sustainable surfing guide

Oceans And The Environment Are Endangered: Here’s How Sustainable Surfers Can Help

André Gonçalves

André Gonçalves - Editor & Head Of English Market

After studying and working in HR, André studied sustainability management at Lisbon's School Of Economics & Management. He is responsible for the English speaking market of Youmatter since 2018.

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How can surfers help protect the ocean? What is the lifecycle of a surfboard? Why is repairing and reusing so important?

Oceans Are Endangered. And So Is The Environment

Human activities are changing the environment and creating dangerous and harmful climate change effects. We are increasingly emitting greenhouse gases (often referred to as CO2 equivalent and then to CO2) every year – while we should be reducing it 7,5%/year during this new decade. These gases end up concentrated in the atmosphere and prevent the heat from getting out, causing the planet to heat and the climate to change.

Where does all this heat go to then? You might be asking yourself. It follows different paths. While some heat gets absorbed by the soil, plants, and trees, the largest share gets absorbed by the oceans (around 90% over the last 50 years). As the oceans heat, they get more acidic (a process known as ocean acidification), changing entires ecosystem chains, harming marine biodiversity and causing corals to bleach.

Of course, there is also the issue of plastic pollution. Spreading all over the oceans and being mistaken for food, plastic and microplastic put at risk the health and lives of marine biodiversity – from fishes and crustaceans to zooplankton and worms. It’s good to mind that humans eat fish, crustaceans and sea salt – and some studies on bottled water or shellfish are already suggesting we’re ingesting microplastics too.

As Responsible Citizens And Conscious Consumers, What Can Be Done?

Corporations, especially large ones, should proactively measure their impact and mitigate it. Policy-makers have in their hands the power to “rapidly” regulate markets and create incentives or regulations to shape the economic scenario differently. But as consumers, we can try to do our part and push for positive change (even if slow) by using our wallets responsibly.

In this piece, we came together with a list of how to contribute to solving some of the problems we have just mentioned. We made this list especially for those who benefit from the ocean perhaps a little more than the norm: surfers.

This more continued relationship among surfers and the ocean is likely to lead surfers to feel some extra sensitivity to this issue and a higher moral responsibility to contribute to the preservation of the blue part of the planet.

1 – Be Mindful About Your Surf Travels

Planes emit harmful greenhouse gases: there’s no away around that. Try the Portuguese coast, home to one of the stops of the World Surf League. Nice warm weather all year long (especially in the south) and the 3rd safest country in the world in 2019 according to the Global Peace Index.

Sorry to disappoint you but according to the UN’s Carbon Calculator, a Munich(GER)-Faro(PT) will make you accountable for 350,4kg/CO2 per passenger. Want to surf mythical Pipeline and you’re coming from Boston? That’s 1049kg/CO2/passenger – and you’ve just spent half of the individual target we should also individually aim to keep emissions under a 2º Celcius temperature increase. The point is: it’s a lot of emissions. And it’s not really like traveling by car do a better job either: unless you share the car with 3 other people, they are likely as bad.

Wanting to travel the world and surf the world’s best spots is totally understandable. So the advice is not that you become an extremist and stop doing these travels. Rather, the idea is that you limit your travels and try to cover shorter distances. If surfing in-town or within your country of residence, try to catch public transport you take someone else along so you can lower your car’s emissions per person.

2 – Offset Your Surf Travels

The pollution coming from transportation we just mentioned can also be offset – this means neutralizing the CO2 impact previously caused. Among the most common ways of doing so is usually tree planting (an easy, natural and effective method).

The investment in other social or environmental projects in developing countries that wouldn’t otherwise have happened is also a common (but not mandatory) practice among polluting businesses (more about it here). For instance, wind turbine projects to power villages or solar energy panels to power wastewater treatment plants can balance excessive CO2 emissions from large emitters.

Offsetting, taken to the limit of its meaning, is very complicated to be truly achieved. As Stewart wisely puts it, engines have other emissions that pollute the local environment, planes are loud and airports use a lot of (concrete) space without green surroundings. Despite offsetting not being a perfect idea, it’s better to contribute to planting trees (which has an enormous potential to help tackle climate change according to studies) than doing nothing at all.

3 – Participate Or Organize Beach Cleanups

Organize a beach up with your friends and family and use the power of social networks to invite the community around you. Another idea is joining someone else or some organization that’s already doing it – as is often the case with hotspots of the Surfrider Foundation. The goal is simple: keep beaches trash-free.

4 – Join An Organization That Promotes Ocean Protection

You can volunteer and offer your time and energy, become a club member with a regular subscription or even give financially to support a cause or project that resonates with you.

There are small local associations fighting local problems such as bio conservation or plastic pollution. Others, more globalized institutions, such as the WWF or the Ocean Conservation Trust have larger and more ambitious problems such as raising awareness of unsustainable or illegal fishing. Whatever the case, there are plenty of organizations to choose from.

5 – Be Mindful Of The Surfing Equipment You Choose: The Lifecycle Of Surfboards

sustainable surf lifecycle
Image credits to Vartiainen (2018). The New Wave Of Sustainable Surf Industry. Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences

The surf manufacturing industry, with all the energy it consumes, has a very significant carbon footprint. Building surfboards has its own emissions. If we think of their lifecycle, they mean spending energy and different materials at different stages, and the generation of side waste. Let’s take a look at the picture above.

As we visualize a suggestion of the different stages of a surfboard’s lifecycle (gathering materials, construction, distribution, usage, and waste) it becomes easier to understand some often non-considered impacts.

For instance, a board using resin made of waste products from other industries (let’s say sugar production, using sugar cane) is likely more sustainable than a petrol-based resin. A wood board using wood coming from a sustainably managed forest where trees are re-planted is more eco-friendly than one using wood whose origin is unknown. A shaper (or a factory) using renewable energy (especially in locations with a fossil-fuel-based energy grid) is likely more sustainable than using electricity from a coal or oil grid.

All these details ultimately contribute to a more sustainable surfboard. The odds are that the large surf industry players start moving towards adopting these principles as they see consumers worried about these questions.

Mind that you can also buy a second-hand surfboard (not in such a perfect shape, but not as expensive either). If the second-hand movement grows, this signals producers something else they need to work on: that customers want a market of second-hand products. Products that were originally made with enough quality to last – and again this incentivizes the industry to start working harder on issues like durability or eco-design.

All we have just spoken about is true not only for surfboards but for all other surf materials too. Be it wetsuits, leashes, decks, surfboard bags or wax – there are always different production methods that make them either more or less eco-friendly. So try to critically look at what you buy and privilege more responsible processes, playing your part in contributing to a more eco-friendly industry.

6 – Extend The Lifecycle Of Your Surf Equipment

Just before we spoke of buying second-hand equipment. In other words, this means reusing what uses to belong to someone else. If you are familiar with the sustainability Rs terminology, you know that before recycling comes refusing, reducing and reusing/repairing.

By reusing (other people’s or your own) surfboards, wetsuits or leashes, you will be keeping them away from landfills and extending their lifecycles. On a large scale, this can reduce the need to produce new ones and the impacts coming from this production.

So try to resist the consumer urge to constantly get new equipment. Ride your board for the longest you can (or give it so someone else if, for instance, you want a new one for as your expertise grows). If it gets broken, don’t be like the 90% of surfers – go repair it. And do it with your wetsuits too! If they can’t be repaired anymore, reuse them for decoration, donate them to an artist or, if they are too damaged, deliver they somewhere where it can be sent to be recycled.

7 – Protecting The Oceans Goes Beyond Surfing

There are a couple of other ways to help protect the ocean that don’t necessarily involve surfing. Discover them in our piece: Ocean Protection – 8 Things You Can Do To Help Protect The Oceans.

[Image credits to Shutterstock on surfboards]

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