Chris Hines MBE | A Challenge to Designers

Leaning back against the salt-sprayed window of Porthtowan’s Beach Cafe, Chris Hines MBE shares a pearl of wisdom: ‘People who design things have an incredible power to be an incredible force for good.’ Chris isn’t talking about himself, though right now I can’t think of a better case in point. This is partly because Chris is so charismatic, but mostly it is because he is an innovator, a catalyst and, though he wouldn’t necessarily define himself as such, a designer.

Chris and I have met at this surfing hub to discuss sustainable design. Chris has claimed that, ‘Surfing can save the world’, and has gone some way in proving the point, driving a £5.5 billion spend on the clean up of UK coasts as Co-Founder and Director of Surfers Against Sewage from 1990–2000.

The campaigns of the 1990s were theatrical and provocative; you may remember images of surfers wearing gas masks as they entered our polluted seas. ‘My favourite’ says Chris, with a grin, ‘was the poo!’ He is talking about the 10ft long inflatable faeces that literally popped up on beaches all over the UK during that period. ‘Everybody loved it!’ Chris continues, ‘People found it very funny. But we were using British toilet humour to make a serious point.’

There is a problem with the environmental credibility of the surfing community however, that Chris is keen to address: ‘Professional surfers can get through 80–100 boards every year.’ Conventional surfboards are made from polyurethane or polystyrene foam covered with layers of fibreglass cloth and polyester or epoxy resin.

Environmentally, this is disastrous, and Chris has attempted to address the issue through design; first by creating clocks and jewellery using the off-cuts of surfboard ‘blanks’, and more recently co-designing a surfboard from a Balsa tree that had outgrown it’s home in the Eden Project’s Tropical Biome. Sustainability Director at Eden at the time, Chris ‘saw an opportunity, a kind of provocation.’

The result of this provocation was a unique surfboard that is also a thought-provoking piece of design. Strategically placed in the biome in which it grew, the Eco Surfboard continues to remind millions of Eden Project visitors who pass by each year that plastics, made from non-renewable oil, manufactured using polluting processes and taking centuries to decompose, are not inevitable; they are a choice.