Surf's up in Portland: Yana catches balsa board wave
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
World-class big-wave surfer Maya Gabeira both endorses and is an investor in the Yana surfboard company, which houses its sales, marketing and design operations in Portland.
A company that makes high-end sustainably produced surfboards has quietly established a sales, marketing and product design presence in Portland.
Yana, which makes surfboards from Ecuadoran balsa wood, is using a model deployed by such companies as Nike Inc. and Adidas, said Wilson Zehr, the company's CEO and founder of the tech company Zairmail. The boards cost more than $3,000 and are made from wood that, according to a Yana spokeswoman, "grows like a weed" in Ecuador.
Most boards are made from what Yana's leaders call "petrochemical badness."
The company is also planning to expand into the apparel sector. To that end, it has enlisted Maya Gabeira, an acclaimed Brazilian big-wave surfer. Gabeira was in Portland this week for a photo shoot to promote the Yana board line.
"We do all the design work here," Zehr explained. "The designs are transferred to Ecuador where wood is cut and then rough-shaped blanks are created and chambered. These blanks then head to our facilities in Florida or California where they are finish shaped by iconic expert shapers and glassed. The finished boards are then shipped to customers."
Zehr said that over time, more of the finish shaping and glassing will be done in Portland.
"We have a lot of local talent already serving the wind surfing industry," he said. "However, the farming of balsa and rough-shaping will probably always take place where the wood actually grows."
Yana uses balsa because it's considered a sustainable hard wood that grows naturally in Central and South American rain forests. Zehr said it's even considered a nuisance in some areas.
Some balsa trees are 80 feet high with trunk diameters exceeding 30 inches. When the wood is dried, it's both light and extremely strong.
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