaret River, Western Australia, had ears that gave him hell in a region famous for its cold wind. First he used divers balaclavas, then when Rip Curl brought out a peaked neoprene hood he wore that, although losing it in a wipeout was common. 

So he switched to carpenters’ ear muffs with the padding taken off and with the balls resting over the ears. Ric dislocated his jaw on that idea.

Then his three-year-old kid, this is 1986, nearly copped his fins in the face after nose-driving in a little shorey. 

Ric is a can-do sorta guy. He made some drawings and three years later it was everywhere.

Early visor sketch and patent drawings from mid-eighties.

In Bali, surfers used ‘em as motorbike helmets. Mums agreed to let their kids surf with the stipulation they wore a helmet. 

Ric says they were moving around 12,000 units a year. It’s not massive in today’s sorta numbers but thirty-ish years ago, big enough to make a little cash and save a few skulls. 

Almost as quickly as they’d arrived, howevs, the Gath disappeared. 

Two reasons, says Ric. 

First he heard that surf companies weren’t real thrilled that his “parasite” company was getting free press in their editorial photos and started telling photographers they weren’t going to run shots with helmets. 

Second, biz probs. 

In 1994, his three investors showed him the door and they all went to court to see who got to keep the intellectual property. 

“Three chiefs and one Indian and I was the Indian,” says Ric. “I went straight from a surfboard and into business to going into a liquidation meeting.”

Ric, who had to go back to carpentry to fund the case, won. 

In 1999, he picked up the pieces and was back in biz by 2005. 

Nowadays, he’s got his son Jess and wife, Jennifer, running the show, the company chasing Europe’s lucrative kite and foil  market, something that’s gonna spike now that governments there are starting to legislate for compulsory helmets while foiling. 

“The future is looking really good for us,” he says, adding he might be sixty-four but surfing makes him feel eighteen, even if he’s given a reality check every time he walks past a mirrored door and he catches his reflection. 

He ain’t too bummed about much these days, still talks to one of the investors who took him down and, with characteristic whimsy, says the liquidation of his business with all its legal documents “improved my reading.”

Check out Gath Helmets here.