Flexi-Hex: Designed To Protect Surfboards and The Planet

07 . 02 . 19

Surfboards, in all their various forms, are relatively fragile; getting them from one place to another, be it to your final destination on a surf trip or in the first instance delivering a board from the shaper to the surfer, can be a risky business. We like it best when customers come and collect their surfboards from the workshop here, because most of our surfboards are made by their new owners and it’s a lovely chance to reconnect with them a couple of months after their course. The board can be put straight into its padded boardbag and slid into the back of the car. The other ways that we ship surfboards to their new owners is via a specialist antique courier company, or for overseas shipments we build large plywood crates and fill them with shavings to pack and protect boards during transit. Now though, we’re able to offer another option to our customers thanks to the ingenious design solution offered by Flexi-Hex.​

Flexi-Hex is the brainchild of Porthleven design duo, Sam and Will Boex. These stand-out surfing siblings (Sam and Will are twins who run a design practice together) have developed a paper and cardboard packaging system for surfboards (but with many more potential applications) that wraps the board in a honeycomb structure, protecting the surfboard in a lightweight way.  We're now posting out all of our bellyboards packaged in Flexi-Hex, and can offer it as part of an option for sending surfboards within the UK too. 

To find out more about their innovative packaging system, and the inspiration and finer details behind their design, we caught up with Sam Boex when the team visited us to see how we use their system here at Otter:​

As designers, you solve problems. What was the primary problem that you were designing Flexi-Hex as a solution to: a lack of sustainability in protective packaging options, or shipping surfboards safely?​

We believe good design has to solve a number of issues for a customer in order to become a viable design. So sustainability was key, we wanted to look at sustainable materials. We knew that damage to surfboards in transit could be as high as 10%, so this also needed to be addressed. Aesthetics also plays a role. Some other factors that also needed to be added to the mix were how it transports the weight of the product, and how adaptable it is. The more boxes it ticks, the more likely a company will want to use and adopt the product.​

Your design practice specialises in inclusive spatial design for healthcare and commercial interiors. How did you end up exploring the world of packaging?​

I have always had a interest in packaging and developing a product has a lot of the same design principles of creating an interior, just on a smaller scale. I actually really enjoyed the process of just focusing on one product with the process of prototyping and refining.​

What was the inspiration behind the design?​

I initially came up with the idea by seeing the way fruit was packaged in supermarkets, ironically in foam net sleeves. I thought if you can develop a bespoke packaging solution for fruit, there must be a solution for packaging surfboards, which also come in all shapes and sizes. So we got to work, looking at materials, testing and creating prototypes. We tested lots of materials but in the end chose cardboard. Cardboard is very versatile and recyclable.​

For those who haven't seen Flexi-Hex in use, how does it work?​

It is effectively layers of paper glued at off-set spaces that when opened expands, creating a honeycomb core. The process is a standard industrial process for making panels. What hasn't been considered before is how it can be utilised for it's flexibility. The IP sits with the fact it forms a flexible sleeve when it expands that forms around objects.​

Flexi-Hex clearly has a lighter environmental footprint than "standard" plastic alternatives such as bubblewrap or foam (which we've always avoided), despite the requirement for glue. Have you any figures on the amount of plastic that the use of Flexi-Hex has kept out of circulation to date, or a carbon footprint comparison against plastic alternatives?​

We are only a year old but as a case study: one of the earliest adopters were Fourth Surfboards. Since introducing Flexi-hex, the British surfboard brand has eliminated 11 miles of bubble wrap and in 2018 they eliminated the equivalent of 23,750 500 ml plastic bottles.​

Have you done any tests or had any feedback on the reusability of Flexi-Hex for travel applications, as well as for initial shipping? Can people keep hold of the packaging and reuse it on their next surf trip?​

It's a paper product so has limits to the number of uses, It will last for a trip and add the additional protection needed on long haul flights. When it starts to break down, the product can just be added to a compost heap or recycled.​

You've been exploring protective packaging solutions with some Cornish businesses outside of the surf sector – namely lighting and furniture designer Tom Raffield and Tinkture Gin. What similarities and differences have you found, and how easy has it been to adapt your concept?​

The product is very versatile, it can work across a number of market sectors which we are starting to explore. We have just launched a Flexi-Hex Bottle range working closely with Tinkture gin to develop the product. We are also working with furniture and lighting companies including Studio Haran and as mentioned Tom Raffield who require flexible and adaptable solutions for their product lines. We also see wider applications in the industrial sector.​

Has the great response to and enormous uptake of Flexi-Hex surprised you? Has its success brought with it any challenges?​

We launched in January – so we are one year old. It's been a roller coaster and a huge learning curve. We initially had a huge response that instantly put us onto a global stage. We were having 70-80 emails coming through a day and we were trying to deal with that. Logistics has been a challenge, working out how to move product around the globe and maintaining stock for customers. Each market sector we are moving into also has it's own set of challenges and requirements but this makes the business fun!

Find out more about Flexi-Hex at www.flexi-hex.com and drop them a line if you can see a use for their system within your business.

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