The number of surfers worldwide has been estimated at between 17 and 23 million. Centered around the sport, a multi-billion dollar industry has formed and we can’t omit the importance of physics & neuroscience of surfing. Surfing is entirely based on enjoying nature, yet is so harmful to the environment. The entire surfing industry relies on a healthy environment in order to function. This is often overlooked, however, and most surfing products are actually quite toxic to both humans and the environment.
Although surfers don’t require many pieces of equipment, the items they do use are disposable and unnatural. Every surfer needs a surfboard, often an entire collection of various shapes and sizes to best suit each wave condition. The most common method of producing boards starts using polyurethane foam “blanks”, which are sculpted by a shaper, then covered in fiberglass resin for strength and durability. All of the materials and processes used to create these boards are toxic and wasteful. An estimated 20% of the polyurethane foam needed to shape each board is wasted and inevitably ends up in landfills. With over 1,000 boards produced every day in Southern California alone, the wasted foam accumulates quickly.
Wetsuits are required to surf comfortably in cold water and are made using a variety of unnatural materials. Starting with neoprene, a synthetic rubber produced from petroleum products, wetsuits are assembled using harmful solvents and glues which emit VOCs and other pollutants. They are also made using PVC, the most toxic plastic for human health and the environment. The worst part about wetsuits is that, like polyurethane boards, they are practically disposable and not biodegradable. After a season or two, they lose most of their warming capabilities, rendering them no longer useful. Costing $300-500 per suit, producers have little incentive to make wetsuits last longer. An estimated 500,000 pounds of neoprene are scrapped every year when making wetsuits.
One of the most harmful products involved with surfing is sunscreen. Every year, 4,000-6,000 metric tons of sunscreen washes off beachgoers’ skin into the ocean. It contains toxic chemicals, which harm our bodies as well as the ocean environment, causing coral bleaching. Up to 10% of coral reefs worldwide are threatened by sunscreen alone. Sunscreens not only harm the ocean but are a health hazard to humans. Most contain a variety of chemicals that are harmful to our bodies, including Parsol 1789 and Padimate-0, which cause DNA damage when exposed to sunlight. On top of that, a report by the CDC recently found that 19 in 20 Americans have the toxic chemical, oxybenzone, in their bloodstream right now. Oxybenzone is linked to cell damage, allergies, and hormone disruption. Most sunscreens are damaging our bodies and our environment, which should warrant our attention immediately.
Every surfer needs wax to maintain proper traction with their board. Although each surfer’s wax consumption may seem small, around 6 million bars of wax are used annually. Made mostly from paraffin wax, which is the final byproduct of the petroleum refining process, surf wax is deposited in the ocean every time a surfer paddles out. The slow, but inevitable loss of wax in the water is absorbed by marine species, bioaccumulating through the food web. Although the outlook may seem grim, surfing does have a green future. For those who want to minimize their impact on the environment, there are greener alternatives.
Some examples include epoxy surfboards, which are far less toxic, last longer, and can be recycled more easily. Wetsuit manufacturers have begun using more sustainable materials and focusing their efforts on longevity, so surfers won’t go through wetsuits so quickly. Wax is being made using organic natural materials, completely eliminating petroleum products washing off boards into the water. A San Diego based online surf shop, Envirosurfer (link to www.greensurfshop.com), has carefully selected the most eco-friendly products to encourage a more sustainable surfing lifestyle. Now that green alternatives are available, the choice is yours.
Source: Envirosurfer: Envirosurfer is a green surf shop that carries eco-friendly surf clothing and products.