Resurrecting Skate Decks Into Surf Fins… Pushfins Makes It Possible
Pushfins, the small brand out of Portland, Or., designs and manufactures high-performance surfboard fins the hard way, using industry waste channel materials, plant-based epoxy resin, and good old-fashioned elbow grease.
Christian Sellers, the founder of Pushfins, created the brand back in 2013 when he was living in Tahoe. Having experienced several less than stellar seasons of snow, he naturally began spending more time at the coast, focusing more on surf.
Around that same time, a friend of his broke a fin off his board and Sellers offered to fix it. Instinctually, he grabbed a skate deck that was laying around the house and figured the material would make for an ideal surf fin. It was halfway through this project that the whole idea started brewing and Pushfins was born.
TransWorld Business sat down with Sellers to learn what goes into a Pushfin and hear the brand’s story.
Final Product: Pushfins, A More Sustainable Surf Fin
The entire goal of Pushfins is to create a drastically more sustainable hard goods product in an industry that really struggles with that. The whole premise behind the brand is to present a more sustainable option without asking the consumer for too much compromise in both performance and price.
Step 1: Cut Fin Cores From Recycled Skate Decks
Every fin core is cut from either post-consumer or manufacturer defect skate decks. These seven-ply maple skateboard decks make an excellent surf fin material for the same reason that they have become the industry standard in skateboard construction. Maple is an extremely strong, light, and naturally flexing hardwood. What you end up with is a snappy, highly responsive fin since the wood core is managing all of the strength and flex properties instead of the much heavier solid resin and fiberglass that is typically used in standard performance fins.
Step 2: Hand Foiling The Fins
After the fin cores have been cut, Sellers hand shapes their foil to give them the desired flex, hold, and efficiency when surfed. Sellers estimates he’s foiled close to 1000 fins since the birth of the project. “It’s become a very specific skill foiling the non-linear plys of a skateboard. Usually, you have lines to gauge your foil off of with both glass and marine ply but, because of the concave that is pressed into the decks, your lines end up looking anything but consistent. This just meant that in the beginning, I had to rely on feel, measurements, and testing without the visual guides.”
Step 3: Using Fiberglass Scraps From Shaping Industry
Staying within the waste-channel-material design guidelines, all Pushfins are fiberglassed using corner and rail cut scraps from the surfboard glassing industry. Early on in the development of the company, Sellers and Emily (Christians’s wife) would travel down the coast and collect scrap fiberglass from surfboard shapers and glassers. These days, all fiberglass is sourced locally from Portland’s surfboard community. Once he has collected these big bags of fiberglass scraps, it is organized and cut into consistent shapes. The upcycled materials are then used to either glass the foiled fins or used to make the solid fiberglass bases that will be milled to fit the different fin box systems. From upcycled waste to finished fins, the manufacturing process is extremely hands-on and time intensive.
Step 4: Entropy Super Sap Resins
Pushfins exclusively uses Entropy‘s Super Sap Resin, a zero VOC (volatile organic compounds), plant based resin that replaces petri-chemicals with renewable, bio-based materials. The eco-friendly epoxy resin has an excellent viscosity for hand layup techniques, making it a popular choice among shapers. In total, 90-95% of the material that goes into each and every fin is post-consumer and industry waste.
Pushfins exclusively uses Entropy‘s Super Sap Resin, a zero VOC, plant based resin that replaces petrochemicals with renewable, bio-based materials. The eco-friendly epoxy resin has an excellent viscosity for hand layup techniques, making it a popular choice among eco-conscious shapers. In total, 90-95% of the material that goes into each and every fin is post-consumer and industry waste.
We are so small that it is pretty much just me. My wife helps out when she can but she has a full-time job. The whole operation is really me and as much as I can do.” -Christian Sellers, founder of Pushfins
Where is sustainability at within surf? How can we continue to improve?
In recent years, some of the veil has been lifted on the manufacturing process that goes into the products we use. Like a lot of consumers these days, the sustainability factor impacts more and more of my purchasing decisions.
The surf industry has the power and influence to assist in the larger environmental challenges that our world is facing, but that change is ultimately in the hands of the consumer. It is, however, the role of the companies within our industry to both educate the customer and offer better products, both in performance and sustainability. Without options the customer’s power is limited and the growth and evolution of our industry and culture suffers.
I want to believe that the industry has seen the light and is making moves to alter its course away from its decades-deep foundation of toxic waste. Until the industry leaders make the bold moves that are needed it’s going to be more of a bottom-up movement of smaller, like-minded companies pulling the industry in that direction.
Can you describe the team?
At this stage it is me with the help of my wife, Emily, and a large circle of very talented and generous friends. For testing, we have several local rippers giving us feedback as well as a handful of people around the world helping us refine our product. I don’t want to appear bigger than we are, and we want to have fun doing this and work within our means. We use our Instagram simply to show new product and highlight our process as well as keep our followers up to date on the progression of the brand. Running lean keeps it fun and exciting but it means that certain aspects of the company have been simplified in order to manage them.
How did you get into surfing?
Surfing has always been in the family. I grew up in Seattle but both my parents are originally from Southern California. My dad was the classic surfer/lifeguard guy so I grew up with surfboards around the house and the stories that came with them. He actually attempted to get me into surfing several times throughout my teens but the combination of being a rebellious teen living in Seattle, skating and snowboarding as much as possible made it difficult.
I always assumed I’d get into surfing eventually. I was also lucky enough to work for a number of years at Snowboard Connection, first as a shop grom and then running their skate department. The SnoCon shop culture and environment really respected the trifecta of snow, surf and skate, both individually and how they influence and draw from each other. As I have gotten a little older I see this respect more and more as something maybe not unique to the PNW, but deeply understood within the culture here.
What is the extent of your shaping experience?
My shaping experience was very limited going into this, but I typically prefer to learn as I go. I tend to approach projects the same way I do skating or surfing, which is to first develop the mechanics and eventually (hopefully) understand them to the point where style starts to enter the picture. It is personally more enjoyable and rewarding to create both the problems as well as the solutions. For instance, when the snow stopped falling and I started leaning more towards surfing I started nerding out hard by burying myself in theory, research, and the history of shaping surfboards. Then I shaped the board I’d eventually learn to surf on out of an old rotten longboard. Since there was limited foam left over, mixed with my ignorance and optimism, I shaped a 5’2” mini Simmons. Which, of course, in retrospect was a pretty small and difficult board to figure out how to surf on and made the learning curve brutally steep.
So is Pushfins a full-time gig now? Where is the brand?
Yeah, I’m in the shop every day cranking out fins, or at the moment, building out our new shop space. It has felt like a project for the last couple of years but is starting to feel and look a lot more like a startup which is really fun.
As for the brand, we are currently deep in the trenches working on a bunch of rad stuff. We are hoping to launch our new website in the coming months, as well as printables and a project with an organic wax label. The development of our fins is definitely the main focus, but if you want to know what’s brewing in that department you’ll just have to wait and see.
Where do you collect the scrap materials from?
We have evolved from collecting decks from local skaters to including blemished decks from various manufacturers down the west coast to now working with larger skateboard manufacturers on creating custom materials from blemished veneers. I am really trying to educate myself on where the waste stacks up along the manufacturing process and utilize it.
Creating strategic relationships with retail spaces to showroom our product and tell our story is imperative to getting the brand out there in front of new eyes -Christian Sellers on expanding into retail
So Pushfins products are only available online right now. Do you plan to get into retail?
Retail is the goal. Our current manufacturing model is essentially an R&D model which is dynamic, allowing us to alter templates and foils almost in-between sessions. However, this model doesn’t lend itself to high volume. So a lot of my energy right now is going into figuring out both a faster-manufacturing processes as well as increasing the quality and performance of the fins.
What is it like being a surf brand based out of the Pacific Northwest? How are things different?
The cold water, fickle spots and marine life definitely isn’t for everyone. It feels old school in many ways. It’s hard for me to compare because I haven’t been immersed in a surfing community anywhere else. I’ve spent plenty of time surfing down the west coast as well as a few trips overseas and it’s very different here. The PNW, unlike California’s surf culture is not easy to describe. The PNW has a bit of a cold water tribal vibe in that there are these pockets of surfers distributed throughout Oregon, Washington and BC that share very similar surfing experiences and environments but are at the same time isolated from one another. A result of this isolation or separation is that even though people have been surfing in the PNW since at least the early 60’s the stories almost never get told outside the local sphere, let alone to the mass surfing community.
Your customs program is pretty rad. Can you discuss that?
People seem more apt these days to get creative with their boards, fins, and the relationship between them. We aren’t fast but we strive to make the best fins on the market by our standards and the standards of our customers. We have people contacting us all the time inquiring about custom fins. They’ll send us their template or idea and we’ll go back and forth to figure out how to make something special that will work for them. This also helps me to push innovation and try new things.
What is next for Pushfins? What are your main goals moving forward?
Design and manufacture better and better fins while leaving a trail of stoke in the process. SHRED MORE. WASTE LESS