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…
How did you land in Oaxaca?
We came to Oaxaca maybe five or six years ago as part of the Catapulta sustainability festival. I was playing guitar with my friend Mia Maestro, and Brit and I brought down a bunch of ukuleles and did some workshops out in the Sierra Norte, teaching kids how to play them. Music is a great equalizer, so if you can sit down and play with someone from a different place or culture, you have this point of communication, and music can take you places. It was awesome. And it was a great introduction to Oaxaca.
How did you get involved in repurposing agave waste?
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.
What did you do with the this new agave bio composite?
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 replacement. 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 are 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.
Can you tell me about the surf fin project?
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.
How about the Tiki Bar?
Oh yeah we have a tiki bar here in Oaxaca. Aloha Oaxaca. It turns out Brit isn’t a huge mezcal fan, so after living here and working on the agave project for half a year we broke down and made our own little field of dreams. We really missed our favorite tiki bar, Tiki Ti in Los Angeles, which was right down the street from our house, and we found a killer spot right in the middle of downtown Oaxaca city. Turns out there’s a lot of people who love tiki cocktails in this part of the world. They just didn’t know it. Oaxaca already had killer mezcal, no question. But sometimes you just need to drown yourself in a Scorpion Bowl with Hawaiian music playing and birds singing in the background, no matter where you find yourself in the world. Also we use bamboo straws.
If you could share a mezcal with one person (living or dead), who would it be and why?
Greta Thunberg… That girl is an inspiration. I don’t know what the drinking age where she’s from is but one fine day I’d love to share a mezcal and shoot the shit with someone who has really made the whole world sit up and take notice. We all have to live on this earth, and we need more people like her to hold us accountable for our selfish decisions. I don’t know but I hope we’d get along.
Find out more about Aaron and Brit’s many projects here: