scorecardresearch

This New Hampshire resident built a surfboard out of 700 foam Dunkin’ coffee cups

Korey Nolan built an award-winning surfboard made from Dunkin' foam cups.
Korey Nolan built an award-winning surfboard made from Dunkin' foam cups.(Korey Nolan)

America may run on Dunkin’.

But Korey Nolan? He surfs on it off the Atlantic Coast.

The 32-year-old New Hampshire resident is the creator of an award-winning surfboard that he custom built using nearly 1,000 polystyrene foam Dunkin’ cups, an environmentally conscious project that took him almost a year to complete and has earned him high praise for his ingenuity from those in certain surfing circles.

Nolan, who has been surfing for about a decade, said he was inspired to build the board for the California-based Creators & Innovators Upcycle Contest, an international competition that calls on contestants to repurpose waste by turning it into something that can be used in the ocean.

Advertisement



Nolan first tested the contest’s waters in 2017, when he constructed a surfboard fin using acrylic waste materials plucked from scrap heaps at the sign shop where he works as a graphic designer.

The fin, however, didn’t exactly make waves.

But it wasn’t a total loss. The first-place winner that year, who built a surfboard out of 10,000 discarded cigarette butts, inspired Nolan to take another crack at it.

“After the 2017 event was over and I got a taste of the contest,” he said, “I was out for blood.”

Nolan decided to push his creativity to the limit. He would build an entire surfboard from scratch, using unconventional materials.

“I’ve become, personally, a little bit more aware of wastefulness and stuff like that, and some things like styrofoam cups really stand out,” he said.

As a New Englander, he saw discarded Dunkin’ foam cups not only as a problem for the environment but also an excellent material for a flotation device.

“From an objective point of view, it was a good option for making a surfboard,” he said.

Advertisement



Around November 2017, Nolan, who grew up in Plymouth, started collecting used Dunkin’ cups anywhere he could find them, relying mostly on those closest to him who guzzled down coffees.

“I put out a call to friends and family that if they were purchasing Dunkin’ Donuts coffee to please save the cups for me,” Nolan said. “I ended up collecting over 1,000 cups.”

As his cup count ticked higher, Nolan started the grueling and meticulous process of cutting and splicing them, brushing them with an environmentally friendly epoxy, and stacking them like shingles into a mold. From there, he compressed the foam down, over and over, to create two sides of the board.

In all, Nolan said it took around 20 layers of cups — about 700 cups in all — to complete that part of the process.

When it was finally done, Nolan affixed the sides together with bamboo stringer, shaped the board, and then coated it with fiberglass and more epoxy.

For the fins, he said, he used plastic Dunkin’ straws and other straws to give the board a small pop of color.

“Basically the whole thing was a challenge,” he said, laughing. “I was making strides as I could.”

While he tracked the number of cups used, the hours spent in the garage working on the project (with the help of his wife, Rebecca, and other family members) got away from him a bit.

“I don’t even know,” he said. “Hundreds [of hours], probably.”

Advertisement



Nolan kept people updated on his project by documenting the entire process on Instagram. At the end of August, he revealed the finished board.

“Immediately people were reaching out to me and congratulating me on it and telling me how great it was,” he said.

In October, the board won him second place in the 2018 Creators & Innovators Upcycle Contest, a redeeming moment for the designer after falling short the year before.

These days, Nolan’s Dunkin’ board sits in his garage on a rack with his other surfboards, and only gets used every now and again, he said.

“It rides great. It’s considerably heavier than a foam surfboard — it’s about 15 pounds almost — so that adds to the way that it rides,” he said. “Once you’re on it in the water, you wouldn’t know it’s twice as heavy as a standard board of the same size.”

Dunkin’, which recently rebranded itself, announced in February last year an ambitious plan to eliminate polystyrene foam cups from its global supply chain by 2020. In the US, the cups will be replaced with new double-walled paper cups that are currently being used in certain markets.

A spokeswoman for the Canton-based company said the move is part of their “commitment to serve both people and the planet responsibly.”

While Nolan still has around 200 of the cups in his house, and could potentially build a second board if he collected a few hundred more, he’d rather just wait for the day when scavenging polystyrene foam is no longer an option.

“That would be great if I didn’t have the supply for it,” he said. “We are so reliant on convenience, and disposables, and stuff we take and throw away and go about our day and don’t wonder where it goes, and it’s causing issues.”

Advertisement



View this post on Instagram

#creatorscontest 🍩 @visslasurf 🍩 @surfrider I don’t know if I could confidently name all of the shapers that have inspired me to build the things I’ve built and will build, but if you follow me, or if you’re a surfcrafter and seeing this, chances are, I follow you, and you’ve inspired me to make, and I thank you. I would like to call one surfcrafter out for his tremendous patience and guidance through the rough spots I’ve faced with this build. Thank you, @johnnyborbone, for being you. I’ve received many messages over the months regarding this board. Questions, comments, praise, and also doubt. I am thankful for and humbled by all of it. I began this project with the contest in mind, but am ending it with the realization that this was a worthy endeavor for me as a surfer, a builder, and a human. Regardless of the outcome of this contest, I’m proud of my first surfboard, and hope it helps raise awareness for the overwhelming waste we accumulate and that it inspires people to question what they consume on a daily basis and where it goes when they throw it out. EPS foam isn’t easy to recycle. It is 90% air, bulky to transport, and challenging to clean for recycling and repurposing. It is easily carried off by the wind, and breaks down into smaller pieces, often ingested by fish and other animals, that are then consumed by larger animals, and ultimately humans. This creates a concentration of dangerous compounds within us that causes illness and potentially, death. We must reflect upon how we treat our planet, and ourselves. #vissla #surfrider #diyordie #recycle #banplasticstraws #coffee #dunkindonuts #dunkin #supersap #surfing #newengland #newhampshire #maine #massachusetts #rhodeisland #ocean #surfcraft #handshaped #eps

A post shared by Korey Nolan (@koreytnolan) on

View this post on Instagram

#creatorscontest 🍩 @visslasurf 🍩 @surfrider I don’t know if I could confidently name all of the shapers that have inspired me to build the things I’ve built and will build, but if you follow me, or if you’re a surfcrafter and seeing this, chances are, I follow you, and you’ve inspired me to make, and I thank you. I would like to call one surfcrafter out for his tremendous patience and guidance through the rough spots I’ve faced with this build. Thank you, @johnnyborbone, for being you. I’ve received many messages over the months regarding this board. Questions, comments, praise, and also doubt. I am thankful for and humbled by all of it. I began this project with the contest in mind, but am ending it with the realization that this was a worthy endeavor for me as a surfer, a builder, and a human. Regardless of the outcome of this contest, I’m proud of my first surfboard, and hope it helps raise awareness for the overwhelming waste we accumulate and that it inspires people to question what they consume on a daily basis and where it goes when they throw it out. EPS foam isn’t easy to recycle. It is 90% air, bulky to transport, and challenging to clean for recycling and repurposing. It is easily carried off by the wind, and breaks down into smaller pieces, often ingested by fish and other animals, that are then consumed by larger animals, and ultimately humans. This creates a concentration of dangerous compounds within us that causes illness and potentially, death. We must reflect upon how we treat our planet, and ourselves. #vissla #surfrider #diyordie #recycle #banplasticstraws #coffee #dunkindonuts #dunkin #supersap #surfing #newengland #newhampshire #maine #massachusetts #rhodeisland #ocean #surfcraft #handshaped #eps

A post shared by Korey Nolan (@koreytnolan) on


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.