In January of 2014, I read an article on The Inertia that resonated with me, and has since led to me making a radical reversal in my priorities and the way I live my life. The article, written by Tim Baker, is titled Letter to Surf Magazine Editors of the World. As someone who is interested in writing about surfing, there was a particular passage in his letter that stood out to me.
“Having a credible, independent surf media seems to me necessary to have any meaningful discussion of environmental issues, surfboard design, the ethical considerations of travel to often remote and fragile third world destinations, the influence the surf industry wields and how responsibly or otherwise they wield that influence…”
I read these words and knew instantly that they were important to me, but I realized that although these subjects struck me as the most relevant issues I could be discussing as a surf travel writer, I knew very little about them. Feeling oblivious and naive, I started doing research.
A Surfer’s Guide to Sustainability by Nick Power was one of the first things I read. Coincidentally, Power published his report around the same time Tim Baker expressed his wishes of a “credible, independent surf media.”
Power clearly lays out the details of surfing’s impact on the environment, and it touches on most of the things brought up by Baker in the excerpt presented above. I encourage anyone interested in the subject to read it.
Over the past two years, since graduating from college, I’ve spent thousands of dollars traveling around to six countries in three of our four hemispheres. I would not trade these experiences for anything. It has been the ultimate treat.
This year I had planned to visit Portugal and Morocco, but I’ve decided not to go and I’ll explain why.
In their book, True Green: 100 everyday ways you can contribute to a healthier planet, Kim McKay and Jenny Bonnin point out that…
“Travel is by and large the most environmentally unfriendly part of surfing culture.”
Look at it this way. There are a lot of us, right? And we’re all out here driving and flying around to find waves. And when we drive and fly around, the cars and planes we use burn fuel, which sends CO2 out into the atmosphere. And that adds up.
Aside from travel, most of our gear is also pretty toxic. I don’t know how I’ve never thought about this before.
In Power’s report, he describes the processes involved in the development and distribution of surfboards, wetsuits and apparel in the surf industry. The statistics provided are overwhelming. The industry clearly has a significant negative impact on our planet, which as he pointed out is pretty sad because our actions have direct effects on our oceans (that we all claim to care so much about).
As I dug deeper I thought to myself…
How do you instill a desire within mainstream surf culture to genuinely care about having a more sustainable surf industry, to the point where they are willing to take action, when it’s so much easier to not care?
I know what it’s like to not care because up until about two weeks ago, I wasn’t thinking about these issues at all and it was a simpler time. Because of that, the challenge of finding the answer to this question seems extremely daunting.
Creating real change and a more sustainable surf industry is hard for me to wrap my mind around. To control or steer something that seems so far out of my reach feels impossible.
So what can I control?
“When looking at the environmental situation, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. We’ve made a mess of things, and it seems impossible to make a difference. But it’s important to realize that everyone has a say in what happens. Opting to ignore your personal power to choose to avoid an environmentally unfriendly habit is one of the biggest barriers we face in trying to fix today’s environmental challenges. Each individual matters, and each business sets a model. The best option is to become educated about the big issues and make the most informed decisions possible. One is enough to make a difference.”
The answer is that I can control my own actions by educating myself and giving a shit, and that is all I’m setting out to do. I have no desire to tell you or anyone else how to live their life. My goal is to simply make sure that my own actions are congruent with my beliefs.
I live five minutes away from my local break, yet I drive there to check the waves on most days, sometimes multiple times per day, emitting greenhouse gases which are harmful to our oceans each time, and I’ve been doing this since I was old enough to drive.
To offset all of the traveling that I’ve indulged in over the last couple years, I’ve decided to claim publicly, as a way to hold myself accountable, that for the next year, starting 2/9/15, I will only go surfing by way of my bike.
I don’t anticipate this will be easy. I think it will lead to less surfing, missing days of good waves, and the possibilities of surf travel will become limited and vastly more strenuous. With that said, I hope to use this personal movement as a platform to create awareness for the power of the individual, and to contribute to the conversation about surfing, sustainability and ethical travel.
For anyone who would like to follow along throughout the next year, feel free to follow along by signing up for my email newsletter at the bottom of this page.