By Elliott Wright
Taylor Lane impressed surfers and landlubbers alike in 2017 when he won the Vissla and Surfrider Foundation’s ‘Creators & Innovators Upcycle’ contest with his Cigarette Surfboard.
Crafted with over 10,000 butts, the board weighed 17 pounds (8kg) yet was definitely rideable. In the process of shaping it, Lane and filmmaker friend Ben Judkins envisioned creating a documentary about how humankind is directly affected by the ocean’s health. Simultaneously, Lane began working with legendary Californian shapers to lighten and strengthen the board that has caught attention (and waves) the world over.
What is the message you are hoping to share with the board and documentary?
I think the narrative that came to light for us was the fact that every littered butt is done by an individual. The Ciggy Board accumulates all of these individual contributions into a really powerful piece. Part of our mission was finding out what people around the globe, particularly surfers, are doing to protect the ocean? The surfboards became [a way] for us to connect with professional surfers and ocean activists in other parts of the world, like Cliff Kapono, Easkey Britton, Fergal Smith, and Mikey February.
The boards are a platform for them to talk about what they are doing to inspire more ocean stewardship. The angle for the film is a heavy solutions-based approach. We felt that there are so many environmental documentaries that harp on about the doom and gloom. We found that people are willing to contribute to doing something better for the environment, but they don’t know what it looks like. It goes back to, ‘What does it matter? I’m just one person.’ But if we’re collectively inspired by these stories and case studies in the film, it can elevate the general consciousness around the importance of the ocean.
The other thing is that we are not just a film. The board is a physical thing we have had to design and engineer. That’s the opportunity that we have that other films don’t have. When people see the boards and hold them, it’s a profound experience. It’s so much bigger than a film, in many ways.
In the process of making the film, you have done quite a lot of research with surfers and scientists alike. What are some of the findings?
The ocean is so much more important than just the waves that it creates. It’s an integral part of the health of our planet. It produces 50-80% of the oxygen we breathe. It absorbs about 25% of the carbon we emit. There is definitely a lineage that humans have as being part of the ocean. One thing that was super inspiring that we learned from Easkey Britton was that when a human fetus is suspended in the amniotic fluid of a mother’s womb, the fluid is the same density as ocean water. Also, the percentage of water that exists in the human body is similar to the amount of ocean water that exists on the planet.
What are some other facts you’ve learned that could inspire people to take this more seriously?
Here in California, California Transportation (Cal-Trans) spends approximately $41 million every year cleaning up cigarette butt litter on the highways and dealing with the toxic waste. That’s tax money going to pick up shit that shouldn’t be there. It’s the tobacco industry who has painted this narrative, right? The flick of the butt is cool; it’s used in writing, and film, and music. It’s so emblematic of our throwaway culture. I’ve seen people near ashtrays and trash cans toss butts on the floor instead. We aren’t here to tell you not to smoke, but I am here to tell you that your littering problem is a fucking issue. The problem with the butts is that the filters harbour thousands of chemicals, and when they touch the water, they leach into our watersheds.
In making the film we have met certain characters that have this incredible scientific and indigenous knowledge for us to share. I think modern science could learn a lot from ancestral knowledge. Surfing was heavily embraced by the Polynesian culture and it was about that deep understanding of that connection of human and ocean. That is something that the surfing experience still has today. [However], I think in some ways there is a little bit of a loss of that connection.
How have the boards improved since the first one you made in 2017?
In time we have had awesome shapers —Rob Machado, Malcolm Campbell, Ryan Harris, Travis Reynolds, Guy Okazaki, and Marc Andreini—contribute their time to making the surfboard blanks for us. Then, I have this whole machine that I have engineered that flattens the butts, and we lay out laminates. Basically, it’s a veneer of butts that gets laminated in the top and bottom of the board. The butts are making the boards extremely strong, as opposed to traditional fibreglass.
They have exponentially gotten lighter. We have a 5’2” Seaside that Rob Machado shaped for us which is like 7 pounds (3 kg). Reducing the weight improves the functionality which in turn gets more surfers interested in it. That allows us to broaden our message about our whole environmental surf documentary. We knew we couldn’t begin to appeal to more surfers if the boards were going to be heavy and dysfunctional. I really appreciate functional art. I think surfboards are an art. There is a lot of design and engineering into thinking about what works.
It’s amazing you guys have started a petition to instate California Senate Bill SB424, which bans the sale of single-use plastic cigarette filters statewide. In addition to donating, what else can readers do to show their support?
Just start following us; we aren’t going to overwhelm your feed with bullshit. We are selective of what we put out. Share our story. I think everyone can relate to the beauty of the ocean, and I think everyone can appreciate surfing as a transcendent experience. Keep an eye out in the next couple of months. We are going to be puzzling things together; we’ll be putting out short, 15-30 second, hype reel pieces. As we do that, people will see the vision more clearly.
Thanks for taking the time, Taylor. Any final thoughts?
We have a choice each day to wake up and say, ‘Am I going to try to make the world better? Or am I going to make it worse?’ I can be a voice in my community for activism. I can pick up trash. Every surfer should be picking up three pieces of trash every time they come in from a surf. It’s ridiculous how many surfers are taking from the ocean and not giving back.
It’s kind of upsetting to see how many surfers with such incredible platforms are not taking the opportunity to be better stewards. If you do have a platform, use it. People look up to you. However, there are definitely surfers out there that are [vocal], and I think the industry is going that way. We want to encourage more surfers, and people in general, to act on that stewardship role, without being worried about what other people might think.