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INTERVIEW by Leticia Nguyen
ILLUSTRATION by Megan Palmer
PHOTOGRAPHY  by Chris Anderson

Chris Anderson is a young man with a mission—to take 1000 broken surfboards and bring them back to life, in the hopes to raise awareness about a more sustainable approach to the way we manage waste.

As he nears the halfway mark of his project, 1000 Surfboard Graveyard, which started back in July 2011, Chris talks to us about the evolving experience of his mission. 

Where are you from and what was it like for growing up?
I am from Kiama on the South Coast of NSW, 2 hours South of Sydney, Australia. The South Coast has been a great place to grow up, there’s such a variety of surf spots, plenty of skate parks and most people are really down-to-earth.

Has the ocean always been a big part of your life?
My dad was always surfing and he always encouraged me from a young age to go down to the beach. We went on quite a few holidays to Coolangatta on the Gold Coast and it wasn’t until I was 13 and I saw hundreds of people getting shacked in 5foot grinding Greenmount that I learnt to stand-up surf, rather than bodyboard.

What were you doing at the time the idea for 1000 SG came about and what exactly prompted you to embark on this project?
I was researching into the sustainability of surfboards out of interest. I decided it was such an interesting topic I could peruse it in my Honours year in Graphic Design at the University of Wollongong. I was talking to my supervisor Lucas Ihlein, and he said to me, “Yeah, you should collect a few broken surfboards, have a pile of em’, you know. People see a problem when there is a pile”. He didn’t mean try and collect 1000 (laughs). But I thought to myself, you know what, go big or go home.

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Your project highlights the need to make positive changes in the way we manage waste caused by surfing. With more and more waste created each year, what are your thoughts on the responsibility of the surf industry and surfers alike and measures we can all take to reduce the impact of surfing?
This was one of my key realisations when I started the project. I wanted to raise awareness that the one broken surfboard here and there between mates was actually thousands going into landfill on a national level. I can see the problem from many perspectives after talking to a number of surfboard manufacturers. Most surfboard manufacturers were welcoming to the idea of new sustainable materials or substances for making surfboards provided that; – the cost would be the same, or less – the processes and hardening times were the same, or less – the quality was high in terms of clarity, whiteness, strength, etc. There are eco-epoxies and bio-resins on the market but they are more expensive, particularly in Australia, which is a huge barrier when working in a competitive industry, and there seems to be ongoing debate about comparative quality.

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I was talking to my supervisor Lucas Ihlein, and he said to me, “Yeah, you should collect a few broken surfboards, have a pile of em’, you know. People see a problem when there is a pile.”

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Many surfboard manufacturers also expressed that the majority of their customers (surfers) demanded the thin, light and bright white aesthetic similar to the style of surfboards professional surfers ride on the WCT and those promoted in surfing magazines worldwide. Meeting these demands was important to pleasing customers and staying in business. I do think because of this it would be great if professionals pushed the environmental agenda a bit harder at any appropriate opportunity because they do have a big influence on surfing culture and spending as a result. However, professional surfing is a career, you need to perform your best when competing. It is has been proven for decades now that lightweight surfboards made from toxic chemicals perform exceptionally well for gaining speed and executing airs. I’m an advocate for progressive surfing—the more Flynnstone flips, sushi rolls and big barrels the better—but I also think it is important that surfers realise the environmental impacts of surfboards. Everyday surfers should demand improvements too. Ask yourself this; when was the last time you personally asked your shaper, surf shop, or looked online for a surfboard made from more sustainable materials?

Another major sustainability issue with surfboards is that there is false economy causing them to be disposable. Let’s say I snapped my surfboard pulling in this morning. I have a few options, firstly if I’m not willing to pay $150-$250 to get it fixed (which I’ve found many surfers aren’t willing to pay because the board just won’t ride as well), the price of a new surfboard is around $650-$800. This means that it can’t be sold as second hand it can only be stored away or reused as art or furniture (out of love if it rode awesome). The most common option however is to thrown snapped surfboards in the bin whether that be a bin at home, at work, at the beach, or even left out for council clean up it all goes to the same place—landfill. This is a problem, there is no such thing as throwing something ‘away’—away does not exist, rubbish goes to another location, which in the case of surfboards is landfill.

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Living with your folks, what was their initial reaction to your plan?
At first they didn’t take me seriously, but 50 broken surfboard halves later, they knew I meant business. They weren’t exactly stoked, but at the same time the local papers got behind me and the story and mum and dad saw the greater good of 1000SG and decided to embrace it.

How have they managed through your project?
My dad is a surfer so I think deep down he has enjoyed hearing the different stories that have come with the broken boards. One guy swears the tail half of his board was the only thing that saved him from drowning. Mum is okay with it as long as they\’re mostly out of sight in the back corner of our yard. My girlfriend loves the project and has helped me out since day one and continues to support everything to do with it. Who helps you out with sourcing broken boards? The project has been really community based, not just friends, but friends of friends, and friends of their friends. I’m a member of our local Jones Beach Boardriders club and on the whole the people have donated their broken boards or sent me an SMS if they spot them. I’ve also visited lots of surfboard factories. I really can’t thank everyone enough for donating their surfboards to the project! Tell us a little bit about your process and inspirations? I’ve always been interested in art, design and surf culture. I always new I’d be doing something within those realms so my process has involved just chipping away at creative projects like 1000SG, and to keep learning from each exhibition or project I do. I’m inspired when the waves are great and I’m having fun. Moments like that keep me motivated to try and do something as a surfer to keep our earth in tact so that the next generation can enjoy it as much as I currently am.

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What’s a particularly creative design you have come up with?
I have made some really ghetto ‘coffin boards’ from old surfboards. I deliberately made them ghetto by sawing the nose into a coffin shape, or a cross, and then I seal them with duct tape. The idea is anyone can do it, and I’ve had a few people send in photos of their own coffin boards. It’s really fun, especially.

What’s your preferred medium to work with when creating artwork onto the boards?
I’ve always been a bit of a painter, not just using brushes but also spray cans. I’m really into lots of styles mostly anything that involves bright smeared colour mixing, abstract art, symmetry, kaleidoscopes, stripes and stencils.

What has been the greatest challenge within this project?
Time. It takes lots of time and effort to go around and collect all the surfboards. Arranging pick up times, talking to people, driving to places. It is fun, but 1000SG has also been lots of work. At first I thought the project would take around a year or so…it’s almost been 2 years now and I’m only near halfway!

What has been your greatest achievement within 1000SG?
I have started a new venture called Ecto Handplanes where I have been recycling broken and old surfboards back into bodysurfing handplanes. I’ve got a big idea to have broken surfboard donation bins at variety of core surf stores in NSW. Surfers will be able to donate their snapped surfboards into the bin where I can then recycle the foam back into an Ecto handplane. Raising awareness about the environmental impacts of surfboards has been a massive achievement but working out a way to recycle some of the waste is my next step forward for sure.

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When you reach 1000 boards, what will become of the project?
There’ll be a huge art installation of broken surfboards. It’ll be a public event where surfers and beach lovers alike can bury a broken surfboard or two in the sand at the beach. I’ll direct the installation and once the graveyard is set up, I’ll hopefully get some amazing photos to make some prints from.

Do you still purchase new boards and if so are you looking into any alternative materials?
I’m always thinking about new surfboards or designs I would like to try! I got my most recent surfboard glassed in Entropy eco-epoxy, which I shaped from a damaged blank I collected. I’d like to try a surfboard made from the recycled EPS Marko Foam because they collect fridge packing, etc and reprocess it into surfboard blanks, which I think is really rad.

Can you suggest ways in which a surfer can reduce their environmental footprint?
Find and buy a more sustainable surfboard, everyday surfers can help the industry see a demand for positive change. They should visit www. sustainablesurf.org to fully understand the whole ‘eco’ world of surfboard production and innovation and what options there are for all types of surfboards. Finally, what does the ocean mean to you? Everything!  Fun, life, friends, health and adventure!

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Stay tuned with Chris’s project here and check out his Ecto Handplanes here.  To see more of Megan Palmer’s amazing illustrations head here.