Eco-friendly surf products are more important than ever before
How environmentally damaging is surfing? Can the surf industry ever be a leader in sustainability? We take a look at the environmental impact of surfing and what products you can swap out to lessen your own impact.
Surfing requires harmony with nature. Standing on a wave is only possible when the surfer gives up control and decides to follow the ocean’s lead. This is why we keep coming back, day after day, to unite ourselves with something greater.
Naturally, surfers tend to be passionate about respecting the ocean, that means preserving her and keeping her clean. We have an understanding that every action we take affects everyone and everything around us.
Surfers are behind several clean ocean initiatives. Take 3 for the Sea encourages surfers to pick up three pieces of trash as the finish each surf session.
The Surfrider Foundation, with over 100 chapters in the U.S., states its ocean-friendly mission clearly:
“The Surfrider Foundation is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network.”
All over Instagram, you can find surfer swapping their plastic toothbrushes for bamboo, using stainless steel reusable water bottles and refusing plastic straws in their coconuts. Follow hashtags like #Take3fortheSea, #PlasticFreeCommunites (an initiative from Surfers Against Sewage) or #2minutebeachcleanup to see how surfers are doing their part to find eco-friendly solutions.
Surfing materials are Toxic
The surfing industry is growing quickly, expected to reach US$10.3 billion by the year 2024. That means the impact that surfers have on the environment is bigger than ever.
But surfers have a huge conflict when it comes to the most basic equipment we use.
- Surfboard blanks (foam cores) are made of polyurethane, which is extremely toxic to produce and work with. It does not break down in landfills. 400,000 new toxic surfboards are produced each year. Imagine what that looks like in a landfill!
- Surfboard resins, especially the most common polyester resins, are extremely toxic and non-biodegradable. Polyester resin is made of volatile organic compounds (VOC) which the EPA says cause a number of health issues including memory loss, central nervous system damage and even cancer. Have you ever noticed how your shaper or your ding repair guy seems a bit like a brilliant mad scientist? Well, that’s actually not a joke anymore. The central nervous system damage caused by resin and surfboard foam powder is real.
- Fins are made from the same toxic materials as boards, materials that pollute the air, are a health hazard for the people who make them and remain for hundreds of years in landfills.
- Wetsuits are made from neoprene, which is essentially a toxic rubber made from petroleum. Once again wetsuits are non-biodegradable and clog up landfills once they have served their purpose. The glue used to hold together wetsuit seams gives off toxic chemicals as it breaks down which pollute the air. Neoprene was originally used as lining for landfills, if that tells you anything about its biodegradability.
- Leashes are more of the same; petroleum-based and non-biodegradable.
- Wax is also made from 70% petroleum and contains the chemicals benzene and toluene which have been shown to harm humans.
- Sunscreen is loaded with toxic chemicals which have a devastating effect on ocean life. Sunscreen contains the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate, which decrease corals’ defenses against bleaching, damaging their DNA. The same chemicals that keep you from getting too much color actually strip the color from the coral which prevents their development.
- Board Shorts/bikinis are frequently made from synthetic petroleum-based materials using toxic manufacturing processes emitting tons of CO2 daily from the clothing plants.
There are 20 million surfers in the world. We are the problem and the solution.
Most surfers have multiple surfboards. When they break one, they buy a new one. When they snap a leash, they get trash it and buy a new one. Many of us even trash perfectly good leashes simply to avoid the fate of a snapped leash. We use dozens of bars of wax annually and we slather up in sunscreen daily.
How many plastic straws do you have to refuse in order to offset the toxic effect of just one broken surfboard? It seems overwhelming and the temptation is to just turn a blind eye. But unfortunately (or fortunately) the problem is too big to ignore any longer.
Eco-Friendly alternatives exist
We are incredibly lucky to be surfers in the modern era, where people are not only aware of the problem, but solutions exist. Although you may not know it, there are eco-friendly solutions (or at least more eco-friendly) and you don’t have to compromise your values every time you purchase something for the sport you love.
#1 Surfboard foam is being reinvented. Biofoam has up to 50% of toxic materials replaced with natural plant materials, such as soy, beet sugar or and algae. Also, foamless boards are making a comeback. There are several expert shapers now making hollow wooden surfboards. Otter make gorgeous hand shaped hollow wooden surfboards.
#2 Surfboard Resin has also come a long way. Epoxy resin contains 75% fewer VOCs than traditional polyester resin. Polyester resin requires toxic acetone for finish work while epoxy resin uses organic citrus material. Epoxy resins can also potentially be derived from several types of plant resources, including sugar.
#3 Fins can be easy swapped for high-quality fins made from recycled ocean plastic. Five Oceans offers sustainable fins made from discarded plastic in Bali for both Futures and FCS setups. Use discount code STOKED1819 to save 15% at checkout!Five Ocean’s fins made from recycled PP from Indonesia. Reinforced with fibreglass.
#4 Wetsuits are now available from major wetsuit manufacturers using NaturalPrene. NaturalPrene is made from 855 natural rubber harvested from renewable rubber trees and 15% synthetic chlorine-free rubber (made from plants). Major brands such as Visla and Patagonia now offer entire lines of eco-friendly wetsuits using natural rubber rather than toxic neoprene. For women, Picture makes both a full suit and summer suit for warmer days using NaturalPrene Materials.
#5 Leashes are now being made from recycled PET bottles. Passionate environmentalist, Kelly Slater has teamed up with Revolwe to produce leashes with 80% less CO2 emissions. Wave Tribe also makes a leash from recycled plastic pellets, it won Outdoor Magazine’s product of the year award.
#7 Reef Safe Sunscreen without the toxic chemical that harms the reef is available at most surf shops. We’ve reviewed the top brands for you to save you the work plus discount codes. Check out our full review and list of brands + discount codes.
#8 Eco-Friendly Bikinis are not hard to find. Especial when we’ve put together this compressive list (with discount codes) of sustainable bikinis, many made from recycled ocean plastic and fishing nets.
An Eco-Friendly Stamp of Approval
All of this may seem overwhelming, and in fact, it can be. Wouldn’t it be nice is someone came along and did all the research for you and then stamped “Eco-friendly” on all the good products kinda like a certified organic or non-GMO label? Actually, that exists! ECOBOARD is an independent 3rd party consumer-facing “eco-label” for boards. This label signifies that the board has been manufactured with methods that reduce the environmental footprint, using the most eco-friendly material available, and/or made from renewable and recycled materials. ECOBOARD list 90 different eco-friendly surfboard labels on their website including world-renowned shapers such as Firewire, PYZEL, and Lost.
If you’ve read this far you’ve been presented with a choice. You now know the problem. But you also know the solution. Imagine if all 20 million of us used our US$10.4 billion dollars to vote for sustainability in the surfing industry. Our industry would become a world leader for change. And who is a better candidate for revolutionizing the way the people interact in nature than a surfer? It IS possible. And it starts with me and you.
Cover photo by Morgan Maassen.