Environmental Impacts of Surfing

Sustainability goes a lot further than just recycling, banning plastic bags, or using natural ingredients. Sustainability requires taking a full look at a product’s life-cycle and the broader impacts that certain activities have.

Within surfing there exists a strange dichotomy of having a deep respect of the ocean and the environment while using equipment and participating in activities that can have harmful and unsustainable consequences.

Understanding the ways in which surfing is harmful and unsustainable in key to lessening your own personal impacts and driving change for the industry as a whole.

Negative Environmental Impacts of Surfing

Negative impacts of surfing stem from a few main sources:

  • The full product lifecycles of surfing equipment and accessories.
  • Materials used in the production and packaging of surfing equipment and accessories.
  • Surfing-related travel and tourism.

Lifecycles and Materials Used in Surfing Products

One of the big components to the sustainability and environmental footprint of surfing products (and any product really) is the extraction, processing, transportation, and disposal of the different materials used in each product.

Petroleum-based materials like neoprene or ingredients in surf wax, plastic, and even some natural materials take significant resources to extract, process, and refine. Machines, manufacturing plants, and transportation methods that run on fossil fuels have significant impacts on the end product’s carbon footprint.

Examining what it takes to refine and process materials into a finished product reveals how much waste is created, how much energy is used, and how toxic the process is.

Examining where the different components of a product are coming from has big impact as well. Is the product made locally or is coming from the other side of world via ships, semis, and delivery trucks?

Each material that goes into a surfboard or surfing product is a factor too. Is the material toxic to the environment? Like polyester resin or PU foam. Can the material be recycled or up-cycled at the end of its life?

As one example, in an analysis of traditional PU/poly surfboards and recycled EPS/epoxy surfboards, Sustainable Surf found that the Ecoboards had a 30% reduction in the overall carbon footprint.

Surf Travel & Tourism

Surf travel and tourism can also have negative impacts on the environment and the local communities.

The obvious one is transportation to the local beach and surfing destinations around the world. Are you biking, is your vehicle fuel efficient, are you driving an electric vehicle? Are the flights you take as direct as possible?

More people in any place creates issues with waste and waste disposal. When you go to the beach are you being mindful of the waste you create or are you adding to the problem? Beyond that, does the location have the infrastructure to support proper waste collection and management?

Surfing tourism can also create problems for small, local communities around the world that aren’t able to support the tourism demand that surfing has created – this can come in the form of how local businesses that support surfing tourists are run, how the local population is being treated by surfers and surfing businesses, and the impact (positive or negative) that these activities are supporting or harming the local communities.

Finding More Sustainable Solutions

Some of the issues facing the sustainability of surfing go beyond just surfing. But as a surfer, there is a lot you can do to influence change in the right direction and lower your own negative impacts.

It can start with the products you purchase and use:

  • Learn about where things are coming from and how they’re made. Shop and support locally sourced and produced products where you can.
  • Learn about what will become of the product once it has reached the end of its useful life. Look for things that you’ll be able to either reuse, recycle, upcycle, or dispose of without negative effects.
  • Buy products with materials and ingredients that won’t harm the environment and those working with them.
  • Demand products that are going to last you a long time.

For surf travel and tourism:

  • Think about how you’re getting to your locally beach and what you do when you get there.
  • Think about how you travel to far away surf destinations and what you do when you get there.
  • Think about the infrastructure that supports you being and surfing where you are.
  • Get involved with the local communities you visit and learn about the cultures and traditions, and figure out how you can participate and help out in a positive way.

All of this starts with simply staying curious and asking questions.

Companies, Programs, and Organizations Leading the Way

Fortunately, you’re not on your own when it comes to being a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious surfer. There are an increasing number of companies, programs, and organizations that are primarily focused on solving these issues. Additionally, many for-profit surfing brands are doing their part to make sustainability a core part of their operations.

Here are some that are leading the way:

  • Surfrider Foundation – the Surfrider Foundation takes action on a variety of issues that impact our oceans from the local level on up to the governmental policy and regulation level. They’re active in issues like single-use plastics, off-shore drilling, coastal access, and clean water.
  • Stoke Certified – Stoke Certified is an organization aimed at creating demand for sustainable surf tourism. The evaluate and certify surfing and snowboarding destinations (camps, hotels, services, etc) around the world on a variety of sustainability criteria that look at impacts on the environment, the people, the culture, and the future of a location.
  • Sustainable Surf – Sustainable Surf has a variety of programs aimed at protecting the ocean. The ECO-Board project looks to evaluate and certify the materials and methods that go into the production of surfboards.
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