Whether it be new product lines, sustainability efforts or its award-winning water sports equipment, Starboard is always looking at what’s next both in and out of the water.
Innovation is constantly guiding Starboard to do better. Those who participate in water sports are most likely familiar with Starboard. Starboard was founded by former professional windsurfer and Olympian Mr Svein Rasmussen in 1994, the brand has become synonymous with both success and sustainability over the years. On the water, Starboard has won 13 out of the last 14 Professional Windsurfers Association Constructors Titles and racked up countless other honours. Meanwhile, its environmental efforts include the creation of Thor Heyerdahl Climate Park. Founded and led by legendary Norwegian climate fighter Dr Arne Fjørtoft, the park can now capture 10 million tons of CO2 over 20 years. Mr Rasmussen confirmed that Starboard is responsible for planting one million trees in the park and is aiming to plant one million trees annually moving forward.
The company’s desire to innovate and educate saw it look to arenas beyond the water. This led Starboard to the apparel industry with the launch of SOMWR. Part environmental movement and part clothing brand, the outfitter is helping bring Starboard’s sustainability initiatives, such as being a minimum of 10x carbon positive, to a new audience. “We all have to start somewhere. Our attempts in finding and sharing simple solutions to environmental challenges for water sports can be taken to a larger audience. We felt that apparel might be an efficient space where we can share messages, build awareness and see ‘fighting for the future become a fashion statement,” Mr Rasmussen, Starboard Chief Innovation Officer, explains. “Our task is to make SOMWR a leader in the apparel industry, which is now responsible for 10 percent of global CO2 emissions.”
He points out that the cotton industry is a main polluter of soils and oceans through chemical fertilisers while polyester products are a major source of ocean microplastics due to the loss of fibres during washing. SOMWR only uses organically grown materials, focusing mostly on Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton. The brand also takes part in other notable sustainability efforts. “We will now collect 1.1 kilograms of beach ocean plastic and plant a mangrove tree for every item sold. Our profit and loss is plant and litter collection based and the first goal is 10 million mangrove trees planted and 11 million kilograms of beach ocean plastic collected,” Mr Rasmussen states. “In January, we will introduce the SOMWR token, blockchain, and non-fungible token (NFT) based on the carbon neutral Celo blockchain which turns environmental efforts into profits.”
Mr Rasmussen cites highly respected technology investor and venture capitalist Mr John Doerr as an inspiration for the company’s decision to explore new areas and catch its next wave. “The amazing Mr Doerr proclaims that our planet’s next huge wave in terms of economic opportunities is the blend of environmental protection and innovative technologies. He has proven to be right about most things at both Intel and Google,” Mr Rasmussen says. “For us, the future is SOMWR and our Tiki symbol is the eco-hero that is showcased on the SOMWR campaigns.”
In November, SOMWR was invited to and organised a panel debate alongside Fridays for Future Germany strategy leader, French politicians, the World Sailing organisation’s sustainability manager, the International Canoe Federation president, and the CEOs from the world’s largest water sports events. The talk looked at ways to encourage the Olympic games in Paris to not only go climate positive but 10X climate positive. It was a showcase for how sports can be more ambitious than politicians while sharing important messages worldwide.
“Going carbon neutral is not enough as that alone does not reduce the climate gasses we already have emitted. That’s why we want to motivate Paris 2024 to go 10x climate positive. It is a way to reach billions of sports interested people with a message about ambitious natural climate solutions,” Mr Rasmussen reports. An interesting alliance was formed in Starboard’s home of Thailand when the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding with leading cement producer SCG in 2019. The duo has worked on using discarded cement bags in the inner lining for Starboard board bags as well as climate parks in Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam while developing other potential projects.
“When Ms Kjersti Rødsmoen, the Norwegian Ambassador to Thailand and Cambodia, and Mr Axel Blom introduced us to Dr Tine Rørvik, Global Director Circular Economy, SCG and Innovation Director Europe, and her crew at SCG, we were perhaps partners at first sight,” Mr Rasmussen explains. “It’s interesting to see a company like SCG working on how to reduce their emissions to minimise their general company tax while framing climate change as an opportunity instead of a barrier.”
The story of Starboard is one of innovation as it is always striving to make improvements across all aspects of business. This is something that started back in 1994 with the launch of the windsurfing company in Thailand. “From 1994 to 1999, we worked incredibly hard but had loads of good fun as well. To create a new brand with USD 10,000 was tough and we were often told that the last thing the world needed was a new windsurfing brand. However, we had a lot of people cheering for us too,” Mr Rasmussen recalls. “We did things differently. We built super-light sandwich boards with Australian pine and employed the inventor of windsurfing, Jim Drake. He is the man behind the X15, the plane that after over 50 years still holds the highest speed ever recorded by a crewed powered aircraft.”
As the company grew and its products became more popular worldwide, there was a realisation that it was one of the larger polluters in the water sports industry. In 2015, a group advisor urged Mr Rasmussen to look beyond its sports equipment world in search of new inspiration. “This led us to look for ways to work on our carbon footprint. We now include both plastic and carbon footprint calculations on most of our products and then indicate how we make them 10X carbon positive by natural climate solutions,” Mr Rasmussen points out.
This presented the company with another obstacle. It has needed to explain the things it has learned about carbon and ocean plastic to customers and help them see the value in live ecosystems as opposed to dead ones. “It’s a fun challenge to find ways to educate our customers about environmental issues and solutions through our product stories.” Mr Rasmussen states. “Nature is underrated in the climate debate. We somehow trust possible future man-made carbon capture machines more than the natural carbon capture method that has proven itself forever.”
Additionally, Starboard has made numerous changes over the years to help it improve sustainability. The company installed solar panels at its suburban Bangkok headquarters to be self-reliant when it comes to energy. The water sports firm also teamed up with several organisations, including Parley for the Oceans and Trash Hero, on local clean-up efforts. Environmental innovation is only one aspect of what Starboard does. It is committed to developing new products that win world championships and magazine tests. To that end, the company’s boards have won six out of the last eight gold medals at the ICF SUP World Championships in addition to being named SUPconnect Magazine’s Brand of the Year two years in a row.
“For us, it’s all about creating equipment that makes it easy for anyone to get started with our sports and to further develop gear that helps the best athletes win,” Mr Rasmussen notes. “Between SUP, windsurfing, kiteboarding and wing boarding, we develop perhaps 200 brand new shapes every year.” Starboard and Mr Rasmussen are even helping the Olympics innovate. In Paris 2024, 40 years after he appeared at the games, the iQFoil windsurfing class will be held for the very first time with the company being active in supporting these efforts.
“In the run-up to the Olympics, we have helped arrange all the global championships since being selected in 2019,” Mr Rasmussen states. “We have also introduced an iQFoil junior and youth class as a pathway to the Olympics and to improve the retention rate in sailing as it’s more exciting for most riders to foil on a windsurfing board than sitting down in a dinghy.”
- Starboard launched SOMWR, an apparel company, to help its environment messaging reach a larger audience.
- Both Starboard and SOMWR are 10X climate positive companies and all products are 10X climate positive.
- For every SOMWR product sold, 1.1 kilograms of beach ocean plastic is collected, and a mangrove tree is planted.
- Starboard is supporting the launch of the iQFoil windsurfing class at the 2024 Olympic games.
- Starboard is introducing the 10X climate positive concept as part of an environmental task force through ICF, PWA, iQFoil, and driving water sports events.
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