Ode to Surfboard Shaper Gary Young

g-young-mini“Brah, no surf ’em, hang ’em on the wall.”

That’s what some people say about wood surfboards. Gary Young has a different perspective.

Gary knows more than a few things about eco surfboard technology, he started vacuum bag/epoxy laminating wood veneer into compound curved surfboard skins in 1976 and eventually evolved to bamboo construction in the mid 1990s.

Gary Young could quite possibly be the Godfather of eco board technology. Born and raised in Southern California, Gary Young has shaped boards for some of the greats, from Sunny Garcia to Nat Young. We recently caught up with him to discuss his eco journey that began in 1976.

DD: Can you tell us a little about how your eco joinery began?

Gary Young: I had an epiphany in 1973 during the oil crisis while sitting in line to buy gas and I thought to myself if we’re gonna run out of oil soon, maybe we need to start looking at ways to do things that use less resources, can be replenished by nature, and do less harm to the environment.

DD: It was soon after this that you started to work with wood and it seems many followed your lead.

Gary Young: In 1980 people considered me the wood veneer guy this was before Surftech had wood veneer boards made in Thailand. It was there first success, still touted on their website. I created bamboo surfboards over 15 years ago. Surftech, Rusty, Naish and Firewire are the ‘bamboo green guys’ and yet they use bamboo only as a cosmetic surrounded by fiberglass. People still do not get the message that natural fiber composites can be superior in wright, durability, performance and cost to polyester fiberglass surfboards.

DD: In your opinion, what is a green board?

Gary Young: If fiberglass is used, a board is not green, scrap fiberglass is inert and takes up space in the landfills and sanding dust is not good for breathing organisms. Using high amounts of resin is not green, hand laminated fiberglass can use twice the resin as vacuum bagged wood or bamboo. Obviously if a board uses polyester resin, it is not green. [See DEEP article on bio resin for more info.]

DD: What do you think about polyurethane foam blanks which are the industry standard?

Gary Young: Nasty chemistry, fumes, waste, non-recyclable and lack of durability top the list of negatives for urethane foam blanks. Extruded polystyrene foam has clear advantages, without the water absorption of expanded polystyrene. Durability and repair ability are important aspects of a green board, the longer a board can be surfed and repaired, without loosing performance (including adding weight), the more green it is.

DD: Why bamboo?

Gary Young: It became obvious that you just don’t get any more renewable than bamboo, and it also has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any natural fiber I’ve ever worked with. I really believe bamboo can contribute to a solution for the planet.

DD: Why aren’t eco surfboards more mainstream?

Gary Young: Most people have a retarded view of the economy. People purchase surfboards based on who their surf hero is, or which label most impresses them, they are influence by their peers and advertising. They don’t realize that low cost disposable boards are actually more expensive in the long run because they are fragile.

Some say, “Brah, no surf ’em, hang ’em on the wall.” There is a historical view that wood boards are heavy (chambered and can absorb water) or fragile (because they are covered with fiberglass).

It blows my mind, most surfers aspire to drive a nice new car, live in a beautiful place, have a ‘hot’ relationship and yet in one of the most rewarding activitiss we do as humans—surf—they choose to use fragile plastic polluting piece of shit to surf on (and pay extra for airbrush art).

DD: Are their any performance issues with wood surfboards?

Gary Young: Riders of Wooden Classic Hawaii tell me that the flex of lighter wood boards feels really good, they flex then drive or carry speed out of turns. They also dampen vibration at high speeds and seem to feel better than epoxy surfboards. Another comments I hear is that they float and paddle well.

I say, if you can have a wood surfboard without the weight, you’ve got a better board.

DD: Thanks for the interview Gary, stoked on what you do and I am thankful for the eco vision that you have held for all these decades and I hope that the eco seeds that you have spread will one day take root in the consciousness of surfing and eco board building.


Derek, Mini Simmons Shaper