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How much does sustainability factor into your surf life?

By Jake Howard

It was Chief Seattle, leader of the Pacific Northwest’s Suquamish and Duwamish people, who is credited with saying, “Take only memories; leave nothing but footprints.”

He purportedly said the words, which have since become an environmental war cry, during a speech delivered in 1854. Others, including iconic open-space advocate John Muir, have also been credited with the quote. Either way, as surfers, the message is abundantly clear.

But how often do you stop to think about the environmental impact of your surfing and what can be done to make it a more sustainable pursuit? Who doesn’t love a new gleaming, white board? Or that first session in a fresh wetsuit? It’s a dream.

But our actions and purchasing decisions do make a difference, and there are things we can all do to help the ocean out a little.

The Ecoboard Project by the nonprofit group Sustainable Surf is a fantastic example of innovation and pushing for positive change in surfboard construction materials and techniques.

“A standard polyester board weighing 5.75 pounds produces an additional 10 pounds of waste material nearly double the weight of the board. A 5.5 (pound) Ecoboard generates 5.9 pounds of waste material, which is still more material than the finished board itself,” reads a report on “This wasted resin and foam is a large factor in the total carbon footprint—40% for a ‘poly’ board and 22% for an Ecoboard.”

And when it comes to surfboards, make them last a little longer by fixing dings and keeping them watertight. Maybe you don’t quite “need” that new board just yet.

If you are looking for a different feeling, swing by a shop such as Used Surf in San Clemente and see what they have on the rack. They’ve got an incredible selection of second-hand boards, fins and other surf gear.

Dana Point’s Pat O’Connell gets an introduction to new sustainable surfboard packaging materials from A New Earth Project founder Wes Carter. Photo: Courtesy of Peter King

In the wetsuit department, companies including Matuse and Patagonia are pushing the industry away from the use of petroleum-based neoprene in exchange for less environmentally damaging materials.

Matuse has led the way in neoprene created from limestone, while Patagonia uses a material called Yulex. Both companies have also focused their design efforts to make their suits last longer. If you can get two or three seasons out of a suit, that’s going to save you a lot of money and a lot of space in the landfill. 

Last week, I had the good fortune of attending the launch of A New Earth Project, which is focusing on packaging materials used to ship surfboards and other surf gear. Via environmental supply chain solutions, its goal is to be part of the solution to remove plastics from the world’s oceans.

Industry heavy hitters such as Pat O’Connell, president of Florence Marine X, and Vipe Desai, executive director of the Surf Industry Members Association, were in attendance.

Across the board, the reaction to the new sustainable packaging products was overwhelmingly positive. After seeing the cardboard systems they’ve developed for surfboards, it was immediately apparent that this is the way forward.

“We’ve been able to test and refine a lot of different materials and technologies, and not only is what we devised recyclable and sustainable, but it’s more convenient for everyone from the surfboard companies to the consumers. The waste can go right into your curbside bin, and it’s fully recyclable,” explained Wes Carter, president of Atlantic Packaging and founder of A New Earth Project.

This week, the U.S. Board Riders National Championships are coming to Lower Trestles and will be presented by A New Earth Project and Quiksilver. Stepping into the future, it’s a new era in surf contests, as well as a new era in bringing sustainability to surfing.

The forecast looks as if there aree some fun waves on tap for Friday and Saturday; see you down at the beach.

Jake Howard is local surfer and freelance writer who lives in San Clemente. A former editor at Surfer Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal and ESPN, today he writes for a number of publications, including Picket Fence Media, Surfline and the World Surf League. He also works with philanthropic organizations such as the Surfing Heritage and Culture Center and the Positive Vibe Warriors Foundation.

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