An Environmentalist’s Guide To Eco-friendly Surfing
Surfing connects us to the energy of the earth on many levels. With the sun in our eyes, the salt in the air, and waves crashing against the shore, surfing is felt through all our senses. Unfortunately, this wonderful experience often utilizes toxic materials as well as contributes to the massive problem of plastic pollution. According to the International Surfing Association, 35 million people surf the planet’s shores currently. From the wetsuit we put on our bodies to the board under our feet, there are choices we can make towards ensuring surfing is a sustainable sport.
Let’s start with the most important product in surfing: the surfboard. It may be tempting to purchase a soft surfboard if you are just starting out. Soft surfboards are becoming very popular because they are inexpensive and float easily. However, they are made from an EPS foam core and wrapped in an Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate sheet and are impossible to recycle when they break down, which is typically within one or two seasons. Bottom line: the environmental footprint is not worth the convenience factor.
Luckily, there are now more surfboard companies than ever working towards using sustainable materials and technology. Making one traditional surfboard results in double the surfboard’s weight in trash. The fiberglass cloth, as well as other materials like basalt patches, resin, foam, and even gloves used to protect the maker’s hands, can add up to mountains of waste that go into landfills and may end up in the ocean. One surfboard brand, Earth Tech Surf, is working to reduce and recycle the waste products from manufacturing. Every piece of trash leftover from production is categorized and then either sent to recycling facilities or upcycled into additional products you can buy from them. A custom-made surfboard like theirs can last many years and is well worth the investment. Earth Tech Surf also offers a platform on their website to buy a used board, keeping their boards in the surf and out of the landfills.
Some of us are lucky enough to surf in places like Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Mexico, or Indonesia where the water is warm pretty much year-round. The rest of us need to invest in a good wetsuit. We can thank the military for inventing wetsuits. The material neoprene as well as the original concept of a rubber wetsuit were both created by the need for diving materials for military pursuits in the ocean. However, neoprene is a petroleum-based non-biodegradable material that impacts the environment in a negative way on multiple levels.
Interestingly enough, the material that is currently being used for non-neoprene wetsuits was also born out of a military conundrum. When WWII cut off the United States from Southeast Asia’s natural rubber supply, the government invested in developing the guayule plant as a commercial alternative to tropical rubber. Fast forward to the year 2000, when the Yulex Corporation was formed to take advantage of this natural alternative to neoprene. Yulex is now used to make non-latex gloves for medical uses, is being investigated as an alternative to rubber in tires, and is used by Patagonia to make amazing wetsuits. Patagonia uses a water-based, low VOC fabric lamination and recycled polyester as insulation, to further reduce the impact on the environment. The Patagonia Yulex wetsuits are also Fair Trade Certified, which means the people that made the product are not being exploited for their labor.
Sustainable surfing is attainable and more important than ever as we step up our fight to save our planet from toxic chemicals and reduce materials that end up in landfills. By supporting surfing brands that utilize environmentally friendly processes and materials, we can do our part to ensure that future generations will have a clean ocean to surf on.