2 December, 2019 2 December, 2019

Is Surfing a Crime Against Nature?

As surfers today, we sit on the frontlines of ocean awareness. But the truth is, our love and advocacy for the ocean is laced with hypocrisy. Surfing could actually be considered a crime against the environment! The essential elements of our lifestyle (surfboards, wax, sunblock, travel) have a nasty impact on the natural world. That’s right, the proverbial conundrum of modern living has us by the leash too.

*Cover Image – Trevor Moran/ Issue 43.2, The Crime Issue. Missing out on quality Zag content? There’s a simple fix, become a subscriber now. 

Let’s take a look at the everyday surfer, like you and me. We might buy a new board every few years, we spend our holiday’s road- tripping, we snap a few leashes here and there, and are stoked when we get wax for Christmas. Well, according to a study carried out by Tobias Schultz’s in The Surfboard Cradle-to-Grave Project, the typical surfer emits 10 tonnes of CO2 per year, just pursuing surfing. Scientifically speaking, we’re pretty kak.

Let’s start with the surfboard, our principle pollutant. The production of surfboards creates an average of 220,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, globally. Your average 6’1 has a carbon footprint of around 181kg. If it’s fiberglass-laminated with polyester resin over polyurethane foam, it’s hella packed with hazardous chemicals like styrene, VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and isocyanates – all of which are a nightmare to pronounce and worse, toxic to you and the environment. Since your typical surfboard is made using petroleum products, they don’t easily break down from natural forces and can’t be recycled. So your board, like a plastic packet, is pretty much immortal!

Now let’s slap on the wax. For many moons, the main ingredient has been paraffin, a byproduct of refining petroleum. Beyond that, beeswax, vegetable oils, pine resin, to name a few, are added to achieve tackiness. It may smell good, but your wax is less than vegan. Now let’s strap on the leash and deck pad, shall we?

A leash is made out of urethane, neoprene, and velcro. All of which come with a heavy carbon tax. As for your grip pad, these flexible foams have been made out of non-renewable petrochemicals for decades, more specifically thermoformed ethylene-vinyl acetate – sounds like something out of Breaking Bad. Don’t forget fins, they ain’t green either, made from fiberglass cloth and resin similar to the makeup of your board. Fiberglass won’t discolor, warp, rot, corrode, dent, or rust. So yah mate, it’s almost certainly going to be around long after you’re gone.

Next on the list is insulation. So you’re gonna have to throw in your wetsuit made of neoprene, a family of synthetic rubbers that are produced by polymerization of chloroprene. Oh and baggies too, they are made from polyester or nylon which also come with environmental baggage. Polyester, although less energy-intensive than nylon, uses harmful chemicals many of which are carcinogenic, in its production. Your flipflops are generally just as bad and sunscreen has been linked to coral bleaching.

Easy now! When you weigh up all this depression, there is a green light at the end of the tube. The surf industry, across the board, is shifting towards more sustainable alternatives and although there is still a long way to go before we shake our dependence and addiction to petrochemicals – the first step starts with you, your shaper and the choices you make. The demand for greener products is growing as more surfers become educated around these issues.

The biggest plus here is that when you’re actually surfing, you’re not polluting or using electricity. That’s right. The act of surfing has no carbon footprint and is therefore good for the planet. The longer the session, the better. So do your bit. Spend a bit more on the green alternatives. Demand them from the brands you love and support. And surf as much as you possibly can.

Calculate your carbon footprint at: www.carbonfootprint.com


  1. Greg Hart
    2 December, 2019 at 7:48 pm · Reply

    One eruption from a medium sized volcano spews more CO2 in ten minutes than humans have created in the entire time we have been on the planet. I say rock on and go surf!

  2. Joshua Williams
    11 December, 2019 at 7:00 pm · Reply

    Great. Next up: They’ll tell us we’re existing wrong.

    Dear lord, any chance we can ship these woodrues off to Tanzania?

    All the trees they can sniff and I don’t have to put up with their nasally whining.

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