We set out to change the surfing world and achieved much more – and much less.
The idea of the ecoFin was born as early as 2014. We wanted transform plastic waste from the oceans into surfboard fins. Being pioneers in in this field, entrepreneurial novices, and driven by endless curiosity we managed to run a successful Kickstarter Campaign, delivered the products within one year, and created an impressive eco-system around waste in Indonesia, manufacturing in Australia and a supporting family all around the globe.
This website tells the story of the many exciting aspects of the ecoFin, our awareness initiatives, education programs and some behind the scene insights.
Forever grateful for all the support!
The idea to use waste as a base material for a sport product – especially in surfing was a no brainer for us. After travelling and surfing around the planet, we found ourselves more often than not paddling through plastic waste and collecting trash from beaches in paradise.
In 2014, the first research of the 5 gyres had surfaced and the real extend of ocean plastic pollution could not be fathomed at this time.
By now we are all more educated around the topic of plastic waste. Whether we are smarter, remains to be answered.
Based on our own research and field trips we decided that Indonesia is the right place for us to start: World class waves and trash all over the place. And enough travellers to be missionaries of our cause.
We considered our selves business savvy, tech smart, and creative enough to pull up a project like this. We had also an inexhaustible reservoir of energy, all the time and arguments in the world on our side. But we also had money jobs and a PhD on our plates.
We figured the best idea (also time-travelling back to 2015) was a crowd-funding campaign. At just the turning point before most campaigns required a substantial investment itself, we managed to produce a full documentary, the entire campaign and create a myriad of sweet but less expedient rewards to raise enough money to get started.
We just hit the target of 35k AUD, which was barely enough to pay for the technical equipment needed. We were desperately optimistic. And found enough aficionados to make it work!
One of our most important partners was ecoBali. Through a trusting and amicable relationship we were able to connect the dots along the waste supply chain in Indonesia, or the better part of it. It is important to say, the solid waste management system across the Indonesian Archipelago is still premature in terms of efficiency, infrastructure and scope.
The good thing was, that we were able to follow the waste to where it is processed into recycled pellets to be further transformed into new products – like the ecoFin.
For our purpose rPP (Polypropylene) showed the most promising material characteristics and for once we were glad to have attended material science and been acquainted to stress-strain diagrams. Polypropylene is also among the most prevalent plastics polluting our planet.
The most essential station on our journey was the visit to our then material supplier to learn about the processes, quality control, amounts processed and sources of material streams.
In Indonesia, being number 2 of the world’s worst plastic polluters, recycling only happens in Java, where also the main industries are located. Thinking of the layout of the island state it is an obvious challenge to any waste management system namely connecting the scattered islands, with barely any infrastructure to an industrial processing sector that required large-scale input streams.
We were lucky or convincing enough to win the trust of a long-established recycling processor, that would be our supplier of the base material or the ecoFin. We could be certain, that all recyclables from Bali would end up here. But we knew this was just the beginning.
The rPP as base material was a good start. We new the quality was acceptable, however first injection moulding trials supported our early doubts: only the plastic (even if it was high quality virgin PP) wouldn’t withstand the use case.
After all, we wanted to create a surfboard fin for at least medium size conditions. To be very honest, the first fins that came out were bendable without flex and could be snapped with just a little body weight.
This was not a total surprise to us. We dove deep into composite materials, fibre reinforcement and tensile strength. But we also knew, this would compromise on the recyclability, which was also a declared requirement of the product. Composite materials are a union of a matrix material (in our case the rPP) and a strength-giving fibre. We needed to get expert advice and opened quite a few minds with our strange endeavour.
Natural fibres would have been an option, although there are heavy patents by big players on PP-Flax composites. Thus, we opted for the well-established glass fibre for the first model of the ecoFin. The first compromise to be lived with.
Deep into testing and trialing, we still had our mission in mind. We wanted to tackle the problem of plastic pollution in our oceans through a mission-driven social business. Our target audience, the most ocean-loving water fanatics, were a though nut. For reference, these ocean delvers are also the most accomplished gear nerds, regardless of environmental impact or the actual performance level.
At the time sustainability in the surfing industry was a relatively new thought, and we are proud to have created a little wave of awareness in the surfing community. Today we see so many important initiatives and see a general shift in the consumption behaviour
After the crowdfunding and towards the product launch we worked relentlessly on the Brand and business strategy. We received unbelievable media attention for our little endeavour, were invited as speakers to events and universities, had numerous interviews – so the importance of having the big picture defined was very important. This culminated also in the questions, whether we wanted to be a normal for-profit company. We wanted to achieve a financially viable enterprise, but were not driven by profits. Almost unintentionally we founded a social business by definition and by trade.
We defined the building blocks of our organisation as Products, Research, Education. This in turn dictated our projects, communications and budgetary decisions.
The greatest moments of the ecoFin journey where the ones that resulted in sparkling eyes. As wisely stated by Oscar of Keep Bali Clean in our documentary “You have to start with the kids, […] because the adults are already used to it.” We ran a full-term project with a public high school to explore the value chain of the ecoFin (and crafted the fin keys for our Kickstarter campaign), we initiated a plastic lid collection movement in the Byron/Mullumbimby Shire to build the unbelievable ecoFin Sculpture, we went on a charity-education trip to Lombok and cleaned up the beach with elementary school children.