First Algae-Based Surfboard Unveiled

Built by UC San Diego and surfing company

Workers at Avila Surfboards in Oceanside, California, prepare the world’s first algae surfboard blank for the application of a fiberglass shell. (Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications)
Photo: Erik Jepsen/ UC San Diego Publications

Stephen Mayfield, an algae geneticist and biology professor at UC San Diego, teamed up with professional surfer Rob Machado and Marty Gilchrist of Oceanside, California–based Arctic Foam, the largest surfboard blank manufacturer in North America, to produce a surfboard made largely of algae, reported Friday. It was presented Tuesday to San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer at the premiere of National Geographic’s documentary World’s Smart Cities: San Diego.

“Our hope is that Mayor Faulconer will put this surfboard in his office so everyone can see how San Diego is a hub not only for innovation but also for collaboration at many different levels,” Mayfield told “An algae-based surfboard perfectly fits with the community and our connection with the ocean and surfing.”

The project began months ago at UC San Diego when students endeavored to produce biofuels from algae. Their idea was to use algae oil to create the precursor to a polyurethane board, which is usually made exclusively from petroleum. Petroleum is algae oil that has been fossilized over hundreds of millions of years and buried in the ground. The researchers chemically changed algae oil obtained from a renewable biotech company to expand into a foamlike substance that hardens to form a surfboard.

After UC San Diego performed the chemistry, Arctic Foam shaped the board and glassed it with fiberglass and renewable resin. Mayfield suggested that in the future, manufacturers could add a natural algae green color to show that the board is sustainable.

“As surfers, more than any other sport, you are totally connected and immersed in the ocean environment,” Mayfield told “And yet your connection to that environment is through a piece of plastic made from fossil fuels. This shows that we can still enjoy the ocean, but do so in an environmentally sustainable way.”

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