We’ve said it before – you can’t surf without surfboards (well you can, but not the board surfing variety). You can take away literally everything else – board shorts, sunglasses, surf movies – and surfing lives on; but take away the basic wave sliding vehicle, and surfing culture simply collapses.
Pretty much replicating what the ancient Polynesians were riding, when surfing started to spread globally in the early 20th century, boards were made from locally grown, non-toxic materials. If they ever broke you could reuse or recycle the material for something else, or let it simply biodegrade quickly back into the earth where it helped to grow new surfboards. From an environmental perspective – those ancient boards were perfect.
The bulk of modern surfboards, like many other modern polymer-based products, are largely dependent on using toxic, petroleum-based chemicals, so we’ve actually flipped the original ideas of what a surfboard should be – and therefore the related original values of our surfing culture too – completely upside down. It’s worth noting that we are what we do, and since our current surfboards represent the complete opposite of being strong, local, non-toxic & transformable back into the building blocks of future generations; then by default, so are we. Simply put, if our surfboards are the basic definers of surfing culture, then we are by definition: “unsustainable.”
Let’s call the current mode of surfboard building the “petroleum paradigm”. The use of petrochemicals is what transformed surf culture from riding 80 lb redwood planks into the modern high-performance expression of wave-riding freedom. Unfortunately, the cost of the petroleum paradigm was shifted to future generations, and is now landing squarely on us. These costs are driven by the emissions of carbon dioxide and the proliferation of disposable plastic products.
The impact of not solving these issues is the total destruction of the surfing experience. Driven by human CO2 emissions, ocean acidification is happening at a rate ten-times faster than has ever occurred in the geologic history of the planet. Coral reefs will very likely become globally extinct in just a few decades, because nature cannot cope with the rapid rise in acidity. No surfer needs to be told that the best waves in the planet occur over coral reefs, and it won’t be long before living coral reefs no longer exist. Think about what this means to future generations of surfers, not to mention the millions of people that depend on healthy oceans for food.
In parallel, melting glaciers are causing rising sea levels, which threatens to drown out our favorite surf breaks with a bad case of “permanent high tide”. Many more breaks will be lost than gained with rising seas. This is in addition to terrible impact that rising sea level has on society. More than one billion people live within a few feet of sea level, and oceans are likely to rise at least that far by mid-Century.
There are a host of additional problems driven by human CO2 emissions, such as global climate change, which will change “wave-making climate” that creates surf. Even more insidious is “ocean stratification” which will reduce the amount of nutrients available to phytoplankton, and hence cause an overall reduction in biologic productivity and reduce the number of fish in the sea. Finally, let’s not forget about marine plastic pollution, which is a product of our consumer-driven culture, and directly threatens the health of birds, turtles, seals, and any other animal that mistakes plastic for food.
This is a loud wake up call for the surf community to see and discuss the problems we face, so that we can ensure a long term future for the surfing lifestyle and a pristine healthy ocean environment. While we know that the average surfboard as an object is not the largest contributor to a typical surfer’s negative environmental impact, we at Sustainable Surf think that this conversation can be best started by focusing our attention on the most elemental and iconic object in all of surfing history; the simple Polynesian invention that started it all – the surfboard.
Here is our simple vision: if we can change our surfboards to physically embody the ideals of sustainability, then we can change ourselves too. We will learn from that process, and can then apply that experience to tackle much larger issues that we confront as surfers and as simply humans (like reducing energy and water use, reducing pollutants, conserving biodiversity, etc.) If we take these steps now, we can still ensure a long, sustainable future for the culture of surfing, as well as for our amazing watery planet that makes it all possible – it’s really that simple.
Fortunately, we do have the power to change our ways and get back to the original “sustainable spirit” of the first surfboards, without giving up any of the “performance” improvements that modern materials have given to the culture of surfing. ECOBOARDS using a new generation of materials and processes have reduced carbon footprints, use (and reuse) renewable, recycled and recyclable inputs, and reduce toxicity within the surfboard manufacturing process.
That’s a win for the environment, and importantly for surfers – a win for our oceans and, believe it or not – a win for pro-surfers. That’s right, remember Slater’s win at the Volcom Pipe Pro in 2016 – Ecoboard! And Stu Kennedy taking down the world’s best at the Quiky pro – Ecoboards!
So how do we know about the environmental impact that these high-performance ECOBOARDS (made using bio-resin and/or a recycled foam blank) are making – science of course! The environmental footprint of a surfboard depends on the “lifecycle” of each component: raw material extraction and refining, manufacturing energy use, and transportation.
In 2016, Sustainable Surf and Pure Strategies, a leading sustainability consultancy, completed the first in-depth lifecycle assessment (LCA) of a more sustainable surfboard. With some help from Entropy Resins, Channel Islands and Firewire Surfboards, we compared the carbon footprint of a standard “poly” surfboard (PE resin/PU blank) vs. an Ecoboard with bio-based Entropy Resins and a recycled content Marko Foam EPS blank.
The LCA showed a 30% reduction in the carbon footprint of an Ecoboard and a significant reduction in carcinogenic chemicals used to make surfboards, when using materials approved by the Ecoboard Project. The study also identified some huge opportunities for surfboard manufacturers to reduce waste, use renewable energy and source more sustainable materials.
The key to making the shift to a more sustainable surf culture is actually YOU – the surfboard buyer. Whether you’re looking for a high-performance whip or an old-school log, there’s an ECOBOARD builder for you. With a mix of big brands with large pro teams, to artisanal craftsmen and women, it’s your choice whether you want to buy an ECOBOARD off the rack at your local shop and start shredding today, or custom order your dream creation with hydro-foil fins and acid-splash resin tints.