Others: The Story of Organic Irish Surf Wax, From Woods to Waves25 . 08 . 18
Surf wax is as necessary when surfing as the surfboard itself, but it’s also a small, consumable product that is often overlooked. Most surf waxes are made using petrochemicals however, and whilst we’ve tried a fair few “green” alternatives we’ve never been convinced enough by their recipes or performance to be confident offering them for sale. That was until we came across Others #woodstowaves surf wax project. Others is the creative output of Irish designers and surfers Eoin McNally and Ian Walton; it covers various explorative projects that keep them connected to the sea whilst still doing their day jobs, and range from surfboard shaping experiments in the basement of their design studio, through a van conversion, hand foiling fins and most recently, surf wax.
Others’ surf wax combines pine resin from sustainably managed forests (either collected by them in Ireland, or sourced from their community resin collectors in Ireland and the UK) with organic beeswax from Dingle, Co.Kerry. It is entirely organic, petrochemical free, and biodegradable. Each batch is labeled to show the source of the beeswax and pine resin, which can be traced back to a specific forest.
The prospect of a surf wax with a primary ingredient originating from the same source as our wooden surfboards really grabbed us, but the fact that this wax works really well (we’ve tried some surf waxes with natural ingredients in the past that have had all the right credentials but just haven’t provided much grip when it came to relying on it in the sea) and has a community element is so exciting.
We’re excited to be Ian and Eoin’s first UK stockists, and we have plans to work with them in the future both collecting and sending them resin from the woodlands where our timber comes from, and hopefully even hosting them here at the workshop to brew up a special batch of wax.
When the first two boxes of wax arrived here at the workshop (one of their cool water wax, and the other of their cold water formula), we promptly fired some questions to Ian and Eoin over in Ireland so that we could share their story with you in their own words.
Where did that initial flash of inspiration to make your own wax come from?
Totally by chance and kind of out of curiosity! We had been working on surf projects together for a few years including a scatter of boards shaped in a basement under our studio. We're both product designers so any time we saw a shape or some unusual finish we couldn't either afford or get here in Ireland we would make it... Then one day we came across a short video on korduroy.tv about DIY wax, part of their "Surf Sufficient" series. The ingredients were something we could get locally, and the idea of something with a smaller environmental footprint had huge appeal to us. We started messing around with it, making bars for ourselves and sharing them amongst friends. The first batches were basically useless.......
How many recipes have you worked through in the search for the perfect formula?
Lots and lots and lots. Officially we are on our 3rd formula, but before we ever released any for sale we had already gone through 8 or 9 iterations. To be honest we went a good year with something that resembled surf wax but wouldn't apply to the board very well. We weren't too far from giving up when we suddenly found a breakthrough ingredient which changed the game entirely. There was some serious celebrating that night and some very sore heads the next day.
How have you tested your wax? We've seen a few photos that have me intrigued about your "lab testing"!
Our testing has taken a few different paths to be honest. Initially it was all done by feel, surfing with each new recipe and seeing how it went. We would circulate a few bars amongst friends and get their input in the same way. The lab testing (using the word lab very loosely here) you saw was the next step, Ian's father was a physics professor so with his help we devised some DIY softness and traction testing to try to get more scientific about the whole thing.
For our latest formula we were seriously lucky to get the input of some of the best Irish surfers out there and we tested pretty hard until we were happy. We will be always massively grateful for the input from people like Easkey Britton, Peter Conroy, Lee Wood (Narosa), Gearoid McDaid, Tom Doidge, Sam Gleeson and others who I'm sure I've forgotten... These guys surf at a level most of us will only ever daydream about so to get their expert input was invaluable.
What criteria were you evaluating your products against?
If we answered this 100% honestly we would be giving away some of the things we've worked so hard to figure out! Loosely speaking we picked some "industry standard" bars and benchmarked ourselves against them at various different temperatures. We look at application as something entirely separate to surfing performance, both being equally important. We also look at longevity given that we are looking to create an environmentally friendly alternative — if you use an entire bar in 2 or 3 surfs that's not really all that sustainable. Most recently we have begun to look at colour, now that we are super happy with our performance we want to iterate towards a whiter bar without bleaching or using synthetic additives.
Some of your wax features resin sourced by the general surfing public through your community resin collection project. How does that work, and how can people get involved?
This is something we are super excited about, and somewhat blown away by the reaction to. Prior to Spring 2018 the pine resin needed to create the stickiness of our bars was hand collected entirely by us. That means literally taking trips to the forest every other day and hunting for excesses of the stuff which we would scrape off trees and then refine back in our workshop — a total labor of love. We quickly realised that it would be impossible to scale up our production in any way without a method of sourcing more resin. Not wanting to buy it in, together with the fact that all of our pine resin is traceable back to a source forest, made us look elsewhere. We discussed the idea of crowdfunding and whether we could "crowdsource" our resin.
In March we piloted a "Community Resin Collection" experiment as you said. We asked people to sign up, we sent them a collection pack together with instructions on how to get involved. We thought it wouldn't work.... Then a few weeks later packs of resin started appearing in our postbox. Not only has it been a way to source more resin but we love the fact it has turned woodstowaves into a community driven project, connecting us with our collectors and them with each other. It has also spread our resin sources further afield to Cornwall, Norway and a pack even went to Australia! To learn more and sign up go to our community section at www.weareothers.com/community.
Is the resin from some tree species better than others for making wax?
Yes... There's quite a bit of variation to it. That's all we'll say about that!
What about the wax itself, which is a beeswax. What are the benefits of beeswax and are you sourcing it in a similar way?
The wax itself is beeswax which we source reasonably locally from Dingle in Co.Kerry on the southwest tip of Ireland. Many (most) of the main wax brands out there use a parrafin or soy base wax, neither of which are the best things to be producing and/or putting into our oceans. Beeswax is 100% natural and on top of that it gives us a great solid base around which we build our recipe. Anything we can do to support beekeepers and to encourage that industry is something we are very happy about.
What are your dreams for the wax and the woodtowaves project?
At the moment this whole thing is somewhere between a passion project and a small business. We are growing it slowly and organically (pardon the pun). To give you a sense of our scale we recently invested in a 27 litre melting pot which seems enormous to us... Otter is in fact our first ever stockist, which is something we are seriously excited about. We will have a few more Irish surf shops joining that list over the coming weeks too.
We are incredibly passionate about the wax and about doing something positive for the planet, so the fact that we are now going to be found in people's local surf shop is quite unbelievable for us. Ultimately people buy wax when they run out, at the beach, so this means more people will come into contact with the project. We don't want to get ahead of ourselves... but there are definitely dreams there to create a sustainable (sustainability) business around the product. We are really keen to explore the community collection program further, and we daydream about a situation where our sources are coming in from around the world. Alongside this we are looking to partner with some Irish forest owners to see how we can harvest resin in a sustainable way.
Outside of #woodstowaves we are looking to launch some new products next year... but I've already said too much.
Click through to our products page to purchase a bar of Others wax, available in cool and cold water formulas, which comes in a reusable screw-top tin.
To see Ian and Eoin’s other projects, take a look at www.weareothers.com