Show Us Your Quiver – Michael Stewart
Michael Stewart is a talker. Get him started on a subject he loves, and he may be at it for hours, holding forth with infectious enthusiasm. One of the subjects he seems to love the best these days is surfing — specifically, how to help surfing live up to its image as an ocean-friendly activity by promoting the manufacture and use of the greenest surfboards available.
It’s a passion he shares with the world as a founder of Sustainable Surf, a nonprofit organization dedicated to finding, creating and promoting environmentally responsible materials and methods for making surfboards. Sustainable Surf, which recently was featured in Forbes magazine, also has a certification program that lets buyers know just by looking at a stamp on a board that it was made with sustainable materials.
But as intense as Michael’s enthusiasm for more eco-friendly surfboards is, he says that the most environmentally responsible part of his quiver isn’t a board at all. It’s the car he drives to go surfing: a used Volkswagen TDI, powered by biodiesel.
The way he looks at it, there would be little point in using sustainable surfboards if he were driving to surf in a gas guzzler. And in his early days as a surfer, he said, there was a lot of driving. The son of a career Navy man, Michael grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., learning to surf in the area around Cape Hatteras, which meant having to search for surfable waves.
Michael first visited San Francisco in 1993, and it was an unexpected revelation to find good surf in the city. After years living on the foggy west side of the Presidio, he recently fulfilled a promise to his wife and moved to the warmer climes of Marin.
“I don’t feel like an Ocean Beach local,” he said, “but this is where I surf.”
On a recent Friday afternoon, Michael met with an Ocean Beach Bulletin reporter at the Sustainable Surf office in the Presidio. Standing in the sun, with the Golden Gate foghorns booming in the distance, Michael talked about some of his favorite boards. Here’s what he had to say, in his own words:
6’0″x19″x2.5″ Corran Addison
One of my most interesting and kind of experimental boards. It’s a asymetrical board, and it’s a quad-fin. It’s not just asymetrical in the shape of the tail. If you look at how the actual stringer comes up, it’s not even dead-center on the board. … The stringer’s actually off-center, so the line of each side of the board is designed to perform better on your heel side or your toe side. And even the actual fins, if you look at them, they’re staggered as well. When I first got this board from this company, I was kind of skeptical. … I mostly ride this at one of my favorite rock-ledgy breaks around here, and it works killer. It has a much snappier, tighter arc coming up on the heel-side turn and it gives a much nicer, drawn-out turn. … It doesn’t work so great on a place like Ocean Beach, where it’s bigger surf, it’s coming in and it’s more kind of a beach break. But yeah, super-fun board.
This is a recycled [expanded polystyrene] board. This has a bamboo stringer. It also has bamboo cloth. So fiberglass is not the only kind of wrapper for a board. And again, bamboo is way more sustainable than fiberglass. People will say, ‘Yeah, well, fiberglass is just sand.’ That’s true, except that in order to get that fiberglass to be flexible enough and soft and pliable enough to be used in surfboard manufacturing, they have to treat it with a shitload of really nasty chemicals.
This was actually shaped by a South African shaper named Corran Addison. He had a company that was making basically nothing but eco- high-performance shortboards. The label was called Imagine. He’s now actually sold that company and they’re mostly making SUP, you know, stand-up boards. So this is kind of a one-of-a-kind at this point.
5’6″ Ryan Harris
This is probably my shortest board. It’s a 5’6″. This has been my go-to board in terms of riding fun, smaller waves. This looks great, killer shape. Recycled foam, epoxy bioresin, vacuum-bagged, bamboo stringer, and this one actually has basically, it’s not bamboo cloth, but it’s a very thin bamboo veneer. Maybe an eighth of an inch or something, maybe a sixteenth. It’s been basically laid over, and what it does is, it makes the board that much stronger and it doesn’t get full of heel dents. … I’ve been riding this board for two years, and it’s like it was brand new.
This is not a recycled-EVA tail patch, it’s actually a cork one. All these tail patches are by a company called On a Mission, and it’s their E.C.O. line.
It’s really stubby, like 5’6″, and it’s a little wider here in the middle, but in the tail it’s basically like one of these shortboards.
I actually designed this board with a shaper down in Los Angeles, his name is Ryan Harris and it’s his own brand called E-Tech. He worked with me on this and we called it the “cioppino” [after the seafood stew combining many different elements]. … I wanted something that was super small and kind of disc-y, high-performance rails. It’s a five-fin board so there’s lots of different options. I can ride this as a thruster, a quad, a five-fin, I can run it as a two-plus-one. …
What I was trying to do with this cioppino board was to give it a lot of volume, but I didn’t want a big, chunky board. It’s sometimes called a G-deck. … I specifically wanted more flotation right under the actual chest, to be able to get in and paddle in, but I didn’t want it up in the nose. … This is a high-performance shortboard rail where it’s actually digging in.
This I actually got for my wife so she could have an eco-board as well. It’s also an Imagine board, it’s from that same company. It’s recycled EPS foam, epoxy resin. And this one actually doesn’t have a bamboo stringer. It doesn’t have a stringer at all. It actually has two bamboo laminates on either side. They kind of act like opposing I-beams, so it gives the board a lot of strength.
I’ve talked so much trash about this board in its lifetime it’s not even funny. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s just my wife’s fun board.’ But I’ve taken this out more times than I like to account for, because it’s just a really fun, fast shape. This had a fin system I didn’t really like. … It was always to stiff and not really drive-y enough. The fins actually got knocked out, and I didn’t really care. I rode it because this board is something called XPS, extruded polystyrene. It means it’s basically waterproof. I rode this board just with duct tape covering up the holes from where the fin boxes were for over a year. I rode this board with just the last thruster fin duct-taped in way in the back, just as a joke, and I loved how it rode. …
I finally got the board fixed. I dropped in a thruster set of Future boxes so I could ride a set of these keel fins. They’re Sea Shepherd, so part of the proceeds of buying these fins are helping these guys to protect whales. But they’re also killer fins.
Grain hand plane
This is my all-wood hand plane. … I had the dimensions at one point, but it’s basically 1’6″ or something like that. What’s cool about this board is it’s harkening back to the original, original foundation of surfing — back to wooden surfboards. I actually made and designed this handplane here at a class that was given by this company called Grain Surfboards.
For something that’s almost non-functional there’s way too much design work. It’s a double-bump moontail with a bonzer channel-like bottom built into it that fans out through all the bumps and come from the place in the board where you actually put your hand through. It works like a champ. … It has Super Sap bio-epoxy resin.
All photos: Tom Prete / Ocean Beach Bulletin
We are always on the hunt for interesting people who love interesting boards, so if you know of someone who might be a good fit for the next installment of “Show Us Your Quiver,” let us know by sending an email to email@example.com