Women in business

Women in business: Meet Sarah Quinney, co-founder of Boardsox

Women in business: Meet Sarah Quinney, co-founder of Boardsox

Surfing is a sport that is so intrinsically linked to nature, yet there is a long way to go in making the industry and community more eco-friendly.

From the impacts of surfing tourism to disputes over coastal development to the materials needed to participate in the sport, surfing has some serious sustainability issues.

Professor Marc in het Panhuis is the driving force behind the University of Wollongong’s Surf Flex Lab, which studies the intersection between sport and science, focusing on performance, materials, and sustainability.

He said that despite the strong correlation between the environment and surfing, serious problems exist within the sport.

“It is the materials that are used, how much wastage there is in shaping and creating the boards,” he said at a 2022 Surfing as a Science event in Wollongong.

“Currently, there is no way of recycling old surfboards, so when they break or outlive their use, they often end up in landfill.”

Surfboards and surfboard cover fibres that find their way into the water can also release foam and harmful microplastics that pollute the ocean.

That’s why Australian-owned surf brand Boardsox is working to combat this concerning trend and improve sustainability in the surfing sector.

Sarah Quinney, the co-founder of Boardsox and a serial entrepreneur, is leading the charge to connect the surfing community back to its core values, one sustainable surfboard cover at a time.

Having surfed all her life, Quinney vividly remembers the polyester covers she would use to protect her surfboard between uses. The material was not only non-biodegradable and bad for the environment, the material would stick to her board wax, making for a frustrating start to her morning surf sessions.

She saw an opportunity to use a high-quality, durable canvas that was specially coated so that it wouldn’t stick to the board wax and would actually last the test of time. Never one to shy away from a challenge, she set out to design the product she wished existed.

Quinney started her business in her home garage in Torquay, one of Victoria’s surfing hubs.

Now, she is making waves in a male-dominated industry, with a mission to make products that surfers know are sustainable and ethical and which give back to its community.

Women in business: Meet Sarah Quinney, co-founder of Boardsox

The journey to launching Boardsox

Long before Boardsox became a reality, Quinney had dreamt about creating something unique within the surfing industry.

She still has the business plan she created when she was 18 for an all-girls surf shop called Mary Janes, the first in a long line of her entrepreneurial endeavours.

Quinney completed a Master of Design, strongly emphasising sustainable surfboards and packaging for products like surf wax.

She also ran her own successful online store highlighting the environmental and health benefits of her raw vegan lifestyle, which she ultimately sold to pursue her passion for sustainable surfing products.

She reached out to her brother Dan, who she had taught to surf years earlier, to tackle the problem of unsustainable surfboard covers together.

“Given it is such a male-dominated space, it (the business) probably wouldn’t be what it is without that partnership as it’s still very much a boys club,” she said.

While there is now a new generation of women doing amazing things in surfing, Quinney observes there is still much work to be done in having women as leaders in the industry.

“It is exciting to see the new CEO of Ripcurl is a woman, so things are changing,” she said.

“I have a bit of a bull approach to business and believe that if someone else can create it, then so can I.”

Women in business: Meet Sarah Quinney, co-founder of Boardsox

‘Not all surfers are ocean activists – that’s where I come in’

For an industry firmly rooted in the ocean and full of people with a strong connection to the environment and nature, it surprises many that large surfing brands are lagging behind in their commitment to reducing their environmental footprint.

Quinney explained that smaller brands are leading the charge in shifting towards more sustainability. Meanwhile, larger, mainstream surfing brands are just starting to jump on the bandwagon and move over to more environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes.

“Not all surfers are ocean activists, and that’s where I come in – building a brand that gives back because we’re passionate about it being part of our value system,” she said.

Surfboard covers were one of the last areas of the surfing industry to get creative with sustainability, so Quinney jumped at the chance to fill the gap in the market and create something that made a difference.

“Our community and our customers are what make us special. They want to be part of the change and the movement in buying products that have value to them, that stand for something, and mean something,” she said.

Boardsox proudly stands by its values and openly shares them with its customers, such as resisting the pressure to join the November Black Friday sale madness, which many critique as a promotion of mindless consumption that creates excessive waste and emissions.

Doing well in business by doing right by the planet

Boardsox has had extraordinary success, which Quinney credits to their strong mission statement, connection, and alignment with its customers.

In addition to its strong focus on environmental sustainability, Boardsox maintains three strong charity partnerships with individual designs created by different artists, including Indigenous artist Zachary Bennett-Brook of Saltwater Dreamtime.

Proceeds from these designs go to partner charity Juraki Surf Culture, which connects Indigenous children with surfing, and has generated more than $5000 for these charities so far.

Bennett-Brook described how his designs were inspired by the beautiful natural patterns of Australia’s oceans, featuring interconnected shapes representing meeting places, and the connection between us and the planet we call home and must do more to protect.

Quinney credits much of her business growth to a strong social media presence. About 70 per cent of Boardsox sales come directly from Facebook advertising, and about 90 per cent of sales enquiries come through Instagram.

Quinney’s journey began when she first stepped onto a surfboard at the age of 15, and it is far from over. She is changing the game and returning the surfing community to its roots – something she says it has been yearning for ever since RipCurl, the last of the big Australian independent surf brands, was sold three years ago to Kathmandu group.

Boardsox will soon launch its new range of surfboard covers made entirely from recycled plastic – the first of its kind to be made in Australia.

Watching her business boom, having nurtured it from its early beginnings in her garage, Quinney strongly encourages women with entrepreneurial aspirations to dive in.

“Never give up,” she said. “If someone else can make it happen, so can you.”

Emma Lennon

Emma Lennon


Emma Lennon is a passionate writer, editor and community development professional. With over ten years’ experience in the disability, health and advocacy sectors, Emma is dedicated to creating work that highlights important social issues.