A new prototype surfboard sets high standards for environmentally friendly manufacturing. Will other industries take the hint?
By Joel Hersch
Last year, Zachary Ostroff, a recent Stanford University graduate specializing in Earth systems and sustainable development, was falling more deeply in love with surfing and began a routine of getting in the water almost every day. But, given his environmental consciousness, it plagued him that the majority of boards available for surfers pose a serious threat to the planet once they are disposed of.
“The equipment I was using to engage with the ocean was made from some of the most toxic, least-recyclable materials humans have ever created for mass manufacturing,” he says.
This was the key issue in Ostroff’s mind when he embarked on a massively collaborative mission to develop the world’s most sustainable surfboard. Soon, The Dolphin Board of Awesome was born: a 3D-printed, recyclable, and compostable surfboard, utilizing sustainably sourced algae, discarded plastic water bottles, and custom printable designs that can be sent with the click of a button.
The algae used in The Dolphin Board are sourced mostly from lakes in Mississippi where the invasive plant life edges out other life forms, explains the 24 year old. Therefore, he adds, extracting the algae for manufacturing purposes is a win-win. The algae is fermented and transformed by a partner company called ALGIX into poly-lactic acid (PLA), which, with a mixture of sugarcane and corn, can be shaped using 3D printers.
Because the boards can be shaped digitally and sent as a file to a 3D printer anywhere in the world, Ostroff’s concept cuts down drastically on shipping costs and associated fuel consumption.
“An additional component of The Dolphin Board of Awesome is [that they are] printed with recycled plastic bottles,” Ostroff says. One of Ostroff’s key partners is Nate Petre, a doctorate student at the Imperial College of London researching additive manufacturing. It was Petre’s lab partner who figured out how to make 3D printer ink out of plastic water bottles. By using both algae and plastic bottles, Ostroff says the company can spread the story of how flexible additive-manufacturing 3D printing has become.
The result is a surfboard that he says is less expensive and more durable than the majority of surfboards currently on the market. The Dolphin Board has been tested by the likes of Danny Fuller, a pro surfer from Kauai who got barreled while riding it at an undisclosed location in Southern California.
Beyond the surf industry, Ostroff hopes that The Dolphin Board becomes a symbol for what is possible in the world of manufacturing. “When we first started talking about this concept [in 2016], we realized this was an incredible way to animate the technologies that exist today and that are, ideally, really going to help us as humans—outside of the surfing world, on a larger scale—move toward a more sustainable future for the planet and society,” he says.
For the first round prototype, The Dolphin Board of Awesome was designed using a coating of fiberglass, which means it’s not entirely plant-based. The team, which is comprised of 18 individuals from all around the globe, used a type of environmentally friendly resin called Super Sap made by Entropy Resins. “It’s about 95-percent plant-based material, and we’ll get closer to 100 percent as we get bigger [3D] printers, which will mean we can print the boards in one single piece and we won’t need fiberglass to hold it all together,” explains Ostroff.
As work on The Dolphin Board of Awesome continues (it is being developed at both the Imperial College of London and in the Bay Area), Ostroff says he hopes that other industries will take notice and become inspired to consider new systems for sustainability. “If we can 3D print surfboards that Danny Fuller can get totally barreled on, then what else can we do?” he muses. “It’s just a surfboard made from plastic water bottles and algae, but it’s a really inspiring way to get this conversation going.”
The Dolphin Board of Awesome officially launches in late spring 2018. Keep up with their progress at the dolphinboardofawesome.com.