Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Green and Confused: Is surfing green?

Kieran Cooke
While buying some wax for my surfboard, I noticed that various “eco-friendly waxes” were on offer. Is this just a marketing ploy? I thought surfing was a “green” sport anyway.
Unfortunately even laid-back surfers can't get away from petroleum products. Almost all surfboard waxes are made of fossil fuel derivatives, usually paraffin and petroleum jelly plus synthetic “tackifiers” for extra stickiness. The trouble is that most of these waxes do not biodegrade but break up into ever smaller pieces, which are often ingested by marine life.
Small surfing-accessory companies have been producing waxes made of beeswax, coconut oil, soy, pine resin and other natural products for some years. Financially stretched surfing dudes have balked at paying double the price for these products but now the bigger wax companies, such as Dr Zog’s Sex Wax and Sticky Bumps, are catching the environmental wave and costs are falling.
Surfers are a restless bunch: they move from Australia to Hawaii to Patagonia to Cornwall to Ireland for the challenge of the waves. All that flying adds up to a considerable amount of greenhouse gas emissions.
Then there are the boards and wetsuits. With surfing’s growing popularity, up to a million boards are produced each year. Traditionally these have been made from a cocktail of toxic materials including polyurethane foam, fibreglass, polyester and epoxy resin. While these boards can break easily in crashing waves, they take thousands of years to degrade.
Wetsuits — considered a great modern invention, allowing winter surfing even in the freezing North Atlantic — are made of neoprene, a synthetic rubber, and nylon material derived from petroleum.
But surfing is getting more ecologically aware. More boards are being fashioned from materials such as bamboo, vegetable foam, hemp and vegetable-based resins, the ultimate aim being a board that you can eat when its sea days are numbered.
Surf clothing companies – are also producing more organic goods. So enjoy the waves, dude. But spend a bit extra on environmentally kinder products.
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