17 Sep, 2018

What is sustainable surfing and why should you get on board?


There’s no doubt that surfing is one of the most popular leisure activities in south-east Queensland. With our mild winters, superb beaches and fine selection of breaks, why wouldn’t it be?

The appeal, as many surfers will tell you, is to be at one with nature, immersed in the elements, leaving the stress of daily life behind…and of course, the thrill of the ride.

But those idyllic hours on the waves are far removed from the reality of the surfboard manufacturing process which is anything but natural. Most boards for sale in surf shops are resource intensive to manufacture and made with a plethora of plastics and toxic chemicals.

A 2012 article in Forbes magazine sums it up well: “The typical surfboard is a slab of petroleum-spawned polyurethane, slathered in layers of toxic polyester resin.”

With a whopping 2.5 million surfers in Australia, there is mounting pressure on the industry to clean up its act. Here in south-east Queensland, passionate surfing enthusiasts and artisans are raising awareness of the need for a more sustainable approach.

What is Sustainable Surfing?

Sustainable surfing involves opting for more “organic, recycled, sustainable, ethical and durable items” on a “continual and progressive” basis" as one guide explains.

According to Master surfboard shaper and well-known Sunshine Coast surfing identity, Tom Wegener, going green is primarily about durability.

“The one thing we all agree on is if it’s a good quality surfboard that will last, it is greener than a temporary or low quality manufactured board that is quickly discarded and replaced with another,” Tom said.

Innovative new manufacturing methods are being explored by both smaller companies and individual board markers, many based on traditional techniques developed by the early surfboard artisans.

Plant-based materials including wood (like Tom Wegener’s Paulownia bellyboards), flax fibre (used in Notox Surfboards made in Noosa), and cork are popular options due to their natural origins. Recycled and recyclable materials (such as foam) are becoming more common, along with less toxic alternatives to epoxy and polyester resin.

The health of people involved in the manufacturing process is an important aspect of sustainability, as Lou Dever from Notox Surfboards explains.

“We need to know that shapers, laminators, sanders and glassiers can sustain their health and skill set. Notox intensively researches the ingredients in our materials to ensure everyone is working in a safe environment.”

Tom Wegener’s mission is to get people back into their garages making surfboards like the good old days, a new wave of DIY artisans making eco-friendly boards that won’t send toxic fumes drifting onto neighbouring properties.

“A lot is happening at a local level with tiny brands popping up in Australia. Backyard builders like Grant Newby, etc Surfboards and Wood Surf Co are really working hard at taking a greener approach,” Tom says.

“I often joke that ‘all you need to do is create a green surfboard that is lighter, surfs better, is less expensive and have the top pro surfer in the world endorse it.’ Surfboards and wax have been made the same way since the 1950s with little evolution so getting something new and green out there is challenging for backyard builders.”

Eco-friendly surf wax

As a surfer, Adam Harriden was concerned about the impact of surfboard wax on the environment but it was a conversation with a local beekeeper that set the wheels in motion for his own brand of eco-friendly wax.

“A handful of big brands dominate the surf wax industry with most products containing paraffin, plastics and other nasty polluting chemicals,” Adam said.

A local bee farmer who delivered honey to their home was selling beeswax to the makeup industry to make ends meet so together they started exploring a beeswax-based surf wax.

Made on the Sunshine Coast, Goodsurfwax is a hand-made, natural alternative to the petrochemical based products on the market, and one of several eco-friendly brands now available across the country.

Accessing the artisans manufacturing eco-friendly boards or accessories can be a little trickier than just dropping into your local surf shop, although a quick Google search should put you in contact with people in your local network.

Choosing sustainable can bring you even closer to nature, as Tom explains so well: “Surfing is about getting back to nature, walking into the water and embracing the simplicity of just being out there…you, your board and the waves. Boards that are handmade and not coated in chemicals feel truer to this connection”.

How you can get on board with sustainable surfing
  1. Purchase a quality board that will last
  2. Buy local artisan-made or Australian-made boards
  3. Choose boards made from renewable, natural resources such as wood, flax fibre, cork or jute
  4. Consider boards that use bio epoxy resin or less toxic alternatives to epoxy or polyester resin
  5. Check out boards with the Sustainable Surf Gold Level logo
  6. Buy a second-hand board
  7. Avoid sending used boards to landfill by selling or repurposing (such as for a tabletop)
  8. Use naturally derived surf wax

Photo: Sunshine Coast musician Zac Gunthorpe on a 7" corky singlefin board by Tom Wegener featuring a wood stringer and bottom, dense eps foam in the middle and cork on the outside.Image credit: Dean Saffron Photographer/Filmmaker

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