Kiwi entrepreneur develops world-first wool surfboard

Rural Exchange 08/12/2018

A New Zealand entrepreneur has developed the world's first surfboard made from wool, and believes the technology could change the global market for the material.

Tauranga-based surfboard maker Paul Barron has partnered with The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) to develop the new wool composite technology.

The wool surfboards are being developed with the help of US brand Firewire Surfboards, who have designed and manufactured a 'Woolight' range of surfboards, to commercialise the technology at scale.

Mr Barron said he came up with the idea to build a surfboard shell out of wool after spilling resin on his wool jumper. 

The 'Woolight' surfboard. Photo: Supplied.

Traditional foam boards are typically housed in resin and fibreglass for structural integrity while the wool technology replaces fibreglass with wool.

"With this technology, we can produce a surfboard that has the potential to outperform traditional boards," he said.

"Basically you grow a sheep, shear it, wash the wool twice in water and make a material that is light, flexible, durable and fast," said Mr Barron.

NZM and Mr Barron are now investigating other market opportunities for the wool composite. 

They said the technology is a new high-value market for New Zealand strong wool, at a time when the industry is struggling with low wool prices and looking for an alternative.

"What Firewire is doing producing wool surfboards is the start of a movement and the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wool composite technology," said NZM Chief Executive John Brakenridge.

He believes the technology has the potential to replace fibreglass in many other products such as boats, aircraft and furniture.

Firewire CEO Mark Price is in New Zealand this week to meet with Mr Barron and the Pāmu farmers who will supply the wool for the 'Woolight' boards. 

Mr Price, along with pro surfer Kelly Slater who is a co-owner in Firewire, has a desire to steer the company to zero-landfill by 2020 and they see wool as a component of this process.

"We're sourcing ZQ wool that is ethically sourced and at the end of its life it will biodegrade and give back to the environment," he said.

Pāmu Farms of New Zealand will supply the bulk of the wool fibre that is used in the 'Woolight' surfboard.

Pāmu CEO Steven Carden said the partnership with Firewire gives sheep farmers a sense of pride and confidence that the future for wool doesn't have to be the status quo. 

"We hadn't thought surfing would ever provide the channel to take a positive New Zealand wool story to the world but it makes sense that those that enjoy nature so closely would be those that can solve environmental and performance challenges - we can learn from this," he said.

The "Woolight" surfboard range will be available for sale in New Zealand around April/May 2019.

Watch the full interview with John Brackenridge above.

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