Rising from the ashes

Words by Taylor Lane & Ben Judkins

“We’re just two dudes: a designer and filmmaker, a couple of surfers trying to shift the narrative on an industry and lifestyle that’s so much larger than us.”

In 2017, industrial designer Taylor Lane and filmmaker Ben Judkins put their heads together to create a surfboard made using upcycled materials, but decided to go a step further. They took the most littered item in the world and used it to create their Cigarette Surfboard. In Issue 10 of Oceanographic, big wave surf champion Easkey Britton discusses how powerful stories such as the Cigarette Surfboard can result in positive action. Here, we catch up with the duo to find out more about the brains behind the design.

Oceanographic Magazine (OM): When did you first connect with the ocean?

Taylor Lane (TL): We both had the privilege of growing up in and around the ocean from a young age. Both of us started surfing in our early teens, and it has sparked a vast appreciation for the ocean, and the desire to make a change.

OM: What was your most significant experience with ocean/beach pollution?

TL: One moment really etched in my mind was when Ben and I went to the Ballona Creek Wetlands in Marina Del Rey, California just after the first rain of the year in 2018. One of Los Angeles’ many runoffs goes right through this wetland reserve and it was astounding for both of us to see the amount of single-use plastics and convenience items that suffocated the river. We witnessed many birds and wildlife frolicking in a soup of our single-use convenience items. The most upsetting thing about this was that it was on a protected wetland, just a few hundred meters from the ocean – visually reinforcing the notion that our actions on land have an effect on the sea.

OM: Have you noticed a difference in ocean pollution in the years since you started surfing?

Ben Judkins (BJ): Both of us have witnessed a spike in ocean pollution since growing up along the California coast (particularly plastics and microplastics). Even though it seems that the global awareness of this issue has caused a massive awakening around the world, at the same time, I don’t think we’ve ever seen it worse than where we are today. We are also witnessing the ever-growing issue of plastic pollution on land, a lack of proper waste management systems, and the struggle to deal with the influx of our consumption of single-use / disposable items.

OM: Do you think there is a lack of environmental information around smoking?

BJ: While there certainly seems to be plenty of ​health​ information around smoking, there’s definitely a lack of environmental information. The monocrop production of tobacco plants destroys soil, cigarette filters are made from plastic, and they’re the most littered item in the world – 4.5 trillion littered every year. The flick of the cigarette symbolises so much more; it’s a reflection of our single-use, throwaway culture, and representative of the cumulative effect every little action has on our planet. Flicking a cigarette butt should be a thing of the past.

surf board shaping Cigarette Surfboard
fins Cigarette Surfboard

OM: Why do you think cigarette butts aren’t generally considered to be litter?

BJ: There is still somewhat of a cultural acceptance with littering cigarette butts. The flick of the cigarette butt has been symbolically used as ‘cool’ imagery through decades of film, and it was ingrained into popular culture as such. One cigarette butt flicked into the world seems minuscule, but when millions of people participate in that action, it adds up. It also represents our larger ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality, which is applicable to anything we deem as disposable. It seems that most people don’t consciously think, know, or care about the impact of their cigarette butts, yet the amount of toxins a single littered butt leaks into the environment is astonishing. Carcinogens, heavy metals, and a cocktail of poisons leech from the plastic filters and into our waterways. Ultimately, we do feel like there is a shift in the culture of littering cigarette butts, but it still happens far too often.

OM: How would you like to see the consumerism narrative shift towards something less damaging to the natural world?

TL: The world is not going to stop consuming, it’s what we do as humans and it’s how we’ve built the world around us. But we can consume in a much more responsible way that doesn’t damage the natural world. The natural world’s system is circular, where plants and animals eventually decompose back into the Earth. As humans, we can learn from this circular cycle and create products and systems that don’t cause environmental impacts as a result of our consumption. The true cost of our convenience culture is hard to quantify, but for the people in the world who are privileged enough to consume responsibly, they absolutely should. But it shouldn’t only be the consumer’s burden – it’s important for us to support companies, farms, banks, restaurants, and lawmakers that are leading in a positive way to shift us away from our current disposable culture.

OM: How did you go about collecting enough butts for the Cigarette Surfboard project?

TL: Since the beginning, Ben and I have worked with numerous non-profits in California like Surfrider Foundation, Heal the Bay, and Save Our Shores, who schedule regular beach clean-ups. We’ve joined them in many of their clean-ups, but not all. However, all of the butts for the boards that are built come from beach clean-ups. Since cigarette butts are the world’s most littered item, and the most collected item at beach clean-ups, they unfortunately don’t take long to collect pick up. At a two-hour beach clean-up in Los Angeles, for example, 100 people typically find between 2,500-4,000 butts. That’s almost enough for one Cigarette Surfboard!

OM: What’s the process of using them within the structure of a surfboard?

TL: The first Cigarette Surfboard was made back in 2017 for an international competition held by Vissla and Surfrider Foundation called the “Creators Contest”, which prompts people to build an article of surfcraft out of upcycled materials. We won the contest with our heavy, toxic ‘proof of concept’ surfboard. Through trial, error, and a lot of modifications, the modern Ciggy Boards are now stronger and lighter than ever. To begin, we work with professional surfboard shapers who handcraft a foam blank into a desired board design. Then, I create a mosaic style artwork with the cigarette butts from the beach and laminates it with fibreglass and a bio-based epoxy resin called Entropy, which encapsulates the foam and butts.

Beach litter Cigarette Surfboard
surfing waves Cigarette Surfboard
Taylor Lane and Ben Judkins Cigarette Surfboard

OM: How do you cope with the current unsustainable elements in the surf industry?

TL: Surfing has a long history. In many ways, it has been used to market us all kinds of things because of its illustrious imagery, but not necessarily with the most environmental ethos in mind. We’re just two dudes: a designer and filmmaker, a couple of surfers trying to shift the narrative on an industry and lifestyle that’s so much larger than us. We hope that our efforts as individuals can be a source of inspiration for people and companies to act and focus on the bigger picture: creating more environmentally sound products and practices. Through innovation and collaboration, we know this is possible. Just like the Cigarette Surfboard can serve as an example of the creative fortitude you can have when looking for a solution, there are loads of others coming up with ideas like this every day. We as consumers have a say and can greatly influence where this trajectory is heading if we continue to support and purchase better environmental alternatives.

OM: What did you learn from Easkey Britton about the single-use mindset?

BJ: Something that Easkey said that really hit home with us was the ability of the English language to separate us from Earth. She highlighted that often times when we speak about nature – land or water – we talk about it as something that is different from us. The single-use mindset hinges on the idea that when you throw something away, it remains in another part of the world never to be seen again. But when you apply Easkey’s lens, the single-use mindset changes the narrative from harming the Earth, to harming ourselves.

OM: What is so exciting about the design and shaping process?

TL: As an industrial designer, shaping surfboards isn’t something I typically do, although I hand-shaped the first two Cigarette Surfboards. Surfboard shaping is a critical part of our process and we hold such a high respect for those who’ve mastered this craft. We’ve collaborated with professional shapers Travis Reynolds, Ward Coffey, Ashley Lloyd, Guy Okazaki, Ryan Harris, and the Campbell Brothers to create the surfboard blank designs for the Cigarette Surfboards. Designing the cigarette aspect of the boards has indeed been exciting – learning how to lessen the amount of cigarette butts used in a board (which lessens the weight), learning how to use the cigarette butts for structural strength, and being able to design different artwork with the cigarettes to create more visual meaning in the boards.

OM: What are your hopes for the future of this project? What will you be working on next?

BJ: We’ve been in production of our feature-length film since the project began two and a half years ago. Cigarette Surfboard has taken us around the world, and we’ve met some incredibly inspiring people along the way – professional surfers, political activists, regenerative farmers, marine scientists, government officials, innovative business leaders, renowned musicians; the list goes on. ​We’ve learned a lot about the issues and some of the solutions that are being used or studied to address the many threats facing our oceans.​ ​Through our film, we’ll be sharing our journey while providing a toolkit for our viewers about what we’ve learned along the way – ultimately helping people answer that overwhelming question, “What can I do?”

In the coming year, we’ll be building a few more Cigarette Surfboards as well as wrapping up production and hopefully, releasing the film. Our long-term goals are to tour the film, continue to involve ourselves and the project in community events (beach clean-ups, music and art shows) and in educational spaces. We’re looking to submit the film to festivals, have the boards featured in museums and exhibitions, and possibly kickstart a YouTube series, create a business around responsibly made Cigarette Surfboard products, start a non-profit… who knows? Our dreams are big!

OM: How would you like to see the surfing industry evolve?

TL: The surf industry needs to act on the obvious: there is serious damage being done to the spaces that provide us with so much joy, and we can either perpetuate it, or try and protect it. Since this industry has built its success and enjoyment off the health of the ocean, we have a responsibility to protect it; there is also no better industry than surfing to influence change for the health of the oceans. There are alternatives and companies that are making a difference, but we need to inspire a larger collective effort to take leadership in this ever-changing environment. We say respect is a fundamental and principal part of surfing, and we need to apply it to the very thing that makes surfing possible and build a more honest and environmentally conscious industry around it.

To find out more about the Cigarette Surfboard project, click here.

Photography by Ben Judkins and Katie Rodriguez.


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