He may have initially not set out to be, but nowadays, Mark Riley is an eco-warrior with purpose seeking to set the benchmark for others to follow.
Where to start? I guess a declaration on two fronts. First, Mark Riley is an incredibly talented surfboard shaper who continues to refine his craft and is now elevating his eco credentials to a whole new level. I will explain this in more detail a little later on. The second, is that he is a very good mate. I didn’t know Mark before we started Smorgasboarder some thirteen years ago, but through the years, whilst we haven’t seen each other that regularly in person, our friendship has grown. I absolutely think the world of the guy. I have come to know him very well and now fully understand his devotion to crafting long-lasting beautiful balsa boards perfectly tailored to his customers.
Regular readers of Smorgasboarder would be well aware by now that Mark shapes his boards entirely by hand, creating everything from fishes through to single fins, longboards, paddleboards and everything in between. While most are performance orientated and super lightweight with balsa skins applied to a recycled EPS foam core, he still shapes solid balsa classic longboards for clients seeking a traditional feel. So, what has changed?
Mark originally set out to make his surfboards last. Tired of what he considered the disposable nature of traditional surfboards, he set out to make his boards the equal of their counterparts in terms of performance but also indestructible. Over the last 27 years he has achieved that aim having not yet managed to snap one of his boards to date. However, as the years have gone by, he has become more acutely aware that the boards he builds can have a positive environmental impact. Mark explains his epiphany.
“I came to realise what I was doing was good for the environment because the boards I was making lasted so much longer. I had always been environmentally conscious in my approach, but this just strengthened my belief in what I was doing and how I went about my business. It also encouraged me to find out about and adopt other ecologically sound materials, products and approaches.”
Mark sought out to find material that complemented the balsa he sources from sustainable
farms. The first point of call was of course the internal foam blank. He settled on 100% recycled EPS foam and has stuck with them since.
The blanks go through a process called regranulation. Scrap pieces of packing foam from fridges, TVs and the like are ground up, pumped into a mould and heated. Once ejected from the mould they are shuttled into large gas oven drying rooms. Mark then shapes the blank before a 2-3mm balsa veneer is vacuum-bagged (laminated) onto the blank providing
added strength. Solid rails are then added to the board and the shape is further refined with some light sanding before being glassed, finished and polished.
Not content with that Mark further continued to work towards reducing his environmental footprint. All foam offcuts from his boards go back into his recycled EPS foam mix. Waste from his solid balsawood boards is used as garden compost and usable offcuts are donated to schools. The glues he uses contain no volatile or flammable ingredients and his vehicles
converted to LPG to reduce the amount of fuel consumed. He is also an active member of the Rainforest Alliance; an organization that works to arrest the major drivers of deforestation and environmental destruction and to further his commitment to responsible, sustainable harvesting of balsawood, Mark even set up his own balsa plantation up in Cooktown near Port Douglas in North Queensland. However, now Mark is looking to certify the carbon footprint of each of the surfboards he produces.
“Various estimates put the carbon footprint of a traditional PU surfboard at between 270 to 370kg of carbon. I estimate my boards presently emit around 80kg of CO2 into the atmosphere. That’s near a quarter to that of their PU counterparts. But I am keen to ratify this with certification from the regulatory bodies.
To put that in perspective, a Riley Balsa Surfboard, emitting 80kg of CO2 is a smaller environmental footprint than that of a bicycle and close to that of a woollen coat. That’s quite the accomplishment.
“Once I achieve this, I will not only fulfill my promise to produce high performance surfboards that last, they will also be certified as far more environmentally friendly than their counterparts. And we will continue refining our processes to further minimise our carbon footprint.”
There is no denying Mark has found his sweet spot – beautiful boards built for speed that last forever, soon to be certified as eco-friendly alternative to conventional surfboards. All he has to do now is find an eco-friendly beer because he doesn’t mind consuming a couple of those, and I am only too happy to share a few of those with him.