While surfers spend more time immersed in the natural environment than most, it doesn’t mean the sport doesn’t come with plenty of environmental issues. Sure, the act of riding a wave does no harm to the planet, but from the carbon footprint and toxins involved in the production of non-recyclable surfboards to the amount of travel surfers do to chase waves, it’s hardly a sustainable sport to partake in.
However, the good news is that by making better choices, we can all help reduce our affect the planet. Here’s a handy guide on how to continue to love surfing, as well as help the planet.
Traditional fiberglass surfboards are made by covering polyester resin over polyurethane foam, which involves hazardous chemicals like styrene and VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). Epoxy boards use expanded polystyrene foam glassed with standard epoxy resin, a less toxic production process, but one that still comes with a heavy carbon footprint.
However more and more eco-friendly boards are being made. A good place is to start is Sustainable Surf’s Ecoboard Project, which lists out several manufacturers that make boards with primarily sustainable structure, such as wood, or a blank made of at least 40 percent recycled or biological materials, and epoxy resin with at least 15 percent biological, low VOC content.
The other issue comes with the fact surfboards cannot be recycled, meaning the majority will end up in a landfill. In this case, the best thing surfers can do is to simply prolong the life of each and every surfboard. This can be done by buying sturdier, more durable boards or purchasing secondhand boards. The best way to avoid a surfboard ending up a landfill is to just keep on riding it as long as you can.
Neoprene (the main component of almost all wetsuits) is nasty. From its dependency on limestone and oil and the energy to make it, through to its non-biodegradability, everything about it is harmful. That’s why selected brands have been looking to plant based alternatives. Patagonia has developed Yulex, a material that uses sustainably-certified plant-based rubber for their wetsuits.
And, French brand Picture Organic uses wetsuits that are made using chlorine-free rubber made primarily from corn. Vissla also has their Eco Seas range that uses a water-repellent body lining made from recycled bottles and a water-based lamination glue that is free of solvents.
Unfortunately these don’t come cheap – Again, simply lowering consumption might be key. By looking after your wetsuit and wearing it longer, you’ll be doing your part. That means washing it after every surf (and yes, we are sorry, you probably shouldn’t be peeing in it … We all have to make sacrifices).
Many surfing accessories (whether it’s fins, leashes or deck grip) are made from non-recyclable plastics and toxic glues. However there are fins made from 100-percent recycled and 100-percent recyclable materials, tail pads made from cork, recycled plastic leashes and wood sunglasses, and even bamboo wax combs. (The blog Surfnatur has a great list of the all these type of eco-friendly accessories.)
Water and Coffee
Americans used roughly 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, but only 23 percent were recycled. That means 38 billion water bottles – more than $1 billion worth of plastic – are wasted each year. Additionally the two biggest brands of bottled water use purified municipal water. For $10-$30, you can buy a reusable water bottle, save yourself money and help the environment. Couple that with a reusable coffee cup (Americans throw away 25 billion Styrofoam coffee cups every year) and your pre-surf cup of joe and post-shred rehydration is already making a big difference. With between eight and 12 million tons of plastic being dumped in the world’s seas each year, surfers need to lead the charge against single-use plastics.
Petrochemicals are used in 95 percent of surf wax found on the market today – Not good when most wax either ends up in the ocean, in the sand, on a land fill, or in the back of your car. However more organic options can be found such as Mantunas’ local and organic wax line, Bubble Gum’s Rob Machado Organik series, and Bees Knees Surf Wax. These options include soy-based wax, bees wax and other petroleum-free and biodegradable material.
A growing body of evidence indicates that chemicals found in sunscreen, specifically the compound oxybenzone, is dangerous to wildlife and coral reefs. Aethic is one brand that uses none of the chemicals found harmful to reefs. However more and more organic options exist, but a few basic rules work: First up check the label and stay away creams that contain from oxybenzone and octinoxate. (Also try to use creams that rub in rather than spray on.)
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