Updated: Jan 23, 2019
Kiwi entrepreneur Paul Barron partnered with The New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) to develop a new wool composite technology that could change the global market for New Zealand wool.
Barron has partnered with US-based Firewire Surfboards, who have designed and manufactured a ‘Woolight’ range of surfboards, to commercialise the technology at scale.
NZM and Barron have developed the wool technology and are investigating other market opportunities for the wool composite. The technology is a new high-value market for New Zealand strong wool, at a time when the industry is struggling with low wool prices and looking for alternative markets.
According to NZM Chief Executive John Brakenridge, what Firewire is doing, producing wool surfboards, is the start of a movement and the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the wool composite technology.
“While the first application of this technology is being used in surfboards, it has the potential to replace fibreglass in many other products such as boats, aircraft and furniture.
“The wool’s natural performance, such as tensile strength, means that products made with this new technology are lighter and more flexible than traditional fibreglass while maintaining its strength.
Tauranga based surfboard maker Barron first came up with the idea when he spilt resin on his wool jersey (jumper). It gave him the idea to build a surfboard shell out of wool. Traditional foam boards are typically housed in resin and fibreglass for structural integrity, Barron’s wool technology replaces fibreglass with wool.
“With this technology, we can produce a surfboard that has the potential to outperform traditional boards. Basically, you grow a sheep, shear it, wash the wool twice in water and make a material that is light, flexible, durable and fast,” says Barron.
Firewire CE Mark Price spent time in New Zealand to meet with Barron and the Pāmu farmers who supply the wool for the ‘Woolight’ boards. Price, along with surfing pro Kelly Slater who is a co-owner in Firewire, has a desire to steer the company to zero-landfill by 2020 and they see wool as a component of this process.
“We’re sourcing ZQ wool that is ethically sourced and at the end of its life it will biodegrade and give back to the environment.
“Not only is NZ a country with a long and rich surfing tradition, the growers that we are sourcing the wool from share our values of doing things in a better way.
“Surfers, by definition, commune with nature on a daily basis, so they have a heightened sensitivity towards the environment and can relate to the technology that wool offers in terms of performance, and the sustainability story is off the charts,” says Price.
Pāmu Farms of New Zealand will supply the bulk of the wool fibre that is used in the ‘Woolight’ surfboard. According to Pāmu CE Steven Carden, the partnership with Firewire gives sheep farmers a sense of pride and confidence that the future for wool doesn’t have to be the status quo.
“We hadn’t thought surfing would ever provide the channel to take a positive New Zealand wool story to the world, but it makes sense that those that enjoy nature so closely would be those that can solve environmental and performance challenges - we can learn from this, says Carden.
“This partnership also supports Pāmu’s focus on innovation – from sheep and deer milk to wool surfboards, Pāmu is at the forefront of positive change in the agriculture sector by adding value to our raw products and to the economy.”
The ‘Woolight’ surfboard range will be available for sale in New Zealand from April/May 2019.