By Dylan Beach

Surfboard of the Year is quite a prestigious award. Lets be honest, the Surf Industry started from the boards what we ride and the waves we catch on them. Whilst Firewire has been on the block for sometime now pushing the boundaries in the development of eco friendly production of boards, Slater Designs, the brainchild of Kelly Slater made an impact over the last year with the release of the Sci Fi. When Stu Kennedy first rode the board at Snapper and the world got a look at the new design it was as Raz Mehlsen regional marketing coordinator of Firewire in Australasia a “game of catch up from there”. We had a chat to Raz to delve deeper into Slater Designs and Firewire’s success at the SBIA Surf Industry Awards.

You must be stoked with the wins at the Awards last month. How does it feel to see all the team’s hard works pay off?

Absolutely, having worked for Firewire for some years now and been part of the growth, seeing the change in the Surfboard market and people’s awareness and understanding of modern materials, tech, volumes and now ECO messages has been incredible. For Firewire, having always been at the forefront of pushing these concepts as well as promoting boards, outlines, builds and technology previously not necessarily considered the norm or conventional, this is a huge honor and achievement.

Firewire and Slater Designs also made a big mark on the SIMA Awards this year winning numerous awards. It must mean a lot.

For sure, winning at both the SIMA and SBIA has really cemented a change in the industry. In the last 12-18 months, there has been a huge push in EPS/Epoxy, TECH and Sustainability from all of our competitors! This has validated what we have been doing for over 11 years now and the change on the retail floor is a testament to this. Of course, with the SIMA kicking off in the States before the Aus SBIA, the pressure was on as US took the Performance Surfboard of The Year with the Slater Design – Sci-Fi, Long Board of the Year with the Wingnut Noserider in Firewires TImberTEK and the Breakout Brand of the Year with Slater Designs. So for us here in Aus to also get the Surfboard of the Year with Slater Designs – Sci-fi and Product Innovation – Slater Designs Algae Traction and a runner up in the Environmental Awards for TimberTEK in the SBIA awards, we were beyond stoked!

The Slater Designs Sci Fi, the board that won the surfboard of the year takes a different approach on surfboard design. This can sometimes take time educating surfers and retailers on the benefits of a new board. Did you have that in mind when launching the boards?

When this design first came to the table we all saw it as having something special, new and fresh to the market – the Perfect storm that unraveled with Stu Kennedy smashing it in the opening of the WCT season at QS Snapper Pro 2016 on the Sci-Fi, could not have been predicted, or marketed better as this was also the induction of Slater Designs to the public eye. In regard to the Launch of this model – this was all done before we got a chance to really start the in-House marketing/promotion of it here in Aus, as the board was still 2 months from retail before Stu went out and showcased it live on the big screen, after that it was a game of catch up!!

Did you expect that the boards would make such a big impact on the markets so early on in the piece?

With Stu Kennedys performance at the QS Snapper Pro, it was an early indication of the success this board would have at retail as the emails and phone calls regarding model interest, retail questions and orders went next level! The excitement of Stu’s surfing but also the unconventional outline, specifically the Tail and Tomo’s (QISC) ‘Quad-Inside-Single-Concave’ bottom contours, really brought something new and fresh to not only the WCT but also for the retailers as this was a new label – Kelly Slaters label – it was different, clean, but most importantly – it worked!

I was speaking to you on the awards night and I was surprised when you told me that Kelly is heavily involved with all aspects of Slater Designs, even doing all the social media. Have you had a chance to speak to him about the awards and what does it mean to him on a personal level?

Yeah Kelly has been heavily involved with all the testing and refinements of the all the boards in his range. He had the same approach for the Algae Traction, ensuring that it would be both the most ECO-friendly traction on the market but also have the perfect grip and feel. To my knowledge he has always looked after his own social media personality/pages. In regard to the awards achieved this year, Kelly and the team are stoked as surfboards is of course the pinnacle of our industry and to get these prestigious awards whilst keeping committed to the ECO message, is a huge achievement.

Lets talk more about the Algae traction pad that won The Product Innovation Award. Traditional traction pads have been around for a long time now. Can you walk us through firstly how the idea came up to design the algae based material. Secondly the design process is in turning it into a material suitable for a tail pad?

In keeping with Kelly’s commitment to sustainability, Slater Designs collaborated with BLOOM Foam to develop the most eco-friendly traction pad on the market today. BLOOM is a high-performance flexible foam made from algae biomass harvested from freshwater sources throughout the world.

The BLOOM Foam process:

Helps improve the quality of waterways by removing excess algae that harms plants, animals, and people who rely on the ecosystem for survival.Recirculates fresh water back into the habitat. Aids CO2 capture and sequestration. We’re literally scraping pond scum, solar drying, and pulverizing it before foaming the material to create a pad that helps re balance the natural ecology, and reduces our dependence on non-renewable oil.

Through this patented algae-technology, we have created a product with increased durability, improved shock absorption and reduced weight over conventional foams.

The packaging is made with post-consumer backing, soy-based inks and a biodegradable wrapping.

By choosing this traction, you are helping make the world a cleaner place.

From the outside looking in, it seems exciting to see the likes of Dan Thomson collaborating with Firewire and Slater Designs. Does it feel like you’re on the verge of creating something special each time an idea pops up?

We are lucky to have some of the best shapers in the world, working on and testing new designs for us constantly, but definitely having a shaper like Daniel “Tomo” Thomson in house – shaping up new concepts really makes you excited for the future and the next generation of models/outlines. Actually, the current combination of shape, materials, technology and Sustainability is really making for an extremely exciting time in the board industry as it no longer shape&paint.

Firewire were also runners up in the Environmental Award and have been pushing environmental surfboard practices for sometime now. How do you believe it has impacted the overall board manufacturing process within the industry?

Firewire is dedicated to building high performance surfboards and accessories through innovative design, materials and construction methods. We strive to do so with the lowest possible impact on the environment while also giving back to the global surf community through support of various environmental and humanitarian organisations.

Firewire embraced the ECOBOARD program from day one with the introduction of our TIMBERTEK models. The combination of sustainably grown Paulownia wood deck skins and bio-resin throughout, qualified TIMBERTEK for ECOBOARD certification, and with well over +15,000 TIMBERTEK boards in the water since its introduction, surfers have clearly appreciated our efforts in this regard.

In July of 2014 we took the next step when we converted our entire production to Entropy Super Sap bio-resin, and thereby qualified every Firewire board for Sustainable Surf’s ECOBOARD certification, the only global board builder to do so. All of our TimberTEK models have now also got the Sustainable Surf Verification; Gold Level ECOBOARD.

With the push of these ECO-boards under the feet of riders like; Kelly Slater, Michel Bourez, Stu Kennedy, Rob Machado, Taylor Jensen, Timmy Reyes, Shane Dorian, Taj Burrow it has helped to get the message across to the public that you don’t lose any quality what so ever from being ECO-conscious, rather to the contrary.

Firewire and Slater Designs seem to be in a really exciting space right now. What do the next few years look like from your perspective?

The next 5 years looks incredible exciting with the change in materials and builds currently happening. Looking at our latest release “Helium” which is build on the FST technology platform but taken to the next level is an indicator of just what is to come! This came about after scouring the composites world (and countless dead-ends along the way) we’ve managed to develop an alternative sandwich skin material to the existing FST build. Helium is even lighter than FST, a slightly faster flex and rebound characteristics, as well as a higher breakpoint. This represents an almost impossible combination of improvements over FST, as in most cases, a significant weight reduction over an already light technology (FST) leads to a lower break point. To put it simply, Team weight boards at Firewire strength!

Also the impact and studies into ECO and Social Awareness programs and from that potentially new and improved materials/build methods!

Then there is of course also wavepools, which is becoming closer and closer to being a reality for the general surfer, which will create a new hype and excitement for the board building industry. To be honest, I could not imagine a more exciting time or industry to be a part of!