Yeah, we might participate in a beach clean up once in a while. Or maybe send a few bucks to Surfrider or some other environmental group but when we really break down some of our most common habits, it wouldn’t seem we as surfers are really doing that much considering how important the ocean is to us.
Before we get into that, we wanted to make one opinion that we have very clear: That being the notion that if someone isn’t going to make an absolute, 100% effort to completely give up certain “mod cons” that may be harmful to the environment, then we might as well do nothing. OK, straight up, that’s the biggest bullshit excuse ever. Even picking up one piece of trash, one bike ride instead of a car, or even just turning off an unneeded light is doing something and that’s where this conversation needs to start. Doesn’t matter what China or India are doing, or even your neighbor. If each of us simply does the best they can each day, it will make a difference. We aren’t going to get on some soap box and tell you what to do, but each one of us can make lifestyle changes if indeed we personally feel it’s important enough. That is if any of us are actually interested in making that difference.
That out of the way, let’s have a look at a few of our primary sins.
Surfing and travel are synonymous. Have been since the beginning. Unfortunately, we now know a lot more about just how dirty air travel can be, yet getting to some of our favorite spots does require it. There really isn’t much of an alternative on this if you want to go surf some far-off location. That choice is simply up to each individual to decide what impact we want to make on the environment. See above. If indeed you chose to reduce your time aloft in carbon fuel powered aircraft that is rad and we salute you. If if it means cutting back on one or two trips a year. The commercial airline industry isn’t going to be happy but the point being we can make substantive changes in our habits if we really want to.
Surfboards. Yep, this is truly our Achilles Heel as it relates to surfing and the environment. A blank manufactured from polyurethane wrapped in fiberglass and covered with a petroleum-based resin is a very “dirty” construction method on many levels. The materials used, the manufacturing process, the surfboard breakdown once it’s discarded, is simply not sustainable. Well folks, that is changing as we speak. An early adopter to the clean surfboard process, Arctic Foam, is now manufacturing an algae-based blank. Arctic has recently partnered with a few top brands, and their team, to test the product and work out any bugs before full production gets underway. As of this writing Jon Pyzel is making algae boards for John Florence, Jack Freestone and Jack Johnson (the musician), and others. Channel Islands is using them, along with Lost, T&C, Sharp Eye, and Timmy Patterson. The company hopes that by mid-2020 any shaper will have access to this technology. To further promote environmentally friendly surfboard production, Arctic is also encouraging shapers to use “bio-resins” with their algae blanks to reduce the toxic fumes associated with petroleum-based resins. Going forward, it looks like there may just be some options. If you’re interested, next time you order a board simply ask your shaper for these new construction processes.
Right behind our surfboards, the wetsuits we use require a toxic stew in the development of the traditional neoprene materials. However, we are seeing more wetsuit options made from some alternative materials. Patagonia is currently marketing their Yulex line of wetsuits made from mostly natural rubber. Vissla also has a new suit which, although still using a neoprene product, features a new material that has made great strides in reducing harmful emissions, as well as the amount of water used in the construction process. Hopefully, we will see this momentum towards cleaner wetsuit options continue.
Last, many of the clothing manufacturers in the surf space have also begun to make an eco-friendly push in their construction processes. Volcom, for instance, has done a ton of heavy lifting to reduce waste and promote not only cleaner production but also demanding ethical labor practices from their manufacturing vendors. One cool note on Volcom: they are sharing what they have learned with their competitors in an “open source” fashion. They are doing this for no other reason than to help all brands be better in the construction process. Hats off to Volcom VP, “Big” Tony Alvarez, your efforts are amazing.
As the consumer, we hold the key. It’s up to us to demand these and other products from the brands we like. Bottom line, we simply must do better if indeed surfers are to actually be the stewards of the ocean we pretend to be.
Why wouldn’t we?