It sounds basic, but the facts don’t lie: Dan O’Hara is an interesting guy. Just 30 years old, the Long Island native already has 12 years of boardbuilding experience under his belt. In the beginning, he absorbed the training of fellow East Coasters like Tommy Bunger, Michael Shermeyer, and Charles Williams — but also figured out a way to hotwire his own EPS blanks from raw blocks of foam as he built up his grassroots company, Solid Surfboards.
After moving to San Diego in 2008, Dan mixed traditional training from fish specialist Steve Dunham with sustainable tech inspiration from industry innovators like Tyler Callaway at FCS and Jeff Martin at Yulex. Today, Dan’s new Bio-Flex technology is doing what many might consider crazy: reinforcing 100% recycled stringerless EPS blanks with volcanic basalt rock. Using six-ounce hemp fiber for tail patches. Employing a custom-built 40% plant-based epoxy resin. Eliminating all foam waste from his factory. In a subtle rebuke to our current political mood, Dan has been working with forward-thinking manufacturers in Mexico to make Solid’s environmentally friendly surfboard construction process even cleaner. And, even though he’s based in San Diego, O’Hara sells the majority of his boards on our side of the brine thanks to Solid’s extended summer tours up and down the East Coast.
It’s the way these boards go under the feet of homegrown teamriders/Solid family members like Blake Ferraro, Juan Carlos Gerena, Sean Bernhardt, and Joe Parrino that matters most to O’Hara: “For the last nine months, we’ve been getting these Bio-Flex boards under our teamriders’ feet, and they’re holding up well in both critical and smaller conditions,” he tells ESM. “And that’s what’s important: if the technology rides like shit, it doesn’t matter what the data says.” Read on for more from Dan…
“Epoxy was not really on the scene 10 to 12 years ago when I started, and since I wanted to occupy more of a niche, I aimed to build something unique and forward-thinking. When I started building and glassing poly boards in New York, I was so struck by how toxic the fumes were. As soon as I started working with epoxy, it just felt right — way cleaner with far less fumes. I’ve been building my blanks from the ground up for 12 years, too. So when the market started shifting more toward epoxy — it used to represent 2%, and now it’s 10 or 15%, with some people predicting 40% soon — I saw a need for us to redefine ourselves so we could remain on the cutting edge. That sounds lame, but working with guys like Jeff Martin made me look at how I could green up my process. I really think that’s going to be the next niche.
“As we started developing the Bio-Flex technology, we broke down all the components: starting with the resin, we worked with a local manufacturer who’s located 30 minutes from my factory to develop a super bright, bio-based epoxy resin with 0 VOCs. Regular epoxy resin has 1/1000ths the recommended share of VOCs, but it’s still petroleum-based. Pulling those fossil fuels out of the ground puts carbon into the air, which depletes our ozone layer and does all kinds of gnarly shit. We’re trying to get toward renewables that use less water and fewer resources.
“Next, we looked at the stringers. We were using sumutu wood from Indonesia, but when you think about cutting a tree down in Indonesia, shipping it across the Pacific, cutting it up into 1mm veneers, and laminating them into a stringer, that’s a pretty labor- and resource-intensive process. And it just doesn’t add up in a ‘bettering the environment’ kind of way. I did research on carbon as reinforcement, but looking outside the surf industry I found basalt, which is volcanic rock. It dampens heat well, so it’s most commonly found in the motorcycle world — people wrap it around their tailpipe exhausts so they don’t get burned — but it also requires 600 times less energy to produce than traditional fiberglass. Basalt only has to be molted for 30 minutes before it can be extruded into a fiber, where fiberglass has to be molted for 14 days before it can be extruded into fiber. That’s a significant saving of energy.
“The other big thing we’re using is hemp. Everyone’s using carbon or nylon vector nets, and we just wanted something that would separate us from the pack. Hemp — not to be confused with cannabis — is 100% organic and one of the strongest natural fibers. You can harvest it three to four times a year and its water use is super low. Last year, we did a stringerless EPS board with one layer of hemp on the top and bottom to test the strength — it’s pretty easy to break a stringerless board — and it still hasn’t broken. As far as denting in that critical back third of the tail, we’re not seeing it happen with the hemp. And again, it’s a sustainable natural fiber.
“We’re doing about 1,200 boards a year, but we want to grow — we want to get as many of these Bio-Flex boards under as many feet as possible. It’s a top-level innovative product built here in the USA. We stand for more than just a brand: we want to keep improving the environmentally friendly construction of our product, and we want it to work as well if not better than the board our customers had before. We want the most knowledgeable customer base we can have — people who will say, ‘I bought this board because it’s 40% plant-based resin and I’m using less petroleum.’ And when you buy a board from us, the money goes into new materials, new research, and the next round of cleaner, better-performing boards.”