Sustainable Surfing: A Call to Action

Everyone knows how wonderfully poetic surfing can be; we could fill volumes with references to surfing as artful, utopian, or solace-filled.  Surfing can certainly be a beautiful act and can be a powerful source of stimulation and insight. Some of us engage in surfing because it is intensely competitive and edgy, but, I think that the majority of us are inspired by something else that we get from riding waves, something pure and meditative that rouses our senses and keeps us longing for more. Knowing this, as we do, it is also important not to let the romantic aspects of surfing cloud our vision or allow us to become overly selfish with our oceanic experiences. We must also take responsibility for the ways in which we are affecting other surfers, and the rest of the planet, as we engage in our pastime.

I’ve spent the past two years at university studying exactly the extent to which we, as a global culture of surfers, are (or are not) taking responsibility for our actions, in terms of how adamantly we are protecting (or thinking about protecting) the ocean, and the planet in general. Through interviews, surveys and e-mails, I conducted a critical examination of surf culture and the surfing industry, in terms of its environmental and social impacts. The findings were mixed, but what was consistent was the lack of a critical examination of surf culture itself and how we, as individuals, fit into that culture and how we are perpetuating environmental destruction through surf culture. That’s not to say that all of surf culture is destructive, just that we can do better with many of the decisions we make as consumers and as surfers (like the surfboards, clothes, wax, wetsuits and plane tickets we buy), which will lessen our collective environmental impact. This isn’t about calling yourself ‘environmentalist’ or necessarily abandoning your creature comforts, but it is about making more informed decisions for the sake of preserving things that we all love: surfing and the places and processes that make it possible. Sustaining our sport requires that we take a step back and cut a critical eye at the environmental and social implications of the global surf industry in order to improve it. But first, we should examine our own lives carefully to see in what ways we can advocate change for greater environmental sustainability in our own communities.

In the U.S. alone, almost two thirds of our coastal waters are degraded because of pollution. And that’s what we know about. Some oceanographers and marine scientists insist that we still know more about the moon than oceans on earth! Because we know so little, we can not be sure of the full extent of our impacts. The effects of the pollution that we do know about are far reaching: from human health risks to compromised food sources.

 The beginnings of a significant environmental movement within our surfing cultures have been lingering for decades now, without really catching on as a mainstream movement, until recently. I think that, in being immersed in the ocean environment, we have the distinct opportunity to essentially voice concern and elucidate the changes that are rapidly affecting the coastal ocean. Surfing has given so much to me, has inspired such a deep love of the ocean and respect for the unique experiences to be had through it, that I feel personally responsible to preserve those things that make surfing so special— most important being the health and prosperity of the ocean. This isn’t about calling yourself ‘environmentalist’ or necessarily abandoning your creature comforts, but it is about making more informed decisions for the sake of preserving things that we all love: surfing and the places and processes that make it possible. Sustaining our sport requires that we take a step back and cut a critical eye at the environmental and social implications of the global surf industry in order to improve it. But first, we should examine our own lives carefully to see in what ways we can advocate change for greater environmental sustainability in our own communities.After all, the ocean, including the other planetary processes (the water cycle, wind currents and other weather patterns) that make surfing possible, are the most important components of our beloved pastime, and, in recognizing what powerfully crucial forces they are, I know that we can all agree that they are worth caring for and preserving.

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