Two things in life that pair well together are mezcal and surfing. When we found out that our friends Aaron Robinson and Brittany Graeff were making surf fins constructed from discarded mezcal plant waste, we were speechless. The couple also own the only tiki bar in Oaxaca… double whammy. Sometimes life just opens unexpected doors, and luckily for Aaron and Brittany they have no problem jumping through those doors.
Madre sat down with this amazing duo, shared a couple Tiki drinks, and asked them some questions…
We spent a month in Puerto Escondido writing grant proposals and surfing, and that’s kind of where everything came together. We ended up getting a grant through the Mexican government, to further develop agave bagazo biocomposites. We also work with ixtle, the long fibers from the pencas or leaves of the agave plants, which we weave into different weight fiberglass replacements. It’s like a bio-glass, I guess. The agave biocomposites are great for furniture, bowls, plates… It cuts like wood, and it’s completely non-toxic.
We’ve also been experimenting with starch-based plastics, and have developed a line of flatware that is biodegradable. It’s a ton of work right now, a lot of research and development. We have a great team, our partner Marco Antonio Villa Sorroza, had been working in injection and compression molding for years and is an agave expert. Our ideas and his ability really dovetailed magically.
I’d been working in the surf industry for a few years before packing everything up for Oaxaca, and I realized all the waste generated by that particular industry. Surfers, you’d think, would be super eco-conscious, I mean they’re out in the water all the time, in the ocean, surrounded by nature. But surfboards are some of the most toxic things out there today, and the technology hasn’t evolved really over the past fifty or sixty years. Boards are polystyrene foam wrapped in fiberglass and covered in toxic polyurethane resin. It’s oil. It’s the same shit we pump into our cars. And it’s not indicative of what surfing should represent or strive for. There are only a handful of shapers even interested in ecologically sound, non-toxic, ‘green’ materials.
One of my dad’s oldest friends is Gary Linden, a big wave pioneer and famous shaper, who actually builds boards from agave quiotes. He’d been interested in agave and had been going down that route for a long time, and eventually began working with Jose Cuervo on an all agave surfboard. Gary found out we were living in Oaxaca, and I brought some of our materials samples up to him in Oceanside, California, and he was super stoked. He gave me a couple of his original longboard fin molds and I brought them back down to Oaxaca and we started making these awesome fins.
We call them Mezcalero Fins, ya know, because they are made out of agave bagazo. I could even tell you what kind of mezcal goes into each of these fins. They work great, too. They’ve got a great flex. And each one is hand made. Dinosaur safe, too. No oil was used in the making of these fins! Right now we make 8” and 9” longboard fins.
The agave waste project was a continuation of the ukulele music classes. All the instruments we brought down were Chinese made, and Oaxaca has such a history of woodworking and craftsmanship that I couldn’t believe we had to import these shitty little instruments. Why couldn’t they be designed and built here, with local artisans? But then we thought, why can’t they be produced here and also serve another purpose, recycling agave waste.
We thought it would be really easy, and that this material would exist, but to our surprise nothing like it existed. So we, uh, created a bio composite of bagazo and a plant based epoxy and started experimenting. Turns out ukuleles are really hard to make! Not impossible, but they have a lot of pieces and are really time consuming to construct.