New Zealand wool prices tripled overnight when the USA sought to build up its strategic stockpiles during the Korean War.
It was all down hill from there as synthetics replaced natural fibres.
Merino has had a renaissance thanks to firms like Icebreaker and All Birds using its eco-friendly, comfort, temperature regulation and odour resistance credentials to sell clothes and shoes.
But farmers are lucky to recoup the cost of shearing crossbred wool.
While that’s not good now, lower prices make it less expensive to experiment and develop new wool-based products which could lead to greater demand, and better prices, in the future.
That could include raw material for surfboards:
New Zealand surfer Paul Barron was laminating a board a decade ago when he accidentally spilled resin on his sweater. It gave him an idea: What if he built a surfboard shell out of wool? Traditional foam boards are typically housed in resin and fiberglass for structural integrity. But fiberglass can be harmful to workers and isn’t easily recyclable; board makers have long sought a greener alternative. This month, the Carlsbad, California, company Firewire Surfboards is releasing Barron’s WoolLight board–showcasing a technological advance that could change how other products are designed, from yachts to cars . . .
Barron partnered with the New Zealand Merino Company (NZM) to develop the wool composite technology:
. . .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 fiberglass 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 is in New Zealand this week to meet with Barron and the Pāmu farmers who will 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 obviously 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’ surf board. 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. . .
The ‘Woolight’ surfboard range will be available for sale in New Zealand around April/May 2019.
Wool is odour and fire resistant. That might not matter in surfboards but could be beneficial in furniture, yachts and cars.
Wool is also renewable and biodegradable which ought to matter who anyone who claims to care about the environment.
Surfing could start a new wool boom and it doesn’t have to stop there. Wool is already being tested by Nasa for use in space.