Surfers Charging for Change - Part 1

Surfers Charging for Change Series:


Surfers are often branded a selfish breed, but meet the surfers shunning that stereotype and leading the charge in taking action on social, environmental and community-related causes.

Rightly or wrongly, surfers are often branded self-centred, solitary and solely focused on getting their own fat piece of the ‘oceanic pie’. Despite the time spent in the water, many surfers are still sketchy about the pressing environmental issues at hand – water pollution, waste production, beach and dune degradation, increased coastal development - or community needs – employment opportunities, basic health and education – particularly in the sought-after surf spots in third-world countries. 

While some surfers would attest to their level of ignorance, most would probably argue they only leave a small ecological footprint. The bigger issue is the level of apathy (or perhaps laziness) in those surfers who recognise the problems but fail to take action in addressing them. Fortunately, there is a fast growing swell of socially conscious surfers stepping up to the challenge and fulfilling what they believe is their role as a responsible surfer.

The Surfers Charging for Change series highlights some of the leaders in sustainable surfing practices and showcases the inspiring efforts of surfers around the globe tackling issues including; the eradication of plastics, clean water, empowerment through education and enabling greater access for surfers with disabilities, just to name a few.

In the context of the surfing world, what is sustainability?

Sustainability, as a concept, is best described, as meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. In a business context, sustainability encompasses an organisation’s ability to deliver sustained, high performance without negatively impacting on the environment, the broader community or their own employees.

Many organisations are now attempting to address sustainability issues and, like the corporate world, there is a need for the surfing industry – particularly the surf brands - to step up to their role as change agents and lead the way in implementing more sustainable practices. Examples of this include; ensuring ethical working conditions for employees particularly when engaging with third-world countries, promoting greener, eco-conscious surfing events, opting for more energy efficient production methods or using greener, sustainable materials for surfboards.

Surfboard innovation specialists Firewire take sustainability seriously – the company construct their boards using EPS foam and epoxy resin, which are less toxic than polyester and polyurethane allowing them to deliver product that is greener than most of their competitors. In 2005, Firewire’s eco efforts were recognised, taking out the EuroSima Environmental Product of the Year Award.

Firewire CEO Mark Price says, they’ve since built on that and are doing right by the environment as best they can. Price has always had an avid interest in the environment and believes that surfers need to play a much larger role when it comes to sustainability, particularly with regard to product purchases.

“Although most surfers do care, when it comes to actual purchasing decisions there are still a number of product attributes that come before any eco consideration. I think as an industry, particularly on the manufacturing side, there’s some really innovative stuff being done but the average surfer needs to be more aware and become a greater catalyst for change. We play in the ocean every day but for some reason we don’t make as much noise as we should,” he says.

Tim Russo, owner of the Drifter Surf Shop and Café in Bali, echoes this sentiment and believes the surf brands should be leading the charge. 

“It needs to start with the industry more than just the individual surfer. Protecting the oceans and being environmentally responsible should be the foundation of their brand messages. I think the whole surf industry has a lot to learn from the likes of Patagonia and what they’re doing,” he says. 

“The brands are extremely influential especially with the younger generation so I think starting with them would make an exponentially big difference. I feel guilty having a surf shop sometimes, in a way we’re just as guilty as everybody else but we want to promote and support brands that are more sustainable.”

“Surfers should be the caretakers of the ocean but unfortunately I don’t think that happens and I’m not sure why more surfers don’t take action. I wish surfers, especially youngers surfers, would stop worrying so much about becoming professional and getting sponsorship and put their energy into protecting their local breaks and being more vocal about the damage happening to the beaches,” says Russo. 

So why should surfers play an active role in understanding and addressing the issues?

The most effective way to address many of the world’s pressing environmental and social issues is to mobilise individuals and organisations to operate in ways that benefit both business and society. Sustainability in any context is a complex issue that requires a collective and considered approach. For surfers, it can start with taking a greater interest in the immediate issues facing their local beaches and breaks and finding ways to get involved. The transformation is already under way, driven in part by greater awareness and by the actions of responsible leaders who have already recognised the need for immediate change.

Long-time activist and greenie, Greg Howell, who runs The Surfrider Foundation Eco Challenge events in Australia, says sustainability is a hot topic amongst the surfing fraternity, particularly on the Gold Coast following the proposed development of a ship terminal at Kirra beach in 2014. Howell created the Eco Challenge events in an effort to raise awareness of sustainable event practices and greener options for the surf industry, as well as providing an opportunity to bring local communities together. 

“The concept of the Eco Challenge evolved from my love of the ocean, surfing, community and sustainable events. There are many people that share this passion and we’ve had great support for the events. Everyone should step up to the challenge of greening events that benefit the environment, especially when this includes our beaches,” says Howell. 

Stay tuned to upcoming articles in the Surfers Charging for Change series. In the meantime, if you’re interested in getting more involved in protecting your local break, a good place to start is The Surfrider Foundation - check out - to find your local chapter. 

Surfers Charging for Change Series

This article is the first in a series that we are penning highlights some of the leaders in sustainable surfing practices and showcases the inspiring efforts of surfers around the globe tackling issues including; the eradication of plastics, clean water, empowerment through education and enabling greater access for surfers with disabilities, just to name a few. . Stay tuned for the next instalment...

Surfers Charging for Change - Combating the Plastics Problem in Indonesia

Surfers Charging for Change - Boomerang Bags – Sewing Sustainable Solutions

Posted by: Jaclyn Knight, on March 14, 2015
Categories: Articles