In the 18th century, a British explorer rediscovered the Hawaiian islands and reported that locals rode the surf on boards they called papa he’e nalu. These wooden boards evolved over the years with surfer Tom Blake inventing the first hollow board in 1926 and surf fin in 1935, and the introduction of fiberglass, polyurethane foam and the shortboard followed in the mid-20th century. The evolution continues into the 21st century with an emerging new trend: the hemp surfboard.
Modern surfboards typically feature foam covered in fiberglass cloth. Hemp boards continue to use foam cores, but hemp fibers are used to make the shell. These fibers are strong, durable, biodegradable, eco-friendly and UV resistant.
So who’s making hemp surfboards?
Chad Kaimanu Jackson, born and raised on California’s Central Coast, has been part of the surf community his entire life. As a surfer, he competed in the 2012 Big Wave Tour, and like his father, Chad started shaping boards at an early age. The eco-minded surfer experimented with alternative materials and eventually gravitated to hemp, flax, recycled redwood and bio-based resins and epoxies. Chad became the hemp board pioneer in 2007 when he started wrapping boards in hemp cloth instead of fiberglass. His company, now called Hemp Surfboards, is arguably the best-known brand, but it’s not alone.
Canadian-based Hempearth designed the world’s first hemp airplane, and while the company waits on the funds to help its vision take flight, the team is making hemp surfboards. The Hempwave 1.0 is made with organic hemp fiber and recycled foam and comes in custom sizes (5’6 to 6’6). There’s also a stand-up paddle board version (9’0 to 10’6) for lakes, bays and other places with calmer waters.
“Sustainability is the future of surfing,” says Solid Surfboards. This San Diego-based company makes its BIOflex boards with recycled cores, volcanic ballast fibers and organic hemp skin. Solid sees hemp as part of an overall commitment to sustainable materials, and it believes the end result is better for more than just the environment. Per its website, the BIOflex materials create “a board that floats better, is easier to paddle, is more durable and has a better flex response than the traditional surfboard construction.”
Of course, any good surf story must include Hawaii. Maui-based Bee Line started with hemp wicks and now produces several hemp products, including a hemp surfboard. The company, which uses an organic hemp farm in Romania, partnered with Oregon-based Bixby Surfboards to produce made-to-order boards. Bixby primarily makes river boards — yes, you can surf rivers, which can offer very long rides — so the custom hemp boards can be designed for ocean or river use. Bee Line believes Romanian hemp is the best, but bringing the crop from Eastern Europe does increase its ecological footprint.
For centuries, civilizations used hemp fiber to make ropes, sails, textiles and other items that required both strength and flexibility. Hemp can convey the same benefits to surfboards, paddle boards and even skate decks, but it also helps promote sustainability and protect the environment.