This week The Sundance Channel takes a look at eco-friendly sports. Following their usual format, Big Ideas For A Small Planet zooms in on three story segments.

Craig Calfee, of Calfee Designs is a well known designer of high end bicycles for discerning enthusiasts. Back in 1997 due to the high cost and shortage of carbon fiber he started to explore alternative materials. One day while teasing his dog with a piece of bamboo he had a ‘EUREKA’ moment. Bamboo is very light, very plentiful, and incredibly strong, the Bamboo bike was born. It turns out that bamboo is actually stronger than carbon fiber, and it is one of the fastest growing plants on the planet, here is a truly sustainable raw material.

Craig takes us through the building process, and it is amazing, to join the pieces together a combination of hemp fiber and epoxy is used. The finished product is superb, and according to riders, the bamboo absorbs the kinks and ruts giving a very smooth ride. This eco-friendly bike now represents about 20% of sales for the company.

Jason Salfi is the co-founder of Comet Skateboards, he points out that Skateboarding is becoming more and more popular, annual sales have been growing every year, yet many of the skateboards on sale use non renewable wood resources, and lots of toxins in the manufacturing process, in the forms of glue and lacquers. Comet uses water based paints and is also experimenting with a Soy based polymer that will be used to protect the ‘deck’. Jason wants to create a ‘closed loop’ recycle process. When you are finished with the product it is compostable. I had the pleasure of chatting With Jason about Comet Skateboards.

Photo courtesy of The Sundance Channel

Comet Skateboards has been around for 10 years, have you always been eco-friendly or is this a recent development?

We never said we want to be the “greenest company’’, we just want to make the best boards possible.  For us that includes making a minimal impact on the forest, the air, the water, etc.  From day one we have used FSC woods, water coatings, and inks…We feel like these are the best materials available.  After all we are making things for young conscious people, if we offer them a product that compromises their future, what good are we to them.

Most manufacturers are motivated by cost of raw material. How does your manufacturing costs compare to using more traditional materials?

We pay a little more at times.  Our product is part of our marketing and our values drive everything.  There is more of a good vibe about our boards and the return on the investment is loyalty from the skaters.

Do people buy because it is eco-friendly, or is just because it is a damn fine product?

People like our boards because they last several times as long as other boards and skate great.  When they dig a little deeper and find out about our core values, they are extra stoked.   In the last year, however, many sales have been driven by our commitment to less impactful materials / eco edge.

How close are you to using your soy based protective covering?

We are finishing the prototyping of the soy polymer and bio-composite boards in August and launching them in the Fall.  We have been working on this with E2E Materials in Ithaca, NY for 2 years to make sure it will live up to the Comet performance standards before we launch.

I was talking to a friend of mine about natural based lubricants, have you tried any of these as a replacement for oil based?

I was just on a panel with Jeremy Ridenaur from Wise Solutions in Watsonville, Ca.  We may collaborate on a bio lube for skateboard bearings. 

The final third of the show concerns Alison Gannett, a well known ‘Free Skier’, best known for throwing herself of the top of really scary looking mountains! She has set out on her  “Global Cooling Tour”. With CO2 emissions growing, and global warming being the result, the winter sports industry is in danger. Alison cites a study that claims that within 15 years ski resorts under 5,000 feet will cease to exist. Like most of the people featured in Big Ideas, she is just one person trying to make a small difference. Use energy efficient bulbs, campaign for energy produces to cut back on the use of coal and move to sustainable energy resources, are among her messages.

Big Ideas For A Small Planet airs Tuesday at 9pm on the Sundance Channel, don’t worry if your cable provider does not carry Sundance, you can see most of the action on their web site.

Simon Barrett   

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