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Surfing, a sport enjoyed from coasts around the world, is more than just a hobby to do in the water. Many surfers would agree that at the core, it’s a love affair with nature and the ocean as well. Naturally, if the ocean and nature are huge components of the passion that goes into the sport, it’s safe to assume that the majority of surfers are environmentally conscious.
Unfortunately, with the abundance of chemicals, synthetic dyes, and fragrances in irresponsibly manufactured products that we are bombarded with daily, it can seem near impossible to approach a sport like surfing in an eco-friendly way. In just a single bar of surfboard wax, there can be up to thousands of undisclosed chemicals. This wax does not only make contact with your skin, but it makes contact with the ocean, where billions of plants and animals live. So now comes the big question … how green do you surf?
What Surfboard Wax Do You Use?
Let’s start off with the basics: surfboard wax. Similar to sunscreen, board wax can contain ocean harming and human health-harming synthetic ingredients such a petroleum based wax or synthetic fragrance.
Many popular waxes contain petrochemical additives such as paraffins that pollute the ocean. In fact, petrochemicals are in 95 percent of surf wax found on the market today. This petroleum based wax will eventually fall off a surfboard, affecting our beaches, our delicate ecosystems and reefs. Paraffin wax is obtained when crude oil is separated into its individual components.
The wax itself is a petrochemical which requires hydrocarbon energy to transport and refine the wax from crude oil. Paraffin starts off as a grayish-black sludge that may have seen oozing out of the backside of petroleum refineries. This substance is then bleached with 100 percent strength bleach, creating dioxins (which are toxic). For those who use bleach in the laundry, only 10 percent is used in this case – so you can imagine the strength of 100. The white ooze created from this is then processed into solid paraffin using various solidifying chemicals, such as acrolyn, which is a known carcinogen. As if this process isn’t bad enough, it uses a large amount of nonrenewable energy as well.
Soy is another primary ingredient found in surf wax. While soy seems better and more natural because it’s a plant, soy is a monoculture that is mass produced for use in the agricultural industry, and it is often genetically engineered. Genetically modified soy is grown with petrochemical fertilizers, petrochemical herbicides, and petrochemical pesticides. This farming method puts biodiversity highly at risk, especially in South America, where the area of soy cultivated for the production of animal feed and other products is about the size of Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France combined.
That’s not where the impact ends, however. Soy bean oil is converted to wax through hydrogenation, where hydrogen gas is catalytically combined with the oil. Hydrogen gas is produced industrially through a process called methane steam reforming, where water and a natural gas (a petrochemical) are broken up into carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. This means that even if the soybeans were grown, transported and processed into oil without any petrochemicals, the wax making process requires hydrogen (made from petrochemicals) added to it. Because the majority of brands do not specify where the soy is sourced from, the best option is to find certified organic surf wax to avoid most of the damage associated with soy.
There are several self-titled eco-surf wax products available that, unfortunately, are only eco-friendly by name alone. The German magazine Surfers had a deeper look into the ingredients of these waxes some time ago and came to a disheartening conclusion: petrochemical additives were often found in these self-proclaimed “eco-surf” waxes. Real “green” surf waxes, according to Surfers include Famous, Sticky Bumps and Greenfix (there is a cooperation with Kun_tiqi). However, it remains unclear if organic soy is used in these waxes.
Here are a few waxes made organically and sustainably:
- Surf Organic: Surf Organic Surf Wax is made from a blend of renewable and high-performance ingredients and is packaged with 100 percent recycled materials. Unlike traditional surf wax, which is made with petrochemical ingredients, Surf Organic’s main ingredient is soy wax which is biodegradable and environmentally friendly.
- Matunas: Matunas Organic Surf Wax is non-toxic, biodegradable, petroleum-free, nonsynthetic, and eco-friendly surf wax. It is made using local ingredients in California. They strive for environmental quality and ethics in their business by making ecologically friendly surf products that do not have negative effects on our environment.
It Goes Beyond Wax
“The Hawaiians surfed on wood. The Peruvians surfed on reed. We surf on plastic.” – Veit Juergens
For half a century surfers been riding the same surfboard. Design and performance have made quantum leaps over the decades but the typical surfboard remains a chunk of toxic polyurethane slathered with toxic polyester resin. It’s not good for the ocean and it’s certainly not good for the surfers and shapers who play in an increasingly polluted ocean. An average Polyester resin shortboard around 6’1 has the carbon footprint of around 400 pounds of carbon dioxide equivalent and an epoxy 9’1 Longboard is around 1,000 pounds carbon dioxide equivalent. For context, burning one gallon of gasoline releases around 20 pounds of carbon dioxide.
In 2005, Clark Foam, the largest surfboard producer in the U.S. shut down due to threats from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These boards, which was the first to introduce boards make of fiberglass and polymers used toluene diisocyanate in the manufacturing process. This chemical alone is a potent carcinogen and the company had been cited many times by the EPA. While this signaled the end of these harmful boards, there has been a lag in producing new boards that appropriately merit a sustainable title. After years of false starts and failed experiments, companies have began creating eco-friendly surfboards that don’t compromise performance or require significant changes in manufacturing. Who are the companies leading this change?
- Wave Tribe: uses sustainable, non-toxic materials.
- Waste To Waves: 100% Recycled EPS boards, with hemp tail patches, and Epoxy glass with bio-derived components.
- Pacific Island Surfboards: boards are made from salvaged wood from the beach, scrap wood from portable mills, dead and down from our forests, and logs salvaged from lakes
- Harmony Surfboard: a company where the most important concept is using biodegradable, recycled materials and art craft. They are making handmade surfboards using BIO, RECYCLED, materials. The newest materials pollute less than 40% currently, but their goal is to reduce that percentage to the maximum to make less impact on workers and mother nature.
- Earth Technologies: Earth Technologies (E-Tech) is a surfboard and paddle factory that combines multiple sustainable, natural, and recycled components to their boards. They recently introduced a bio-based alternative to conventional fiberglass, and pride themselves on being the only manufacturers to use this “bio-glass.” Additionally, they use recycled EPS foam board blanks, Entropy Resins sap-based bio-resin instead of polyester resin, and bamboo decks or (patent pending) tail patches instead of carbon fiber
- Solo Surfboards: made out of all natural sustainable wood.
- Lost Surfboards: a carbon-cork composite board with an exposed cork deck, so no fiberglass is needed and surfers don’t need to buy wax.
What About Wetsuits?
Traditionally, wetsuits have been made using neoprene, which is DuPont’s trade name for polychloroprene. Polychloroprene is a family of synthetic rubbers. It has many uses as in general it has good chemical stability, and maintains flexibility over a wide temperature range. It’s no wonder this is a popular material used to make wetsuits and other swim gear. However, this material is synthetic, and is on your skin for an extended period of time where toxins can be absorbed into the body. In addition, this material pollutes the ocean and harm marine life as it comes into contact with it. Fortunately, there are alternatives to neoprene wetsuits. These include:
- Henderson: Henderson Wetsuits utilize limestone-based polychloroprene for most of its neoprene products. Doing this reduces their dependence on oil and oil-derived chemicals. In their words, “We enjoy diving in a blue ocean and doing what we can to keep it that way for a long time.”
- Patagonia: Neoprene-free warmth. Their entire line of full suits is now made with Yulex® natural rubber from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council®certified by the Rainforest Alliance.
- Matuse: wetsuits made out of limestone.
- Swish: eco technical Apparel for women in the water. Girl power!
This is a big one, and can easily be overlooked. Sunscreen, if not made in a sustainable way contains many additives that are toxic to marine life, coral reefs, and your health. To read more about how sunscreen impacts the environment and for tips on ecofriendly, health-conscious alternatives, click here.
Image source: BarryTuck/Shutterstock