With environmental issues at the forefront of surfing culture, the industry and its customers are making moves toward sustainable products and practices to protect the ocean. Cal Poly biological sciences alumna Rose Badrigian is doing this with her surf wax, BooBees.
Surf wax, one of the most essential products in the surfing industry, has not changed in 50 years due to lack of research and development, Badrigian said.
She began her entrepreneurial journey in typical Silicon Valley fashion — out of her garage.
Badrigian said she noticed most surf wax is petroleum-based, which is damaging to the ocean, and became curious about environmental issues surrounding the surfing industry. Her passion for surfing, feminism and the environment inspired her to create a commercially viable, environmentally sustainable and women-empowered surf wax.
BooBees’ polarizing name is a play on words with the specific intention of sparking a conversation about women’s rights, bee conservation and the ocean — three issues she said she is passionate about.
“I wanted to create a product that gave women a place in the industry,” Badrigian said.
Badrigian explained that competitors have already sexualized the surf market, so she thought she would, too — but in a way that would empower women. Instead of “calling men out,” Badrigian said she wanted to “call men in” to educate them on gender equality without chastising them.
BooBees is an early stage company in Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship SLO HotHouse program. The company has successfully secured funding after getting two investors on board. They hope to sell to local surf and coffee shops on the Central Coast by January 2019.
Badrigian found the surf industry underpays its female surfers. In 2018, the United States reported a 20 percent wage discrepancy between men and women. This gap is more than doubled in the surfing industry, with female competition winners earning 40 percent less than their male counterparts.
On Sept. 5, World Surf League announced equal pay for women in their surf competitions.
Although this is huge news, most of the gender inequality lies within the same big players who dominate the industry, according to Badrigian. Instead of celebrating women for their athletic abilities, brands like Billabong and Roxy have sexualized female surfers in marketing campaigns.
Badrigian also discovered pesticides have killed off more than 30 percent of beehives annually over the last decade. An estimated 1 percent of BooBees’ proceeds will go towards bee conservation, joining other efforts of conservation that have sparked recently. Badrigian said she hopes it can go towards private research at Cal Poly in the future.
Badrigian said with BooBees she also plans to push toward environmentalism with both their product material and fiscal structure.
Since the rise of social media, many developing countries with world-class surf spots have experienced an increase in tourism and exploitation, Badrigian said.
Badrigian said the company has plans to set up small manufacturing facilities near popular surfing spots to employ local residents and ultimately boost the local economy to bridge the gap between developed countries’ tourism and developing countries’ poverty.
“The culture is so different and it’s a huge barrier for women to surf,” Badrigian said. “It’s also super unsustainable. Sex Wax and Sticky Bumps are both shipped. There, it costs $7, versus here [where] it’s around $1.50.”
BooBees is working to engineer a product that ensures ease of production anywhere in the world with minimal importing and technology. The company aims to have their surf wax available in Japan by 2020, just in time for the 2020 Summer Olympics.
“If you’re not gonna do something that betters the world, then what’s the point of doing it?” Badrigian said. “I love empowering women, I love the environment, and I love women. [BooBees] embodies everything I care about.”