Surf culture has always had relatively firm roots in conservation, hinged on awareness of the natural environment and the effect we humans have on it. Our arenas where we choose to engage in wave riding are important to us — we want to look after them. But, did you know it’s likely most of the equipment that you have lovingly garnered enabling you to ride those pristine sheets of water are not always sustainable - or made with environmentally conscious practices?
Big surf brands may appear to have environmentalism on their agenda, but most of the time chasing sales targets and profit margins make it inherently difficult for greener practises to take place. It’s a hard pill to swallow, especially if doing ‘your bit’ is something you take seriously, and you feel strongly about.
But, fear not – there are solutions. We take a look through the essential gear for surfing and how eco-friendly alternatives are out there enabling you to hit the water with a clearer conscience.
Let’s talk about neoprene. How do you feel about that admirable coiled up pile of black material sitting in the boot of your car or the bottom of your wardrobe? Nothing but warm feelings — quite literally I’d imagine. However, could you feel the same after learning how much energy and human cost goes into producing this petroleum-based material? The emitted gases from making neoprene are incredibly dangerous, chloroprene being the biggest concern. The town of LaPlace in Louisiana sits in the shadow of one such plant in the USA and has shocking air quality statistics as well as an obscene number of residents developing cancer.
Moving away from petroleum-based neoprene is the necessary first step. Looking at natural rubber and how an ethically sourced and environmentally made alternative will replace it is the second. Yulex is an American corporation making huge changes in the wetsuit industry, albeit at a slow pace. By using sustainably sourced natural rubber in place of energy-intensive neoprene means up to 80% less climate-altering CO2 is emitted — and a resulting material which actually outperforms conventional neoprene.
Patagonia leads the pack in this field and have some great products and innovative methodologies. There are though a small number of other brands using Yulex in their wetsuits - if you look hard enough you will find them.
Producing conventional high-performance fibreglass (polyurethane blank) surfboards is bad for the environment.
There are no two ways about it. Put simply, fibreglass uses intense amounts of energy to be made and polyester resin releases Volatile Organic Compounds capable of causing serious damage to the environment and humans alike. And once you’ve had your fun and your board is done- what then? Well, being unrecyclable its either going in the bin or destine to the back of your shed/garage to gather dust
Have you ever heard of flax linen? Don’t worry if you haven’t, because not too many people have. This versatile and robust material is, in fact, one of the world’s oldest cultivated fabrics. Grown and harvested with little human interaction, the raw product requires no water, heat or chemicals in the refining process— it is simply blended in sophisticated high-tech machinery.
Under the microscope flax is very similar to fibreglass, being close cell and with good dexterity in thermal and acoustic insulation. It takes an impressive 20% of the energy to produce in comparison AND is half the weight. No brainer? There are a handful of small surfboard manufacturers that integrate flax into their shapes with varying degrees. Notox who have factories in France and Australia take this material and sustainable board making to another level —definitely worth a look.
Surfing is a love affair with nature. Unfortunately, with the abundance of chemicals, synthetic dyes, and fragrances in irresponsibly manufactured products that we are bombarded with daily— we approach this relationship in a false manner most of the time. Let’s not forget other sundry items like surf wax and sunscreen either, these too are part of the bigger picture.
But there is hope.
Next time you find yourself looking at a new wetsuit, surfboard or needing to grab a block of wax on the way to the beach —Take the time to look at your options. You’ll be surprised that green alternatives are out there and more accessible than you’ve perhaps been lead to believe.
Words by Alex Mitcheson