Sustainability and Surfing: The Unavoidable Truth

In general, surfers are a very environmentally conscious group of people. They are very active in supporting many different environmental causes. Some examples of this are raising the awareness of the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan or through Surfrider Foundation, which works to protect and preserve beaches throughout the world. (For more information about the dolphin slaughter, I recommend watching the movie The Cove. Yes the video I posted is a little dramatic, but the movie will really change your prospective) Even though surfers are so active in these causes, they often overlook the environmental impact of their own sport. The act of surfing does not hurt the environment, however the construction of surfboards has a huge environmental impact. Another impact surfers have on the environment is the energy impact of traveling across the world to surf. This has made surfing a largely unsustainable sport, which is a significant change from the way sustainability it once had.

-For some background information, when you make a surfboard in surfer language, you shape the surfboard.


As I said in a previous post, the first surfboards used were made out of wood. As a result, when they broke or were too old to be used anymore, they could easily be used for other things, such as building, or they could be returned to the dirt where they would decompose. Unfortunately today, surfboards are made entirely from petroleum-based plastics and are finished with chemicals very harmful to the ozone layer.

Here is a video that shows the basic processes going into shaping a surfboard.


A surfboard has two main components, a foam blank and a wooden stringer. The wooden stringer is put into the middle of the board to prevent the board from breaking and the foam blank is the board itself.


(The tan strip down the center of the board is the wooden stringer and the board around it is what is left of the foam blank.)

As a result, both the production of the foam blank and the wooden stringer have severe environmental effects. The wood has to be harvested and then treated so it can be used to support the surfboard. The foam is made from oil, so it has to be mined and then refined into the foam blank that is used to make the board. This blank is then shaved down to fit the classical shape of a surfboard. To preserve the life of the surfboard, it is doused in a handful of toxic chemicals. These chemicals are toxic to both the environment, and the person shaping the surfboard. It is estimated that the carbon footprint of the average short board is 400 pounds of carbon dioxide. The carbon footprint of the average long board is around 1000 pounds of carbon dioxide. Surfers often overlook these statistics because a board is a board and they cannot do anything to change the system that is in place. Fortunately, many new environmentally friendly foam materials are being engineered and developed. More and more shapers are switching their blanks from the older foams to the newer, greener ones.


Another unseen environmental impact of surfing is the traveling of one break to another. The carbon footprint of surf travel dwarfs the carbon footprint of that of board shaping. For example, I surf the east coast of the United States. I drive everywhere I surf, which produces a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Professional surfers have even a larger carbon footprint than I do. They fly across the world regularly in an attempt to chase the best waves. The carbon dioxide associated with this travel is extremely high. Even after they land, they still have to get all the way to the break, which involves driving, boating, or both.

Both of these impacts are necessary evils of the sport. Unfortunately, they are severely overlooked by some surfers who do not realize the true cost of the sport. As greener energies and technologies come out, hopefully surfing is able to greatly shrink its carbon footprint and return to the days where surfing was actually sustainable.


I posted on here a couple weeks ago about big wave surfing. Last week there was a place in Europe that received some of the largest waves seen in a very long time. Granted, it has nothing to do with sustainability and surfing, but this post needed to not be so boring.


(Here’s a picture if you are too lazy to look at the link)


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