surfboard bobbing in ocean

7 ways to protect the ocean without getting off your board

Mar 18, 2018 | Sustainability


Are you a surfer, kayaker or paddler who worries about ocean pollution? Not sure what you can do as a surfer to protect the ocean? What if I told you that you can help save the ocean while you surf or paddle?

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Big Wave Champion surfer, Greg Long, speak at the Global Waves Conference. He spoke about doing good, while still following your passions.

As water sports enthusiasts, we are in the unique position to be able to protect the ocean while still getting our water sessions in. Inspired by Greg’s message, I’ve come up with

7 ways you can protect the ocean, without getting off your board.


1. Easily report ocean problems.

You know the saying “if you see something, say something”?  Well, now you can easily apply that to reporting ocean pollution and other problems by using the Endangered Waves app.  The app, developed by Save the Waves Coalition lets surfers and other water athletes “monitor the health of their own coastlines through crowdsourced data.”

Now with the app, you can report ocean issues like trash, coastal erosion, sewage, oil spills, or lost beach access. Simply snap a photo of the problem, and tag the location and type of problem within the app.

Download for free from the App store here.  Only available on iOS devices.

2. Wear a better wetsuit.

Do you own a wetsuit, or three? These amazing neoprene suits (invented by the iconic Santa Cruz native, Jack O’Neill!!) have made water sports enjoyable for so many more people.

Unfortunately, neoprene is a petroleum-based product and has an energy-intensive manufacturing process. Also, traditional wetsuits don’t biodegrade. So once you retire that wetsuit, it goes on to live forever in a landfill somewhere.

The good news is that several companies are developing wetsuits using more environmentally friendly materials including limestone, natural rubbers, and recycled plastics. Check out a few of them below:

Eco Seas Wetsuit by Vissla

The Eco Seas wetsuit uses water-based glue instead of solvents, natural rubber instead of neoprene, and each wetsuit contains 45 recycled plastic bottles in its material.


The Yulex® line of wetsuits by Patagonia

Patagonia’s  Yulex line of wetsuits utilizes a natural rubber from trees grown on plantations certified to Forest Stewardship Council standards by the Rainforest Alliance, meaning that they meet strict standards for forest management and are not contributing to deforestation. The manufacturing process also produces up to ~80% less climate-altering CO2, compared to traditional factory methods of neoprene. Patagonia also has a long history of environmental activism and corporate responsibility, so I’m usually happy to support them.

Wetsuits from Wetsuits by Finisterre

What about a recycled wetsuit? CEO Tom Kay of the UK based company, Finisterre, is working on what he thinks is the holy grail –  a 100% recycled wetsuit.  He shared his vision of an entirely closed loop wetsuit at the 2018 Global Waves Conference. Finisterre has teamed up with scientists at Exeter University on a project called “Wetsuits from Wetsuits”. Together they are developing the technology to be able to recycle wetsuits into new wetsuits. Finisterre also recently became a B Corp and has been a leader in developing eco-friendly fabrics in their products. #Wetsuitsfromwetsuits

3. Choose eco-friendly swimwear

“But I don’t wear a wetsuit.”

 First of all, stop bragging. But don’t worry, even if you are lucky enough to live near warm waters – you can be eco-conscious too.

Traditional swimwear can also have a negative impact on the ocean. Nylons, spandex, and synthetic materials shed microfibers (plastics) each time you wash them, which end up in the oceans and can harm sea animals.

Aquafil has developed a product they call Econyl®, which takes discarded nylon waste from the land and ocean and turns it into yarn so that it can be used in new textile garments. Healthy Seas, a collaboration of nonprofits and businesses, actually removes discarded fishing nets from the ocean and turn it into Econyl®.

If you don’t know, discarded fishing nets is a serious threat to marine ecosystems. They entangle sea life and contribute to overall pollution of the oceans. So now with Healthy Seas and Econyl®, your bikini and boardshorts can help clean up the oceans. How awesome is that?

Lots of swimwear companies are using Econyl® in their products. Check some out here:

Lots of large retailers like Adidas and H&M are starting to use Econyl® too. So next time you need a swimsuit or boardshorts, pick a better option.

4. Ride an eco-friendly board.

Along the same line as wetsuits, the board you paddle or surf is traditionally made from petroleum-based chemicals. Sustainable Surf, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, California, is looking to change that.

Sustainable Surf has worked to find materials and manufacturing processes that have a smaller carbon footprint, use recycled and/or renewable products, and are less toxic. They now certify companies that make boards that meet their environmentally friendly standards through their EcoBoard project. Typically the boards use bio-resins and recycled blanks as their cores.

But, is an EcoBoard technically proficient?

Yes. In fact, many pros are choosing them as their go-to boards, thanks in part to the efforts of Kahi Pacarro, the Executive Director of Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii and Cliff Kapono, a surfer and scientist pursuing a graduate degree from the University of California San Diego, through their project, the ProTest.

These guys created a library of over 30 Ecoboards and invited pro surfers to test the boards on the North Shore of Hawaii. Pros were invited to submit video footage of their best rides on the EcoBoards to the ProTest competition. Best footage caught on an EcoBoard won $10,000.

Lots of manufacturers including Firewire, Starboard, and Channel Islands are getting “on board” with making EcoBoards—so the next time you need a new board, check out one of these manufacturers.

Fun side note: Firewire teamed up with Sustainable Surf to repurpose the dust created from the board shaping process (that typically goes to landfills) by creating outdoor pavers. These pavers can now be found outside both Firewire and Starboard headquarters.


5. Collect data while you surf

Scientists are desperately trying to collect data on ocean chemistry to monitor changes due to ocean acidification and ocean warming. But collecting regular data up and down the surf zone is difficult.  If only there were a bunch of people willing to paddle in and out of the surf zone regularly… know of anyone?

The SmartFin project supplies surfers and paddlers with surfboard fins outfitted with sensors that measure water temperature, location, and wave characteristics. These SmartFins were developed by Surfrider Foundation, scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Futures Fins.  The project is currently in beta testing, but stay tuned as the project progresses and is rolled out elsewhere.

6. Share the stoke

It’s no surprise that surfers, paddlers, and other water athletes are usually environmentally conscious. It just makes sense that being in and around nature makes you respect and want to protect it. So the easiest way to promote ocean conservation is to spread the stoke. Introduce a non-paddler to the ocean, and make one more ocean advocate.

7. Paddle for a cause

Use your paddling to raise money and awareness around environmental issues. Here are just a few options:

Sea Paddle NYC:

25-mile paddle around Manhattan anyone? The Sea Paddle NYC is an epic race that benefits the Surfers Environmental Alliance and several other non-profits, including Best Day Foundation.

Best Day Foundation and Paddle4Good provide opportunities for kids with special needs to enjoy standup paddling, surfing, kayaking, snow sports and more. 

To participate in Sea Paddle NYC, you have to fundraise at least $1000 for the chosen charities. Put it on your bucket list and start training. The 2018 event is August 10-11th.

Paddle for the planet:

Paddle for the Planet raises awareness of environmental issues by coordinating a global “relay” paddle event on one day each year. This year the date is June 2, 2018. Put it on your calendar, find a local paddle event and join other ocean advocates around the world.

There you go. Seven things you can do to be a more ocean-friendly surfer or paddler – without having to sacrifice any time on the water.

Personally, I’m excited to see so many innovations and responsible products coming out of the surf and paddle industry.

How about you? Do you know of any companies, products or non-profits that are creating great sustainable products? Let me know in the comments below.

7 ways to protect the ocean without getting off your board

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