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Vienna | 7.5.2008 | 14:51 
Letters from a shrinking globe: around the day in 80 worlds

Zita, Rotifer, Steve

Like a King of Hawaii
  The development of surfing has been "a double edged sword", says Mikey Corker of the Devon-based surf shop Loose-Fit. Surfing, he says, is about getting into nature and experiencing it in one of its most pure forms and yet a lot of surf equipment is made out of toxic substances. The materials in a modern surfboard can take a thousand years to decompose.

For a movement that grew up on respect for nature, it's a painful paradox, says Corker: "It hits all your senses. It really makes you feel alive and at one with the world. But at the same time the key ingredients, like fibreglass or plastic foam, are so harmful to the planet. So the environmental push is huge right now. Everybody is striving to come up with healthier products. They are looking at what we've got, and trying to find sustainable alternatives."

For many that means looking at bio-foam, whatever that may be, or linseed resin. But renowned American surfer Tom Wegener has taken it all a step further.
 Tom Wegener
Rob Machado - Photo by Chris Cotto
  He's gone back to the roots, carving boards from sustainable plantation-grown wood, in the style of the original boards used in the early days of surfing in Hawaii: They are called Alaia boards and Mikey thinks they are as back-to basics as you can get:

"If you really break it down, you can't get a more natural combination of elements than a human being riding a piece of wood in the ocean."

Going back to basics has its own challenges, of course, as anyone who has ever tried out a pair of skis from the 1930s will know only too well. In surfing, as in winter sports, technology has made our passions easier and therefore more accessible. Going back to the roots means going back to your innate sense of balance. And that's no easy task:

"To ride an Alaia is incredibly difficult. You have to be a really good surfer."

Corker says trying one out brought him new respect for the early Hawaiian fathers of surfing, in the days when the sport was an ancient competition reserved for the royalty:

"The fact that you have no fin means the board just wants to spin in circles. They are difficult to paddle. Most of the board is under the water. It's tough to catch waves."
  That doesn't sound great to me. I need all the help I can get from technology. But it is the very challenge that has drawn many people to the idea - even if the hand crafted boards can cost several times the price of mass produced boards from Asia (there are factories there that can churn out 2,000 boards in a day).

You see, if you've got one of these handsome Alaias, you're likely to wow everyone on the beach. If you can learn to handle one, you, like the old royal surfers of Hawaii, are challenging hard for a place among the surfing deity.

And if you are going to help save the planet from harmful industrial chemicals and fibreglass, it can't hurt to look good whilst you doing it, can it?
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