Shaping Sustainable Surfers

September 09, 2015
Shaping Sustainable Surfers

Treehouse Landscapes & Handshapes was created by Dave Porter at the surprising age of six. Well not exactly, but it's not far off the mark. As a six year old, Dave announced to a captive family audience at a BBQ that he was going to build a roller coaster made out of recycled cardboard boxes. The passion behind this statement hasn't changed much for Dave over the years, he is still driven by design and construction with the environment at the forefront of his mind.

Dave created Treehouse Landscapes & Handshapes and merged his two endeavours, a landscape architect career and his passion for surfboard design. As different as these two activities sound, for Treehouse, the approach to both is remarkably similar.

We had a chat with Dave about how Treehouse began and his positive approach to sustainable manufacturing practises.


What inspired you to start TreeHouse Shapes?

I have been making surf boards since I was 16, and realised that the materials in surfboards hadn't changed much since World War II. More and more boards nowadays are going down the path of being lighter and more disposable. So the idea was born as a project to see if I could make surf boards that were stronger and more durable but still high performance and light in weight. In addition to that a goal was to source sustainable material that could deliver the same performance.

See also: Surfers passionate about nature as much as surfing

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Photo: Aaron Hughes

How would describe what you do in a nutshell?

Upon reflection Treehouse combines my two passions, it's what I enjoy doing and incorporates the skills I I have developed over the years. I am passionate about sustainable design and making good products for the outdoors with a focus on attention to detail and quality.

Having both streams going at the same time has meant I don't have to compromise the quality and integrity of my products. In reality, my landscape design work and my surfboards fall within two pretty niche markets. Either one on their own would be tough to sustain. The diversity of my business has been its major strength.

A huge success of your business has been your surfboard shaping workshops. Can you talk us through them?

It kind of happened by accident. A lot of people approached me and wanted to have a go at shaping their own board. Some guys just wanted to make something authentic with their own hands and others couldn't get shapers to make what they wanted and hence wanted to learn how to shape their own.

So many people were approaching me asking me to design and build their boards, or they wanted to get their hands on one, but couldn't get someone to make it for them. So it started small, just a couple of mates, but now it has grown and been really successful ever since. We have had about 80 students come through the course so far, which is a two-day weekend course. The students get their choice or materials, either traditional or more sustainable options, and can have whatever shape they want.

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It's been a pretty amazing response and formed a bit of a community, particularly around the northern suburbs of Wollongong. We have some beach days where everyone who has shaped their own board will get together and go for a surf. It revives some of earlier history of surfing where surfers would shape their own boards. It gives people a great sense of satisfaction to be riding a board they built themselves, that they know is also from nature and good for the environment.

I get a lot of positive customer feedback from people who have shaped their own boards or had a custom one built.

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Photo: Steve Baccon

Can you talk about some of the environmentally friendly materials you use and why?

I always try to source locally where possible for the boards and the landscape work we do. It can be quite difficult but it is worth it. An example is the foam we use in the boards. There are two options for sourcing it, I could either import it from China or America, or a supplier I found in Sydney. The only issue is sourcing it from Sydney meant we would have to cut it ourselves, which meant more labour costs, and an up-skilling in order to learn the correct technique. In the end it's a lot more work but it means we are using a local product with sustainable practises.

The timber we use is Australian timber and locally harvested from Northern NSW and QLD. Again, this is something we could import but have chosen to keep it local.

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We are working on using a natural fibre reinforcement in the boards I make called Flax. We have also been using a bio-based epoxy resin. Unfortunately no one in Australia makes it yet, but it is produced with significant bio-content, which basically means instead of being sourced from petroleum, the carbon required to synthesise the epoxy molecules is sourced from farm waste and other plant based waste streams. It contains between 30-55% bio-content and is hopefully a sign of a shift towards more sustainable practises from manufacturers.

You have some inspiring people as ambassadors, can you give us a run down of who they are and why you have them on board?

All of our ambassodors are local guys and girls. They have started out as customers, and because of their ethics and ideals, we have got them on board as brand ambassodors. Rather than just promote surfers who are good at surfing, the focus is to support people who are doing inspiring and positive things as well. It is important that people reflecting the brand are contributing to the environment as well as being good surfers.

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Photo: Steve Baccon

What's next for Treehouse Landscapes & Handshapes?

We are putting together a small construction team that will build the landscapes we design, enabling us to follow the whole process through, ensuring that our attention to detail is maintained. It can be hard handing over a project design to someone else and not having control, so this is really exciting for us. There are also some potentially exciting cork surfing products being developed at the moment. This is a great material to explore. Along with that we're also considering a range of landscape products that people can use outside.

Any words of advice or wisdom for people out there starting an innovative business?

Stick to your guns, and stay true to your ideals. It may be hard but there is always a way to make something work. We did it through diversifying, so we can make the boards and landscapes the way we want without compromise.

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A landscape project designed for Sutherland Shire council interpreting the history of surfboard design in the Cronulla area. Photo by Treehouse


Cover photo: Aaron Hughes

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