The surfboard industry is at odds with surf culture. The making of surfboards is a toxic, filthy undertaking. Most surfboard makers use nasty oil-based chemicals and create carcinogenic by-products, which clash with the image of surfers grooving on the sunshine and connecting with one of nature’s most primal forces—the wave.
When Mike LaVecchia and I, Brad Anderson, decided to make Grain Surfboards a company about eight years ago in York, Maine, we knew we wanted to build it on our own values and not focus on the prime directive that drives most commercial enterprises—profit. While both of us had seafaring backgrounds on traditional sailing vessels and in boat building, we met only when our interest in building surfboards caused our paths to cross. LaVecchia had been with Burton Snowboards for many of its earliest years, and with my previous careers in technology, business, and woodworking, we had a deep well from which to draw. Since then, we’ve been lucky to attract a number of completely committed people who really make the whole thing work.
We’ve built a values-based foundation with bricks we call “sustainability”, “quality”, “community”, “sharing”, and “our people”. In the years since, we’ve taught over a thousand people about the idea of a “values-based business” and shared with them the surprising rewards and personal inspiration that comes from crafting something as priceless as a surfboard made of wood.
Lately, we’ve been hatching plans to reach even farther. We’ve cruised around the East Coast in our old truck—a reclaimed bread van we call “The Pug”. The experience of connecting with people on the road has been nothing short of enlightening. With our current Kickstarter project, we’re aspiring to replicate our East Coast outreach to the West Coast, where the sheer density of surfers will let us share our message with even more people. For that, we need a new truck that will live on the West Coast, which, with a trailer, will become a mobile “classroom” we can unload anywhere.
At first glance, you may not understand why it's important for us to get on the road to connect with more people, but if you’ve ever been involved in one of our classes, you wouldn't think twice. When we pull up to a beach or a barn or a school, and start laying beautiful, honey-colored wood boards all over the ground, and then tell the novice craftsmen and women that have assembled for the class that they will be building the same things themselves, some of them look flat-out scared. But, by the end of the week, having shared daily family-style meals, they’re all fast friends who have not only a new understanding of surfboard design, but also the confidence that comes from crafting something of lasting quality. And while we’ve taught surfers as young as twelve and as old as surfers come, we’ve seen that these classes have been something more meaningful to them than we could ever have imagined.
As this surfer community grows around us, more and more people come to understand that the choices we make can inform our business models, so why not make smart, sustainable, environmentally friendly choices? We can learn, just by building more sustainable surfboards, that we can change the way things are made, and start making the planet a better place to live.
Images courtesy of Grain Surfboards