27/06/2014 10:31 BST | Updated 27/08/2014 06:59 BST

From Firewire to NevHouse -Sustainability, Technology and Surfing Serendipities


(Global Surf Cities Conference 2013: John Nielsen, left; Nev Hyman, centre, Chris Hines, right)

Firewire is probably one of the world's most successful manufacturers and distributors of mass produced surfboards. These boards boast both sustainability and high performance. Founder and chief shaper is Nev Hyman and if you own a Timbertek you'll have already read Nevs note about the environmental credentials of the board.

I met Nev in March last year at the Global Surf City Conference on the Gold Coast. He had quite literally gate crashed one of the sessions (pictured above) to introduce the Timbertek board to the audience. There was no question that based on what I saw, a book about sustainability and surfing would have been lacking without a contribution from Nev. So afterwards I collared him to ask if he would contribute to Sustainable Stoke, and the rest is history. In the following months I learned more about how FireWire operates and some of the principles behind the company with a view to trying to understand why it is so successful. What is clear is that sustainability looks like it's at the core of everything they do. But as always, don't take my word for it - go away and look it up for yourself.

This passion and drive to implement sustainability has taken a new turn and expanded beyond the surfing world into a realm that could quite possibly have a significant positive global impact from a social, environmental and economic perspective. Nevhouse is an initiative that uses recycled plastic and other composite material taken off the streets and from landfill to manufacture prefabricated houses which can be transported to any part of the world. The possibilities are immense as Nev points out:

This is a house that'll last 100 years that's impervious to bacteria, free of maintenance, and to a degree withstand hurricanes and earthquakes. So from this perspective they are important tools for disaster relief and it can be built and taken down again in just 2 days. What is more it is culturally relevant to its host nation and community.

And in the last few weeks Nevhouse has taken a huge step forward with the signing of a deal with the Lmala Landowners Group from Lihir Island in Papua New Guinea. A factory will be built on the island and the islanders hope this will be the next stage of fulfilling their Lihir Destiny . It is intriguing that this is a destiny previously seen as based on the mining of gold on the island and is now entering a new phase using recycled material. As a social scientist with a focus on sustainability this presents some really fascinating issues. No primary extraction of resources, instead the recycling of plastics to provide homes and shelter. And as Nev goes on to say:

This is only the beginning and we are looking at a plan where in a few years time we can have plants built in 100 countries around the world and this will respond to the changing nature of demand for plastics on a global scale. Tons of waste is shipped from first to third world countries, particularly China. But now there is a situation where China is putting up what has been called a green wall because they don't want the waste as much as they did. The commodity price of plastic waste is dropping and there are back logs of waste in first world countries.

Nev talks more about the progression from FireWire to Nevhouse in the book so I won't elaborate on this here. What I will introduce at this point is the idea of 'Surfing Serendipity'. As my research has progressed and the book has evolved patterns have become clear, but more intriguing are the many different connections and chance encounters that all seem to fit together to form a bigger picture. Again this is something I will write about at a later date but here's a brief example. At the same conference I also met Andy Abel, President and Co- Founder of the Surfing Association of Papua New Guinea, amongst other things. Andy has been a key figure in the development of surfing in Papua New Guinea as well as developing a surf management model that could possibly be rolled out across all of Melanesia.

Andy recently visited the UK to tour with the award winning film Splinters. I was very proud to co host the tour along with Chris Hines (above - also a Sustainable Stoke contributor and part of the broader serendipity). Talking to Andy at the first UK screening of Splinters in Porth Towan, Cornwall, I learned that Andy had been instrumental in facilitating the establishment of NevHouse in PNG. Andy and Nev did not meet at the conference and only later came together through mutual interests in surfing and sustainability. And without being too cryptic there is much more to that story. Andy has also contributed to Sustainable Stoke -I'll talk about that in a later post. In the meantime take a look at Nevhouse in the following clip.