While Firewire still has a lot of growing to do, I admire them for being a forward thinking and sustainable focused surf brand in a sea of unsustainable and toxic surf brands. The brand is making huge strides in the sustainability of the materials they use in their surfboards and I absolutely love their collaboration with BLOOM for their traction pads. It is unfortunate that they chose to move their operations to Thailand and didn’t achieve Fair Trade certification, but hopefully once they made enough of a splash in the surf market they could afford to move their factories back to the U.S. and Australia! Overall I think it is sick that Firewire is standing up to the status quo of modern surfing and trying to remind us of our sustainable roots.
Did you know that top-level pro surfers can go through about 150 boards a year? This means that for one pro surfer, each year, 150 boards will be shaped, glassed, sold, surfed, snapped, and then thrown into the landfill. While this number of boards is much higher than what the average surfer will go through in a year, it has been estimated that there are about 700,000 to 800,000 surfers in the world, so our consumption of surfboards, as a global community, is huge! If surfboards were still made from non-toxic, recyclable, biodegradable materials, like wood, then this high consumption wouldn’t be as big of a problem. But the average surfboard today is not made from non-toxic, recyclable, or biodegradable materials. Most surfboards are made from petroleum-based materials, which are extremely unsustainable. On the bright side, growing surf brands, such as Firewire, claim that they are trying to take surfing back to its non-toxic roots!
Firewire’s line of Timbertek boards are a combination of lightweight EPS core (1 lb), sustainably grown 3mm Paulownia wood deck skins, parabolic Paulownia wood rails, deck sandwich cloth, and entropy bio-resin throughout. Firewire may be moving away from petroleum-based resins, but they still use EPS and fibreglass! EPS is expanded polystyrene and fibreglass is fibre reinforced plastic that is derived from crude oil. Yet, CEO Mark Price explains that their Timbertek boards have a 20% recycled EPS foam content (which is an improvement from most surf brands). While Firewire still uses these two toxic and unsustainable materials, their wood rails, wood deck skins, and 35% bio content bio-resins are non-toxic. Firewire sources their bio-resins from Entropy Resins, a company in California, to reduce their use of petroleum-based materials. Firewire does not specify where they source their Paulownia wood from, but they say it is sustainably grown and sometimes they even take offcuts from Timbertek deckskins to piece together deckskins for other boards. Never let pieces of a good board go to waste! Now that is a step in the right direction.
And onto the next exciting product from Firewire... algae-based traction pads! Kelly Slater and Firewire collaborated with BLOOM to make a new type of traction pad made from algae that grows on rivers and lakes and harms the freshwater environment. BLOOM scrapes the algae off the top of rivers and lakes, pulverizes it, and then extrudes it into an EVA substitute that has incredible traction properties.
Firewire also uses a special type of packaging to ship their surfboards. They use BAST eco-packaging, which is 100% post-consumer molded pulp packaging, made in San Diego. The packaging is biodegradable and the company uses velcro straps to hold the packaging together.
If you prefer your boards to be hand-shaped by your local shaper or surf shop, then Firewire boards may not be for you. But if you prefer more uniformity in your board selection, then Firewire boards are right up your alley. The boards are designed with CAD and then made with computer numerical control (CNC) machines, so every board is identical.
Firewire boards are designed using CAD technology and then the boards are made in the Firewire factory in Nonthaburi, Thailand. Apparently, Firewire’s blanks are not blown at the Nonthaburi factory, but they do not explain where they are sourced from. Workers on forklifts at Nonthaburi factory haul blanks to the CNC machines and the machines in turn pop out very uniform shaped EPS foam and heck of a lot of EPS dust and waste. Firewire doesn’t let this foam go to waste though. This foam and dust are collected to make paving stones, which they use at their Surf Ranch or donate. Then more machines layer on the cloth, wood rails, wood deck, and bio-resin. The boards are then packaged in their BAST eco-packaging and finally shipped to the U.S. where they are sold.
Firewire is a surf brand that aims to change our unsustainable surf lifestyles by improving “the surfing experience as much as possible while impacting the environment as little as possible”. Firewire has joined with Kelly Slater Designs, Tomo Designs, Skindog Surfboard, CJ Nelson, Harley Ingleby, and Taylor Jensen to expand their sustainable surfboard line. All of Firewire’s surfboards are ECOBOARD Verified, but the other brands that have joined with Firewire are not ECOBOARD Verified. An ECOBOARD is a high-performance surfboard that has reduced toxicity and environmental impacts. There are two levels to ECOBOARD verification, level one and gold level. Firewire’s Timbertek boards are Gold Level, which means it is manufactured in a facility that has been validated by ECOBOARD, uses at least one gold level qualified material, and uses another qualified material for the core or resin.
When Firewire started in 2005 they only had factories in California and Australia, but just two years later they moved their operations to Nonthaburi, Thailand. Firewire CEO Mark Price explains that they made this move because they could not afford to produce their surfboards in the U.S. or Australia. Price explained that their sustainable materials and producing in the U.S. and Australia made their surfboards too expensive, so they had to move production to Thailand to compete in the surfboard market. This movement likely increases the company's carbon footprint by sending their production abroad. Firewire’s movement to Thailand has been a point of contention for many surfers. While I support Firewire’s push for more sustainable surfboards, I feel uneasy supporting brands that outsource their labor to places where they are not forced to operate ethically or pay a living wage. Luckily I did not find any reports of unethical treatment at their factory in Thailand. On the other hand, in 2018 Firewire aimed to become a Fair Trade organization by 2019, but as of 2021, they have not achieved this certification.
But to end on a positive note, acetone, a highly toxic carcinogen, is not used in the factory, unlike factories that work with PU boards, and Firewire’s boards emit 50 times less volatile organic compounds than PU/PE boards.