The Surf Culture: Green or Greenwash?

According to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association surfboard, skateboard and other hard good accessory sale numbers increased by 35% in 2010. Along with surf industry growth growth comes increased impact on the environment – from foam surfboards and oil-derived neoprene wetsuits to surf destination transportation. This graphic illustrates some of those environmental impacts.

Infographic from GreenSurfShop


Yet for all of those environmental impacts, a growing number of surfers, ocean enthusiasts, and industry professionals are creating companies, products, organizations, and communities that decrease the surfing community’s environmental footprint. One of my favorite companies is Grain Surfboards. The company is committed to building, promoting, and riding beautiful, hand-crafted, wood surfboards that have less impact on the environment.

I have been a member of the Surfrider Foundation since attending my first organized beach cleanup in 2005. Founded in 1984 by three Southern California surfers, the grassroots organization is dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves, and beaches. Surfrider members aren’t all surfers, but many of us have strong personal connections to the places where we play.

Surfrider Foundation member Jaimal Yogis, author of the book “Salt Water Buddha: A Surfer’s Quest to Find Zen on the Sea,” shared his story in this blog post. Excerpt:

By my third trip to Bali, I was starting to feel the guilt. Watching yet another set of condos go up right above Padang Padang, more plastics in the line-up, another 200 surf billboards spackled around Kuta, more drunken Balinese kids mimicking the styles they saw in surf mags, I started wondering: are surfers ruining one of the most beautiful islands on earth?

Jaimal is now a spokesperson for the nonprofit organization Surf For Life, founded in 2008 by Alex Fang. The organization’s mission is to channel the interest and energy of individual surfers into teams that travel internationally to various project sites where they serve as hands-on volunteers. The idea for the nonprofit WAVES for Development came about as a result of a 2004 surf trip to northern Peru. WAVES’ coastal community education and surf

voluntourism programs develop youth into healthy and empowered adults and transform travelers’ views of the world and themselves.
Professional surfer David Rastovich, co-founder of Surfers for Cetaceans utilizes his position in the community to inform and mobilize surfers around the conservation and protection of whales, dolphins, and marine life. His story is told in the 2010 documentary Minds in the Water, and more recently in the 2011 footage of the Transparentsea Voyage, a Southern California tour focused on educating coastal communities about plastics in the ocean and marine life.

Another surfer utilizing the power of film is 2011 Brower Youth Award winner Kyle Theirmann, whose online tv series Surfing For Change provides viewers with the information that helps them make environmentally-responsible decisions. Kyle’s work was screened at the 2010 Save The Waves Film Festival. Save The Waves Coalition’s mission is to protect our coastal environment, with a focus on the surf zone.

A new nonprofit Sustainable Surf recently made the Rip Curl Pro Search professional surfing competition the greenest one yet! Founded by Surfrider members Michael Stewart and Kevin Whilden, Sustainable Surf is the first nonprofit with a mission to make the industry more sustainable.

Some wonderful musicians publicly support the Surfrider Foundation – including official Surfrider spokeswoman Colbie Caillat – plus so many others, including all of the artists who have engaged with the Surfrider Foundation’s volunteer-run Music Outreach Program.

There are so many more examples of surfers, industry professionals, and ocean enthusiasts committed to transforming the industry, activating the surfing community, and effecting real environmental change. Who should I have also included in this blog post? Please share your thoughts by commenting below!

Photo from glennharper via flickr

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Duane B.
.2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Carole R.
Carole R.3 years ago


Stephanie Denison
Stephanie G.3 years ago

That information seems a bit exaggerated if not some facts just completely misconstrued. There are safe waxes to use, and all of the surf board manufacturers I've asked do not just throw away huge piles of foam. It is used and reused until there are tiny pellets that are then RECYCLED. I live in a huge surfing community, not a single surfer I know isn't environmentally conscious and they almost all use 100% safe products. What is this anti-surfer initiative?

Mandi A.
Amanda Adams3 years ago


Jane Barton
Jane Barton3 years ago

Claudette, your prayers are answered, BP respects God and our oceans and nature and does everything it can to keep it clean.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton3 years ago

Oh I get it, the SURFERS are destroying the environment, not BIG BIZ. Hahahahahahaha

Claudette Colbert

I pray everyone out on the oceans and seas will respect God and nature and do everything they can to keep it clean.

John Mansky
John Mansky3 years ago

Thanks for the article...

Mary E.
Mary E.3 years ago

I don't surf, but have a coworker that does. I am sharing with this him via Facebook. Thank you for posting.

Stuart D.
Stuart D.3 years ago

We believe that if surfers were to always seek out high quality surfboards and maybe pay that little extra we can all help to eliminate some of this waste. It's not only about the types of materials you use but how you use them. A good quality surfboard should give you years of enjoyment and even then you should be able to pass it on the a new (learner) surfer when you're ready for a new one...
If your shaper stands by the quality of his product and uses best practices to manufacture that product lessening waste and environmental impact, you might have to pay a little more and wait a little longer for your board to be made but in the end you'll be happier, the environment will benefit as less boards will end up in landfill and your local shaper can survive another day...!!!