University of British Columbia wood scientist Phil Evans has created a pull buoy for swimming out of balsa wood, a more environmentally-friendly material than the foam that is typically used.
“I made one for myself for fun. People were curious at first, but after they started to see how well it worked they all wanted one,” said Evans, the BC Leadership Chair in advanced manufacturing technology in the faculty of forestry and former director of the Centre for Advanced Wood Processing, where he sawed, sanded and laser-engraved the balsa buoys.
Pull buoys act as a flotation device between the legs, so a swimmer can work out their shoulders and arms.
Past and present members of the UBC Thunderbirds swim team, including former captain Rebecca Terejko, now use a balsa buoy Evans made for them.
“My foam buoys have all fallen apart after wear and tear, but the wooden buoy has held up,” said Terejko, a two-time national champion in the 50-metre breaststroke and coach for the UBC Masters Swim Club, of which Evans is a member.
According to Evans, balsa wood, which he calls “nature’s foam,” is a more sustainable pull buoy alternative than the ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) foam, which can contain a number of chemicals that can leak into a pool.
“The grain of the wood grips better against your legs, and it doesn’t feel slimy like foam does,” he said.
Most of the world’s supply of balsa wood comes from plantations in Ecuador, but Evans got his supply from plantations in Papua New Guinea. While he has no plans to mass-produce the wooden buoy, Evans has trademarked the name “balsa buoy” and is making a few more for members of the UBC Thunderbirds swim team.
- Additional pool footage available here