It may be common knowledge that smoking cigarettes is harmful — but what about using them to make surfboards?
Cal Poly Surfrider Club teamed up with San José State alumnus Taylor Lane and put discarded cigarette butts from San Luis Obispo to good use.
Three years ago, Lane entered the Vissla and Surfrider Creators and Innovators Upcycle Contest with a body surfing hand plane he constructed entirely out of champagne corks, old t-shirts, a surf bootie and climbing rope. He made it to the finals but none of the leaderboards.
Lane’s good friend and film partner Ben Judkins suggested, “We need to make a surfboard next year,” to which Lane responded, “Tight.”
Thus began work on the surfboard that would change Lane’s path entirely.
They entered their first cigarette surfboard, which would go on to take first place and gain international recognition. They were able to get funding to produce an environmental surf film inspired by the project and create a “ciggy-butt material,” which has now been used to create version five of the surfboard.
When asked why cigarette butts would be the star of his project, Judkins simply replied, “What’s everywhere?”
While Judkins said he initially predicted he would need 10,000 cigarette butts for the first cigarette board he constructed; he ended up using more than 13,000.
President of the Cal Poly chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Marissa Miller met Lane at at a Global Wave conference in Santa Cruz and wanted to get involved in the project.
“I was stoked on what she was doing, leading the youth activism within her university in her little cohort of people that she can,” Lane said.
Miller became the president of the Cal Poly Surfrider Club in Winter 2018. She noticed a lack of active members at the time, but she said she was determined to make something more out of the club by “implementing more projects, getting everything to be more active and building some solid leadership within the club so that we could actually get things done.”
The club is a chapter of a national organization whose mission is to “protect and enjoy the world’s oceans, beaches, and waves,” according to Miller.
Through the club, Miller organizes beach cleanups, conducts water quality testing with Blue Water Task Force, and promotes movements such as “Rise Above Plastics,” a campaign to help raise awareness about plastic pollution on campus.
The club’s most effective projects are its beach cleanups. It is from these beach cleanups that members are able to collect the hundreds of cigarette butts that end up contributing to Lane’s surfboards, among a few other organizations along the California coast.
“[Cigarettes are] the most common pollution on our beaches and they are really toxic and they don’t break down,” Miller said.
The club collects at least a few hundred cigarette butts at every beach cleanup, and in one instance, they collected more than 1,400 in just a two-hour period.
“It’s really empowering to see it all collected in one place and putting out those numbers and being like, ‘Hey, this is all us,’” Miller said.
Miller said she hopes the cleanups will inspire people to not only get involved, but to also change their littering habits in the future.
“It’s up to us to change this,” Miller said. “It’s not coming from anywhere else.”
The cigarettes the club recently collected contributed to Lane’s last three cigarette surfboards, which he will feature in a documentary he is currently producing called, “The Cigarette Surfboard.”
The documentary is an environmental surf film that, in Lane’s words, is meant to “address sort of the disconnect that the cigarette butt symbolizes in our culture as a single-use, out of sight, out of mind, flick-it-away [culture] — and that has sort of polluted our sea.”
“But more importantly, the film is going to dive into what sort of surfers and other ocean-oriented locals around the world and individuals are doing to kind of create more stewardship and local community action to create a toolkit for people to get more inspired to do more ocean-oriented work,” Lane said.
Lane also said he hopes to potentially dive into public policy and even propose a new design for a cigarette filter. The current filters are made from plastic, which does not fully break down, and are created to “filter out” some of the toxic chemicals when smoked. When it rains or when cigarette butts enter the waterways, the chemicals seep into the ocean and the environment.
“We can’t change people’s habitual habits, but we can change the things that [are] leading to the further problem of toxifying our environment,” Lane said.