The Surfboard – in all it’s various sizes & forms – is the original and most defining “idea” in the entire culture of “Surfing.” You can take away literally everything else – boardshorts, sunglasses, the movies “Northshore” and “Blue Crush” (and maybe even those flip-flops with the beer opener on the bottom) and surfing lives on; but take away the basic wave sliding vehicle, and surfing culture simply collapses, and it’s back to playing with pogo-sticks and Frisbees for everybody.
You’ve got to hand it to the ancient Polynesians for actually “inventing” the surfboard before anyone else (and thereby giving birth to the surfing culture and related lifestyle), which for most of us – ranks right up there with the discovery of the wheel. And like the wheel, it was a hell of a good invention too; simple, strong, and easy to reproduce with local, non-toxic materials. If it ever broke, you could reuse or recycle the material for something else (like building your house), or, let it simply biodegrade quickly back into the earth where it helped to grow new surfboards. As it produced no lasting negative environmental impacts, the wooden surfboard was a perfectly designed & produced vehicle, for launching a new culture and community that is ultimately dependent on a healthy natural environment.
However, at this point in 2011, most of our modern products (especially the Plastic-Fantastic surfboard) are 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. This is a recipe for personal as well as environmental disaster. Simply put, if our surfboards are the basic definers our surfing culture, then we are by definition: “unsustainable.”
This is a loud wake up call for the surfing 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. Other parts of this website discuss the major issues that currently threaten our lifestyle and the ocean itself – these threats are quite severe. While we know that the average surfboard as an object is not the largest contributor to a typical surfer’s negative environmental impact (energy use from driving, flying & heating/cooling the home are much bigger), 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 & 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, tools & ability 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, since petrol-chemicals were first widely introduced the 1950′s. The next generation of materials ( based on greener, bio-chemistry) & processes (designed for less waste & efficient re-use of resources) for creating surfboards can dramatically lower the negative environmental impacts, and they are now well tested and widely available.
The key to making this transformation happen is actually YOU – the surfboard buyer – start asking for & demanding greener alternatives from your custom shaper, your local surfshop board buyer, or your favorite national/international board label. You just need to be armed with the right info & questions to ask, so this guide will explain how these new greener, “Eco” materials work in terms of both performance and reduced environmental impact.