Guest Author: Nicole Kravec
After watching Garret McNamara set the world record for riding a 90 (NINETY!) foot wave (aka 27.4 meters) in Praia do Norte, Portugal, I can’t help but wonder where he’ll go next – and what his ride implies for the surf tourism industry – an industry with between 25-50 million participants around the world with yearly growth around 15%, that can unfortunately oftentimes have unsustainable impacts.
McNamara, along with other Big (an understatement) Wave Surfers like Laird Hamilton and Mike Parsons, use a technique called “Tow-In Surfing.” The process uses artificial assistance to literally tow a surfer into a breaking wave by a partner driving a personal watercraft like a Jet Ski or a helicopter with a tow-line attached. Tow-In Surfing is what helped get McNamara his wave, as it is used when the wave is uber large and/or where positioning within the wave is critical. There is some controversy associated with Tow-In Surfing, as it creates a lot of noise and exhaust that can certainly harm the local ecosystems.
That’s part of the biggest irony in the surf industry: As surfers we are known for our nature-loving, free-spirited ways. But the processes and boards we use to catch our ultimate rides on around the world are often wreaking havoc on Mama Earth. As we surfers want lighter and faster boards for competition, and continue to seek the ground-pounding waves that give us that swell of endorphins, the more likely our boards are to break and release all the resins and foam into the ecosystems we love. It’s not uncommon for a professional surfer to use a fiberglass board for less than a week before discarding it. In other words, the organic art we engage in unfortunately often uses far from organic practices and materials.
Despite the toxic realities, there’s certainly hope to move from ego to eco.
The other day I had the good fortune of visiting Eco Boardworks, the world’s first full-scale eco surfboard facility. Based in Los Angeles, Eco Boardworks’ goal is to create the least toxic and most environmentally responsible surfboards on the market. The folks there explained that the traditional surfboard is one of the most toxic pieces of sporting goods equipment on the planet, and what they’re doing about it, starting with using recycled foam blanks. Todd, Ry and Chano, I definitely know where to go when it’s time for a new board.
Other good news: Polyurethane from old boards can also serve as one heck of a sponge. Southern California start-up Monarch Green is using toxic surfboard shaper dust to create a substance that can quickly absorb harmful chemical waste, like the results of an oil spill.
Another innovative (and fun pun) board producer is Fiber-grass (aka bamboo boards).
With the advent of technologies and new innovations such as these, along with good practices like recycling old boards, the surf community can help preserve the stoke, and the beauty where they find it, for generations to come.
About the author: Perpetually curious about the nexus between genuine environmental conservation, community wellbeing and tourism, Nicole has worked with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural (UNESCO) World Heritage Centre’s Sustainable Tourism Programme, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Harvard Business School and the Campi ya Kanzi community eco-lodge in Kenya. She has lived in/visited 6 continents and attended Cornell University and The Fletcher School of International Affairs.