Each year the pristine, natural beauty of our coastline becomes increasingly littered with plastics and trash washing ashore. In this blight I found artistic inspiration and a desire to have our Ocean State lead the forefront in raising awareness and pilot the charge for action.
Spirare / Kevin Cunningham
I make functional art – art that is designed to get wet.
Not the functional art of a chair designed to rest comfortably in a living room and not the precious commodity of stainless silverware on a dining room table, but functional art that rides the waves and carries a passenger - a surfboard. As a designer and an artist I feel the need to make this art have meaning, aesthetic beauty and sustainability.
Spirare began in 2004 when I saw the need for eco-friendly alternative to the toxic disposable surfboards being produced. This realization came shortly after making my first surfboard the previous year and learning that all the materials used in the process are harmful to the environment as well as the craftsmen.
Surfers traditionally respect the ocean and environment and actively work to protect it, yet we ride surfboards that are made from highly toxic materials that are a hazard to both the people who make them and the environment.
Spirare Surfboards explores innovative surfboard design using alternative materials and methods to make highly functional pieces of fine art that emphasize green design and sustainable construction.
Spirare has also collaborated with two of the biggest surfboard manufacturers in the world, …lost Surfboards and Channel Islands Surfboards, to bring my sustainable surfboard technology and construction methods to a wider audience.
My background in eco-friendly surfcraft led me to the next phase in my design process, an innovative material that combines art, design, education and local manufacturing.
Living in Rhode Island allows me every day access to an array of beaches across the state. Being a surfboard maker, a surfer and a lover of the sea, I was all too conscious of the worsening marine trash epidemic. I would often collect trash off the beach to then dispose of it. While picking up bits of plastic and rope that had washed ashore on the beach one day, I saw a haunting beauty within the discarded objects that had been rolled, tumbled and softened by the sea. They did not belong in this environment of natural beauty, but made an important statement. I brought a sampling of the debris back to my studio to work with it. After research and design, I combined the discarded “trash” with eco-friendly material(s) that allowed for tooling and molding. SeaResin was born, a material that is both visually striking and meaningful.
With my background and knowledge as a surfboard craftsman, my immediate thought was to develop this material into surfboard fins, called FIN(e) Art. One of the most prevalent objects found washed ashore tends to be old fishing nets and rope. Sorting through piles of these discarded pieces, I was inspired. I discovered the individual strands of rope work to increase tensile strength, much like the use of steel rebar in concrete. The vast array of colors in these found materials add to the distinctive beauty of each piece.
After material research and testing, I crafted a product with strength and longevity, able to withstand the elements and the unrelenting demands of the sport. I was encouraged to receive an overwhelming amount of support for the SeaResin material and fin design from customers. People were immediately drawn in by the semi-translucence, uniqueness and beauty of the product and were often surprised by the contents humble beginnings.
Every Fin tells a story
The ‘Every Fin Tells a Story’ campaign is a means to directly link each surfboard fin (and other future products) to a specific location. Found marine debris material will be sorted and organized by the location in which it was collected. The surfboard fins will be stamped with the location in which the material used in their production has come from. The fin’s packaging will incorporate photos from the location and the clean up efforts that went into making the fin. Imagine being able to buy a surfboard fin (or other future products) made from marine debris collected on your favorite Rhode Island beach. To our in-state residents it will show how we are bettering our state’s coastline; and to our out of state customers it will show how Rhode Island cares about its coast (hopefully leading to more visitors and tourism).
"Folks here in the Ocean State know how important water quality and the ocean are to our environment and economy. Public Health and the security of future generations depends on us being good stewards of our waters, including both freshwater sources as well as the ocean and the bay. In addition to fighting for clean water funding and policies, one of the best investment we can make in conservation is the strengthen environmental education."
- United States Senator Jack Reed
Working with organizations like The Surfrider Foundation, a global organization with local chapters, to plan and promote local beach clean ups will help engage the community while bettering the conditions of our beaches. The local Rhode Island chapter of Surfrider Foundation is teaming up with Spirare for material collection from our shoreline. Plans are being developed for community beach clean ups as well as specific collection points for the found material that will be used for the found marine debris designs.
Rhode Island’s Save The Bay organization is on board as well to help with education on the issue of marine debris and how it affects us all. We are also in the early stages of brainstorming possible programs that can be enacted to collect derelict fishing gear directly from commercial fishing vessels; stopping it from being dumped at sea. I was shocked to learn that many commercial fishing vessels simply dump their old unwanted gear overboard while at sea, into the Atlantic Ocean. This is something that needs to be stopped.
This project will increase outside revenue coming into the state with sales of the SeaResin products as well as create jobs here in Rhode Island. Hand crafted, locally produced products that will be sold on the national and global market showcasing Rhode Island as a state that cares about its coastline.