Surfer walks on beach.

The Surfer-Environmental Paradox: Balancing Passion and Responsibility

Introduction

The Surfer-Environmental Paradox (SEP) describes the discrepancy known as the “value-action gap” between environmental knowledge and behavior. While surfers often have extensive knowledge about the environment and the necessity to take action, this does not always translate into environmentally friendly behavior. This paradox manifests itself in surf culture through self-perception, travel, and the surf industry.

Understanding the Surfer-Environmental Paradox

The SEP highlights a critical conflict within the surfing community: surfers’ deep connection to the ocean often contrasts with their environmental impact. This contradiction is particularly evident in areas such as:

  • Self-Perception: Surfers see themselves as environmentally conscious, yet their actions may not always reflect this.
  • Travel: Frequent travel, especially long-haul flights, contributes significantly to carbon footprints.
  • Industry Practices: The production of surfboards and related gear often involves environmentally harmful processes.

Surfer walking on the beach thinking about the surfer environmental paradox

Self-Perception and Environmental Awareness

Studies show that surfers exhibit heightened environmental sensitivity due to their frequent interactions with nature. This awareness often translates into positive environmental behaviors such as conscious consumption and waste separation. Many surfers participate in NGOs like the Surfrider Foundation and Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) to advocate for environmental causes.

Surfers are “more sensitive to things like sea-level rise, storminess, coastal flooding, and coastal pollution because we spend our lives right there, on the coast – on the ‘front line'”​​. Surveys indicate that approximately 80% of surfers attribute their environmental consciousness to their engagement in surfing​​. However, their lifestyle, which often involves extensive travel and the use of non-biodegradable equipment, creates a disconnect between their values and actions.

The Environmental Impact of Surf Travel

Traveling in search of perfect waves often requires long-haul flights, leading to a significant carbon footprint. Research by Tony Butt (2015) reveals that surfers have significantly higher carbon footprints compared to the average citizen due to their travel behavior​​.

According to Langseth and Vyff (2021), traveling acts as symbolic capital within the community, signifying skills and commitment. This dynamic, combined with media portrayal, makes travel and surfing seem inseparable, even for environmentally conscious surfers. So that even surfers who perceive themselves as environmentally conscious find it challenging to avoid travel.

The Environmental Cost of Surf Equipment

The production of modern surfboards involves a “toxic cocktail of plastics, resins, glues, and fiberglass,” making them one of the most environmentally damaging sports equipment​​. Surfers often overlook the sustainability issues related to these production processes, which include the use of petroleum-based products and harmful chemicals. Additionally, the surfing industry is a global industry that produces around 750,000 surfboards per year, further exacerbating the environmental impact​​.

The surf industry also fuels consumption through fashion cycles, releasing multiple collections of surfwear each year. These goods are predominantly produced in low-wage countries, contributing to long transportation distances and adverse working conditions.

Addressing the Surfer-Environmental Paradox

To address the Surfer-Environmental Paradox, surfers need to embody the values of environmental consciousness more fully. New narratives that highlight local conditions, alternative lifestyles, and sustainable materials are essential. While it may not be feasible to eliminate travel altogether, promoting awareness and appreciation for local surf spots and reducing unnecessary travel can help mitigate the impact.

Surfers’ inherent dependence on a healthy ocean should motivate them to advocate for more sustainable practices within their community and the industry. Greater public pressure on surf corporations to improve their environmental policies and more critical reflection on personal and collective actions are necessary steps towards resolving the Surfer-Environmental Paradox.

Surfboard on beach

Taking Action: Resources for Surfers

Here are some resources where surfers can gain more insights and take action to support environmental sustainability:

  • Surfrider Foundation: A nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, waves, and beaches through a powerful activist network.
  • Surfers Against Sewage (SAS): A grassroots movement tackling plastic pollution and protecting the UK’s coastlines for all to enjoy safely and sustainably.
  • Sustainable Surf: An organization that works to protect and preserve the ocean by shifting people to a more sustainable lifestyle through surfing.
  • Save the Waves Coalition: Focuses on protecting surf ecosystems around the world.
  • Parley for the Oceans: Addresses major threats towards the oceans, the most important ecosystem of our planet.

Material alternatives for Surfer and Shaper

Wetsuits Made with Yulex

Yulex is a plant-based alternative to traditional neoprene, used in the production of eco-friendly wetsuits. Made from the sap of Hevea trees, Yulex provides the same warmth and flexibility as neoprene but with a significantly lower environmental impact. It is a sustainable, renewable material that reduces the use of petroleum-based products and harmful chemicals in wetsuit manufacturing.

Surfboards Made with Polyola Surfboard Blank

Polyola Surfboard Blanks are great alternatives to traditional polyurethane foam blanks. These blanks are made from 2/3 recycled materials, significantly reducing waste and the environmental footprint of surfboard production (LCA announcement soon!). Polyola blanks offer the same performance as conventional blanks, but outperform them in terms of durability and also promote sustainability in the surf industry.

Bio-Based Resins

Bio-Based Resins are environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional petroleum-based resins used in surfboard construction. Derived from renewable resources such as plant oils, these resins offer similar strength and durability while reducing the reliance on fossil fuels and lowering the overall carbon footprint of surfboard manufacturing. Polyola is currently in the final stages of developing its bio-based polyester resin.

Fins Made with Recycled Plastic (e.g., Sieve Fins or Futures Alpha Series)

Fins Made with Recycled Plastic are designed to reduce waste and environmental impact. Brands like Sieve Fins use materials sourced from recycled plastics (bottle caps) or Futures fins with its Alpha series using discarded fishing nets. These fins provide excellent performance and durability while promoting sustainability and reducing ocean pollution.

These eco-friendly materials represent significant steps toward more sustainable practices in the surf industry, aligning with the values of environmentally conscious surfers and shapers.

Conclusion

The Surfer-Environmental Paradox underscores the complex relationship between surfers and their environment. While surfers are often seen as stewards of the ocean, their lifestyle choices can sometimes contradict their environmental values. By fostering a culture of awareness, advocating for sustainable practices, and embracing new narratives, the surfing community can better align its passion for the waves with its responsibility to protect the environment.

Sources

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  5. Gibson, Christopher R.; Warren, Andrew T. (2017). Surfboard making and environmental sustainability: New materials and regulations, subcultural norms and economic constraints, in Gregory Borne; Jess Ponting (Hrsg.), Sustainable Surfing, London und New York: Routledge, 87-103.
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