Surfboards with a Seaweed Difference
by Lily Whiting
Like most genius ideas, seaweed scientist Jock White and a builder/surfboard shaper Tom Gauden came up with their soon to be launched brand, Great Southern Designs over a beer.
A surfboard brand designed to start con- versations about the marine environment that surrounds our island state, Jock, Tom and ‘resin-paws’ Frankie are combining their love for the surf with spreading awareness about our beautiful Great Southern Reef.
Congratulations on the launch of Great Southern Designs! What conversations were you two having that led to the concept for the company? Like most great ideas, Great Southern Designs was first ignited over a few beers during the dead of winter of 2022. We are both local Tasmanians, bonded over a passion for surfing, the unique Tasmanian marine environment, and a passion for spreading awareness about climate change and its impacts on our environment.
What do you do for work? Jock: I come from a marine scientist back- ground, and am currently working for Sea Forest, a Tasmanian company working to reduce methane emissions and fight climate change through the cultivation of Asparagopsis seaweed. Through this research, I’ve been surprised at how much seaweed does in ecosystem dynamics and its potential as a commercial product. Tom: I am currently working full-time as a qualified builder but have been shaping and glassing surfboards for over ten years through my independently owned repair and design company, TG Surfboards. I grew up constantly in Tassie’s ocean, and have either lived close by or worked different jobs near or on the water.
There are two very unique surfboard series in the works. How did you come up with the concepts and how are they linked to the environment? Both of our designs are unique but designed to start the conversation about climate change in two different ways.
The Tasmanian Seaweed Series is a collection of boards handcrafted with unique seaweed imprints collected from beach wrack. Tasmania’s Great Southern Reef is renowned for being one of the most seaweed-diverse locations globally, with species becoming increasingly endangered from climate change. The goal of this range is that surfers will become more accustomed to the plethora of seaweed species found within the Great Southern Reef.
The Reflect Release Series is a board designed to reveal and replicate the environment it is immersed in. A love of surfing generally accompanies an appreciation for the coastal environment. As surfers, there is a moral obligation to protect and preserve this environment for the enjoyment of generations to come. Yet, how often do we pause and take a moment to think and ‘reflect’ on our impact on this environment?
What was the process of bringing these boards from concept to fruition that is different to normal board designing/ making? As far as we know, neither of these designs have been done before. We are making each board unique and at an exceptional standard, requiring complex attention to detail and making for many long nights in the workshop! We wanted to make sure the appearance of the seaweed replicated its living state closely, so this took a bit of time to nail. We worked on transferring this design into fins by using some of Tasmania’s more robust bull kelp (Durvillaea potatorum) and we are super stoked with the results.
Does this make each Seaweed Series board one of a kind? Absolutely, no two boards will be the same. Each board holds a unique species of seaweed and will have educational background information about that variety supplied with each purchase. We are also wanting to supply the coordinates of the specific collection point to drive home just how important this natural resource is to preserve.
What is it like surfing on the Reflect Release board? Leg ropes must be extremely handy with this one. It is definitely a unique experience and a bizarre feeling surfing on something constantly moving and changing appearance with its environment. When you look at the board underwater, it is essentially invisible, so the design may also have the potential for predator avoidance. Discussions have been in the works about the next Reflect Release board possibly including small rear vision mirrors for the rider to spot drop-ins from other surfers who might not see the board at a quick glance!
We hear alot about the decline of the Great Barrier Reef with coral bleaching, but not so much about the Great Southern Reef which is so expansive, what is happening to this reef? The media’s reporting of climate change effects on the Great Barrier is largely led by its large tourist presence. The Great Southern Reef has as well suffered severe debilitation but hasn’t received the same amount of attention. Over sixteen million Australians live within 50km of the Great Southern Reef and it holds a large majority of Australia’s marine life, yet few people know about its existence and the effects of climate change on it. For example, the extension of the warm East Coast current as a result of climate change has driven invasive sea urchin larvae further South to survive and establish from mainland reefs. These urchins are forming urchin barrens and decimating our kelp forests. Unfortunately, these changes may be hard to detect and understand without quantifiable data and contributions from citizen science.
As keen surfers living in a state surrounded by the ocean, has environmental stewardship always been a strong part of the surfing community conversation in Tassie? Tasmania is very community-driven and we are optimistic that Tasmania and broader populations are capable of understanding our purpose and mission as a company. We see our board designs as symbolic for starting conversations about our environment while also giving surfers a unique board that represents a slice of Tasmania’s ecosystem.
How do you incorporate environmental sustainability into the making of the boards? We are undertaking more research to develop our surfboard making methods to incorporate alternative products to further our aim for sustainability and the reduction of waste materials and harmful chemicals. Unfortunately, surfboard making is fairly niche to this area of product development. For now, the board designs are the key to the conversation which will only be rounded by the more research we undertake and conversations we can raise along the way.
What’s the plan of attack to get these boards in the water? We intend to do a limited number of the Seaweed Series boards and the Reflect Release boards can be made on demand. We hope to do a broad range of board designs, although we will mainly focus on mid-lengths and alternate summery fish-type designs. Ultimately, we hope people buy the boards for what they are and see it as an opportunity to ride maybe a different type of board to what they are used to. Our boards are built strong and something our customers will have forever, a unique surfboard with a message for the greater good.
Boards will be available for sale on the Great Southern Designs website in the near future, with product availability kept up to date on Instagram.