31 July, 2014 31 July, 2014

Riding the Green Wave – by Matthew Koehorst

Board design and innovation has come a long way since the birth of surfing, and Matthew Koehorst hopes that it continues – in a more eco-concious direction. ‘Riding the Green Wave’ is his entry into our Write to Surf competition, which has some great prizes up for grabs (see below for details).


RIDING THE GREEN WAVE – by: Matthew Koehorst


It’s the year 2050. A surfer floats on his surfboard as he contemplates the line up. A wave appears on the horizon and he moves toward it with liquid grace. He drops his head, arms moving rapidly as he positions himself in just the right place to set himself up for the barrel of a lifetime. But at the last second, the wave jacks and pitches its energy onto the reef below sending the man flying over the falls, his board landing just below the guillotine lip.

As the chunky lip slams down with thunderous finality the wave hunter becomes the hunted and is hurled into the depths of the ocean, twisted and torn, tumbled and spun, beaten by a fierce energy before surfacing, out of breath, surprised and defeated.

His once revered – almost holy – weapon is torn in two, smashed into a crippled wreck of what it once was. Its skin hangs severed, its body ripped asunder. The product of decades of design, evolution and effort floats listlessly, it’s only purpose in this world now taken from it. The surfer regains his breath as the wave passes and his prized possession drags on his leash like a ball on a chain.



Man is obsessed with progress. As a species, the concept of progress is what separates us from the rest of the crowd. In the last 200 odd years, surfboard design has illustrated this fixation, jumping in leaps and bounds from solid, huge, boat like logs first used by the Polynesians and Hawaiians, to the modern day thrusters, fishes, longboards, hybrids, funboards, and whatever other type of surfboard shape you can think of.

The materials we use in crafting our wave riding tools have also evolved over time. For over 150 years boards were made chiefly from wood. From the traditionally used Wili Wili, Ula and Koa trees of Hawaii, to the Redwood, Balsa and Plywood boards that were developed to be lighter and more functional, wood, varnish and glue was all that was used to create our revered craft.


By the end of World War Two (why do all important innovations come from war?) Fibreglass, plastics, resin and Styrofoam came onto the scene. The introduction of these materials, all derived from nasty chemical cocktails, allowed surfboards to make a cosmic leap forward, with boards becoming lighter, shorter and more manoeuvrable. Innovators like Bob Simmons, and later Hobie Alter and Gordon Clark, began experimenting with new foam based compounds in the late 1940s, but it wasn’t until 1961, when Gordon Clark formed Clark Foam in California that large scale foam blank production became a possibility and the era of petrochemical surfboards had truly begun.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The material and design innovations of the last 200 odd years have allowed surfers to become more intimately connected to their surfing environments. From dredging pits to flat and powerless waves, there is a surfboard design that is purpose built to get the most out of the situation and surfers are regularly putting themselves in positions never before achieved. Surfboards have taken surfing to places people would have never imagined.


Surfers too, are, by necessity, connected to our environment. Whether we’re materialistic, hard working weekend warriors, or slacker surf bums, our lives are, in some way or another, shaped by the ocean – it’s moods, patterns, rhythms and energy. We watch swell charts more closely than baby monitors, we check wind direction more often than bank balances, and we study coastlines more closely than our lover’s buttocks.

Isn’t it a sad irony, then, that despite all of the innovation and progress made in surfboard design, that we’re still using materials that are toxic to our environment, still designing and building with polluting substances that will outlive our great grandchildren on this fragile orb our earth? If our great grandchildren can still live on this earth that is.

The multibillion dollar surf industry has made waves on international markets in the last 20 years, with surfers regularly proving how people are willing to spend on things they love. It’s great for a surf company’s wallet, but not ideal for our limited natural resources that underpin our existence on this planet.


As surfing grows in international popularity, with ever increasing numbers of surfers grabbing their nearest petroleum based plank and rushing to the sea, so should the burden of the material impact of our prized possessions begin to weigh down on our collective consciousness.

Around the world a growing environmental ethos is permeating the thick skulls of our majestic species. People are refusing plastic bags, recycling, supporting organic agriculture, carpooling, and generally kicking up a big green fuss about the terrible destructive and callous practises of our current society.

And yet, surfers, historically a group of individuals who shared a deep, spiritual and intimate connection with Mother Nature, are now more than ever rushing out to complete their oil laden quiver of surfboards, hoarding their collection of petrochemicals to proudly whip out at their nearest cooking surf spot.


It’s a bit odd, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There is a growing movement towards less environmentally damaging surfboards, with plant based resins, recycled polystyrene, longer lasting epoxy boards and a resurgence in wooden hand crafted boards all shuffling for room in the booming surf economy. Limiting factors for these newer, less environmentally costly boards include competitive pricing, access to market, and perceived performance of the boards.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to surfers to demand tools that don’t destroy the very environment we all love and rely on as demand influences supply, and progress is shaped by necessity and willpower.


As the surfer bobs in the water, recovering from his beating, he regards his board’s new form. Its well defined tip and tail were shaped to perfection, its edges sculpted, just so. It’s a product of over 2 centuries of innovation. But now, it’s snapped in two, one end floating in the white water, the other tugging on his leash. It was the wave rider’s prize possession, his baby, his lover. Its forefathers were chunky and hefty, carved from solid wood. As they evolved they became lighter, more efficient and better suited for their task. They borrowed ideas from other disciplines, grew fins and contour, became shorter, sharper, more aggressive. The materials evolved too, from wood and glue to polyurethane, polystyrene, fibreglass and resin. Eventually, after years of slow change, once petroleum based products became impossibly expensive, and consumers demanded alternatives, recycled plastics, plant fibres, mycelia foam, and non-toxic resins came onto the scene. Each board became better, faster, more evolved. But also more environmentally benign, less poisonous and less of a burden to our planet.

The surfer walks up the beach towards his car and throws his board in the back, its mycelia foam core ready to decompose into fertiliser for his garden.

* The views expressed in ‘Write to Surf’ entries are not necessarily those of Zigzag.
Click here to check out all the entries so far >>


Send your stories to calvin@zigzag.co.za. One submission will be selected every six weeks to appear in Zigzag magazine. The selected submission will also receive a hamper from Billabong. Zigzag retains the right to use any work submitted for the Zag Surf Journo competition on zigzag.co.za as outlined in the rules and terms of the competition. Zigzag reserves the right not to award a published winner in the magazine every six weeks, depending on the quality of entries. Zigzag is not obligated to run any and all entries submitted, either online or in print. Zigzag retains the right to edit all work submitted for brevity and / or clarity.

For the next three issues the Billabong prize hamper includes: 1 x Billabong Wetsuit; 1 x Billabong Boardies; 1 x Billabong Cap; 1 x Von Zipper Sunnies; 1 x Set of Kinetic Racing (KR) fins. After which the hamper will get a shake-up with new product of equal value for the following three issues.


1 Comment

  1. Rian
    17 December, 2015 at 5:40 pm · Reply

    What!? who you calling ‘slacker surf bums’ get your facts straight future boy. why do you think we surf those beaten-up SECOND HAND boards and WALK to the beach? because we’re lazy and don’t have jobs, with no ‘lovers buttocks’ or ‘bank balances’ to look at and admire? NO! because we’re earth conscious, eco-warriors my bru – that’s right ek se! how much do you think that ‘magic mushroom’ board will cost – exactly! shame on you.
    Don’t Judge me!

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