Surfing is an activity that puts you directly in touch with the ocean and helps you find a new appreciation for it. However, when surfers are not careful about their environmental impact, they could also be severely damaging it. That’s because surfing equipment, and some habits of surfers, are highly polluting the environment or contributing to ocean plastic.
However, as people who spend a lot of time by/on/in the ocean, surfers are also at most risk from the pollution being released into the ocean. That’s why it’s so important to learn about how surfers are damaging the environment with habits they likely don’t think twice about – so that all this pollution can be prevented.
1. Your surfboard wax may be toxic
Most surfboard wax types on the market nowadays contain paraffin – a cheap synthetic imitation of wax made from petroleum. It contains toxic components such as toluene, some of which have been marked as possible carcinogens. As you surf, this wax slowly falls off your surfboard and releases into the ocean, affecting precious marine ecosystems such as coral reefs.
As a result of the use of paraffin in surfboard wax, sea life comes into contact with these dangerous chemicals regularly, and so do people spending a lot of time by the ocean. Paraffin wax is also very difficult to clean up, which further complicates the problem.
Some common soy wax surfing waxes may also be environmentally harmful if they are sourced from GMO farms which use petrochemical-based fertilisers and pesticides (which is often the case with soy for industrial production).
To reduce their impact, it’s best that surfers choose organic and sustainably sourced waxes without petrochemical waxes or unsustainably-produced soy. While searching for the right alternative, make sure you look into the environmental impact it has in detail, as some not-so-sustainable companies may still be labelling their surfboard wax as sustainable.
2. Your surfboard is choking the Earth with greenhouse gasses
A typical surfboard is made from polyurethane and polyester resin – both petroleum-based plastics which are products of petroleum extraction. As we mentioned before, petroleum use is responsible for many environmental issues such as oil spills and environmental degradation, as well as releasing methane into the atmosphere: a greenhouse gas 84 times more potent than CO2 in the short run.
It’s not just the petroleum use that adds to the carbon footprint of a surfboard – the electricity used in manufacturing and other processes also adds up. In total, producing a new surfboard releases 270 kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Thankfully, surfboards can also be made using more sustainable materials and processes. If you are looking to reduce your environmental impact, explore wooden or recycled plastic surfboard options. You can even visit your local environmentally friendly surf shops for guidance.
3. Your wetsuit releases microscopic ocean plastic
Most wetsuits sold today are made from neoprene foam – a synthetic rubber made from petroleum. Unfortunately, this material has many negative impacts on the planet and the ocean specifically.
First, there’s the issue of using petroleum, the extraction and use of which releases methane into the atmosphere and depletes the planet of its resources. However, production is only the beginning of a neoprene wetsuit’s unsustainable lifecycle.
When being used, neoprene, just like other plastic products, releases microscopic ocean plastic. Once discarded, it never truly decomposes – it only falls apart in more and more of these microplastics. Therefore, it looks like the neoprene wetsuit is decomposing to the naked eye, but in reality, the pollution lingers in the environment in microscopic form.
If you want to enjoy surfing without producing ocean plastic, try some new innovative solutions such as wetsuits made from recycled neoprene or plant-based materials!
4. Your sunscreen could be killing coral reefs
Most store-bought sunscreens available nowadays contain titanium oxide, which takes a lot of resources to produce (increasing its carbon footprint) and damages the environment.
However, many of these sunscreens also contain oxybenzone and octinoxate, which contribute to coral reef bleaching. This phenomenon of environmental degradation is already being induced by climate change and these chemicals are increasing the process, while also releasing even more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.
All the eco-conscious surfers looking to reduce their impact should choose a reef-friendly option without titanium oxide, oxybenzone and octinoxate.
5. Your surfing trips might be melting the ice caps
Lastly, how far do you travel on your surfing trips? As you’ll likely be travelling by car, the carbon emissions produced in the process can add up quickly to massively increase your environmental footprint.
Thankfully, there are several ways to reduce your emissions. Firstly, share the journey with as many people as you can and take one vehicle, driving cautiously without braking and accelerating too quickly. Reducing the length of your journey is also a great thing to do.
Once you get to your destination, be conscious of your consumer consumption and also waste disposal. Be aware of your environment and contribute to keeping it clean by picking up any rubbish along the way.