Cantabria, northern Spain: The floor of Stefan’s workshop is covered in wooden filings and chips. He carefully examines the wooden surfboard lying on the workbench in front of him. Once he has finished shaping the board and created the grooves for the rails, he begins with the lamination process. Stefan gives the surfboard final polish. With his company, Kun_tiqi, he has adopted an environmentally friendly path: “Surfriders who care” is the motto that he has chosen. His philosophy: boards made of renewable and environmentally friendly materials.
Stefan grew up in the Bavarian-Swabian town of Donauwörth. Surfing has always played a role in his life. He spent ten months as a windsurfing teacher in Fuerteventura. Then he studied business administration in northern Germany. He first discovered ecological surfboards during an internship in Ecuador. “The contact with Ecuadorian shapers gave me an opportunity to gain experience with shaping and laminating.” He used his thesis to write about marketing ecological wooden surfboards in Europe. “In Spain I was able to laminate my first surfboards at a surfboard workshop and simultaneously gain further experience. Shaping wooden surfboards was something that I learned by doing.”
For Stefan, sustainability ecological responsibility and surfing are inseparable. Why? “Because surfers enjoy nature and can only live their passion for surfing if the oceans are intact.” He became aware of the issue during his internship in Ecuador. “I was looking for a surfboard so that I could spend the weekend at the coast, surfing. At this time, the largest surfboard factory in the USA had been closed by the Environmental Protection Agency.” As a consequence, there was no material for new boards in Ecuador. The market for used boards was cleaned out overnight. “For the first time, surfers, including me, became aware of just how toxic surfboards are.” The passionate surfer discovered the shapers, who have been manufacturing surfboards out of balsa wood since the 1960s. This type of wood grows there in vast quantities. “I was inspired the first time I tested a balsa surfboard. Then I had the idea of manufacturing ecological surfboards and marketing these in Europe.”
The unpredictability of surfing fascinates me: no wave is the same, no day is like another.
Balsa wood is the lightest form of wood and was already used for transport rafts in South America about one thousand years before the Inca Empire. This is also the origin of the name Kun_tiqi: The Sun King, Kun tiqsi Viracocha, is a legendary figure in South America. When his people had to leave the continent, they used rafts made of balsa wood to flee.
The balsa wood used by Kun_tiqi comes from a family-owned company on the coast of Ecuador. The main advantage: balsa wood grows rapidly. The trees reach a height of up to 10 m within 3 to 4 years. According to Stefan, surfing on wooden boards has other benefits: “They are manufactured without producing toxic waste and the boards are durable and robust. In addition, they are more stable when surfing because the wood absorbs the irregularities of the waves very well.”
Stefan faced a number of hurdles before his label became successfully established. Searching for a workshop was no easy task. “I rode from yard to yard and asked them all.” Stefan’s tactic: never give up. His persistence ultimately paid off. In the beginning he had to work a second job to keep his business afloat. Especially during the off-season. “That was incredibly hard work. Especially while building up Kun_tiqi at the same time, which demanded a lot of time and energy.” Stefan often doubted whether he should continue because the finances were often difficult, and he faced the risk of going out of business for a number of years. “My belief that I had to do something against environmental pollution of polyester surfboards, the support from my girlfriend and, above all, the positive feedback from our customers was what kept me going.”