Surfing is more than a sport. It’s also a love affair with the ocean and with nature. But what about protecting the environment in which we surf? What about ocean friendly, sustainable surfing? Are we doing our part to protect our precious ocean, nature and the environment? For sure we are not angels, considering how many flights we take to get to surfing destinations. But every surfer can at least try to be a little bit more environmentally aware on surf trips.
Here are 11 tips if you want to be a greener surfer:
1. Surf greener surfboards!
“The Hawaiians surfed on wood. The Peruvians surfed on reed. We surf on plastic.” – Veit Juergens
The construction of fiberglass surfboards with polyester resin and polyurethane foam cores has revolutionized the sport of surfing. These materials allow a wide variety of board shapes that are impressively light and durable, offer a proprietary “flex” that improves ride quality and are easy to repair if damaged. Unfortunately, all of the benefits that have made poly boards the standard of today come at an environmental price by way of toxic fumes during production and the non-recyclablility of their materials.
But increasingly surfboard manufacturers are experimenting with new materials. The environmental aspect of new board technologies often is a driving factor. As part of the Ecoboard Initiative, Firewire recently presented boards with a deck of sustainably-produced Paulownia wood. The core, however, is still plastic.
Made entirely of wood, with no core and hollow, Kun_tiqi builds its boards. The European representative manufactures boards out of balsa wood from sustainable sources. (BTW, I also have built my own hollow wooden board, check my blog post here).
In addition to traditional boards, Gerry Schlegel’s German board company, Buster, provides greener options, too. Buster uses an IX-PS foam core (Polystrene) with an epoxy layer and is said to not offgas toxins when incinerated at the end of their lifecycle. Buster also claim these boards can be recycled, but don’t offer specifics on how or where to do so. Another eco-conscious alternative from Buster uses a sustainable bamboo wood deck instead of traditional fiberglass resin layer.
Cork is another material being used to make more eco-friendly surfboards by manufacturers, but these are currently a very expensive option.
2. Use environmentally friendly surf wax!
Sex Wax is not sexy, at least in terms of its ecological impact. Surf wax usually consists of petrochemical additives such as paraffins that pollute the ocean. Soy is another primary ingredient found in surf wax. In addition soy seems to be more organic and therefore better. But soy is a plant which is used in the agricultural industry and in genetic engineering. Biodiversity is highly threatened through soy farming, particularly in Argentina, where soy is cultivated for the production of animal feed and other products – with disastrous consequences for humans and the environment.
There are several self-titled eco-surf wax products available that, unfortunately, are only eco-friendly by name alone. The German magazine Surfers had a deeper look into the ingredients of these waxes some time ago and came to a somewhat sobering conclusion: Petrochemical additives were often found in these self-proclaimed “eco-surf” waxes. Real”green” surf waxes, according to Surfers: Famous, Sticky Bumps and Greenfix (there is a cooperation with Kun_tiqi). However, it remains unclear if organic soy is used in these waxes.
3. Avoid plastic!
There is hardly a beach where you won’t find it – plastic. The images of Chris Jordan with dead albatrosses choking on plastic went around the world. The pictures shook things up and once more made clear that we are on the wrong path if we continue to pay homage to the plastic gods. In the North Pacific alone floats a plastic whirlpool, which is said to be as large as the geopraphical size of Europe.
Plastic waste disposal on the beach and in the sea is a major problem. Surfing destinations often lack infrastructure for waste management. Rivers and the sea are used as rubbish dumps. In Bali, as one of many examples, this lack of waste management gets evident especially during the monsoon season (November to March). Due to heavy rainfall and currents the whole plastic garbage ends up on the west coast. In some cases contamination is so heavy that bathing bans are declared.
There are currently many discussions about avoidance of plastic. Petitions are launched to ban plastic bags. I myself haven’t bought or used plastic bags for years, and instead I use a cloth bag.
Plastic bottles are also a huge problem. At home I only drink tap water and have banished plastic bottles from my household. When I go out, I take my water bottle with me which can be refilled when needed.
While traveling this is more difficult. In many countries, tap water is not drinkable. Cleaning with carbon filters, UV devices or even chemicals is cumbersome to questionable (especially in the case of cleaning with chemicals). I use to buy larger 5-liter canisters in order to refill multiple used smaller bottles. I try to avoid brands of Nestle.
A life without any plastic IS possible, as Lindsay shows on her blog Treadingmyownpath. She writes about sustainable living and avoiding plastic in both everyday life and on her travels. She has inspired me to try the same thing on my surf next trips. Are you in?
4. Join beach clean ups!
On many beaches, beach clean-ups are now carried out in which volunteers collect plastics and other waste. You can inquire as to where and when the next beach clean up takes place and join in on your next surf trip! Beach clean-ups are also announced and organized by the Ocean Conservancy.
And for the smokers out there, the most commonly found trash on our beaches are cigarette butts. Another good reason to quit smoking!
5. Use eco-friendly cosmetics!
Whether a normal holiday or surf vacation: you’ve got your wash bag with you. That’s an awful lot of plastic, right? Shower gel in a plastic bottle, shampoo in a plastic bottle, contact lenses made out of plastics, as well as the bottle of cleanser accompanying them. Toothbrushes are of plastics, the toothpaste well as paste tube and the whitening toothpaste with micro plastic abrasive particles. Yep, quite a list…!
But there are alternatives: For example, simply returning to classic soap (of course without paraffin). Using a handy small metal box for traveling. Shampoos are available also in solid form (e.g. Lush). It is not only more environment friendly, it also lasts longer: My shampoo bar lasts up to 4 month (at normal hair washing every 2 to 3 days). Toothpaste is also available without abrasive particles and in a metal tube (e.g. from Ajona).
6. Make love not plastics!
Holidays. Love Days. Even while having sex you can be more environmentally aware. Why not use condoms by brands like Fair Squared that are made out of natural rubber latex?
7. Buy surf clothes made out of natural materials!
The big surf brands on the one hand like to present commercials with pretty, young surfers in untouched nature. The sustainability performance and transparency in terms of production conditions, health and environment, on the other hand, mostly is poor.
In many textiles, synthetic fibers such as polyester can be found. With every single washing of these clothes, small plastic particles shed and enter the groundwater. After their short fashion-related life, they end up in the garbage dumps of the world and only slowly rot away (or quite possibly don’t degrade at all).
Other chemicals, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates, can be harmful for those who wear the clothes, but are especially harmful for people in the manufacturing countries. In the production, toxic substances end up in the waste water during production, eventually finding their way into lakes, rivers and groundwater.
8. Wear an eco-wetsuit!
The most important outfit in the water (at least in Europe) is the wetsuit. Neoprene, actually a brand name of Dumont, consists of polychloroprene/chloroprene rubber, which is produced out of petrochemicals – plastic, again.
An alternative might be geoprene. Here polychloroprene is not extracted from petroleum but from limestone. But to mine and refine heavy impact on nature. Therefore this type of extraction is not very sustainable either.
A better idea is to return to renewable, organic materials such as guayule rubber. Patagonia uses this plant for some of their products. Although neoprene is still used, guayule is combined during manufacture. Currently, this seems to be the best option if you want to own an eco-wetsuit.
9. Put your board in an upcycled boardbag!
You can ship your old wetsuit to the guys from Klabauter in Hamburg, as they use old wetsuits to sew up new surfboard bags. What a great idea, don’t you think?
10. Rip the waves with recycled fins!
Driftwood produces handmade fins out of recycled material. All by hand! Check it out!
11. Reduce air travel and compensate!
After so many plastic topics yet another delicate issue. But not mentioning it would not be honest. My CO2 Foot print is as large as that of Giant Gulliver’s. On my Endless Summer Trip of 2012 and 2013 I took 40 flights around the globe.
To reach surf spots we surfers tend to fly. CO2, the by-product of burning jet fuel, is known as a climate killer and contributor to global warming and heats up the oceans. This leads to rise of sea level and the acidity and death of coral reefs, fewer fish, dead seas. And less reef breaks too!
But not flying wouldn’t be a solution either, it would as be comparable to washing everything by hand again rather than using a washing machine. Less flying would be a start. Shorter flights, choosing more direct connections, even if they are more expensive. Long-term stays and less hopping. Taking the bus or the ferry and instead of domestic flights. I’m not a big fan of CO2 compensation, as this doesn’t avoid the CO2 emissions. But it’s better than to do nothing. With Atmosfair f.e., you can compensate CO2 emissions by supporting an environmental project which benefits from the converted monetary amount.
Do you have more ideas for more environmental protection for surfers? Leave a comment! If you think that also others should read this article, please share it! Thank you!
Buy Sustainable Surf clothes:
EcoSurf Shop: www.ecosurfshop.eu
You like to do more? Here are a few surfing organisations, who are committed to the protection of the seas and the environment:
Sustainable Surf: www.sustainablesurf.org
Surf & Help: www.surfandhelp.org
Surfrider Foundation: www.surfrider.org
Surfers Against Seawage: www.sas.org.uk
Save The Waves: www.savethewaves.org
Surfers for Cetaceans: www.s4cglobal.org
This article has also been published in German language on www.preciousocean.com.