Surfing for Change: Exploring Sustainable Practices

Surfers generally are more conscious of the environment because we are fully immersed in nature while surfing.

Yet, it raises a paradoxical notion that surfers, while deeply invested in environmental concerns, ride waves on boards crafted from materials that are not renewable and difficult to recycle.

This article delves into various facets of the environmental footprint associated with surfboard production, highlighting:

  • Greenhouse Gas Emission
  • Durability of the surfboard
  • Toxicity of the surfboard manufacturing.

Are Surfboards Bad For the Environment?

The bulk of surfboard materials comes from petrochemical sources, many of which lack renewability or recyclability.

Assessing the environmental ramifications can be approached through various metrics, with greenhouse gas emissions serving as a straightforward indicator. These emissions quantify the volume of harmful substances, such as CO2, generated during manufacturing.

Here are a few interesting comparisons

Activities causing CO2 EmissionCO2 Emission
Manufacturing a surfboard375Lb = 170kg1
During the entire life cycle of a surfboard600Lb = 272kg
Car trip (10km)8.81Lb = 8kg
Typical passenger car per year4600kg2
Flights from Sydney to Bali3572Lb = 1600kg
Activities releasing CO2 into the atmosphere.

As evident, both in surfboard production and throughout its lifespan, CO2 emissions are significantly lower compared to those generated by car travel or air transportation. Consequently, one might contend that the most environmentally friendly approach would involve walking or bicycling to the beach.

Nonetheless, I do not advocate for neglect as the optimal solution. Several prominent surfboard manufacturers have long been integrating environmentally sustainable materials and technologies to contribute to Earth’s preservation. An exemplary case is Firewire surfboards.

Under Kelly Slater’s leadership, Firewire has been proactive in embracing new environmentally friendly materials for manufacturing surfboards and accessories.

While environmentally friendly alternatives are frequently associated with compromised quality and merely cater to consumer goodwill, I find this approach insufficient.

Until recently, Kelly Slater consistently rode Firewire surfboards during competitions, showing that his environmentally friendly boards can compete with other top-notch surfboards.

While these changes are small compared to activities with higher carbon emissions, they have the potential to make a big impact over time. Plus, EPS surfboards might eventually outshine traditional PU boards in quality and feel.

Is Surfboard Manufacturing Harmful for Humans?

The surfboard manufacturing process involves predominantly fossil fuel-based materials, posing health risks to both manufacturers and repairers. Fine dust from foam, carcinogenic resins, and catalysts used for fibreglass sealing contribute to these dangers.

During shaping, foam particles released into the air from blanks can cause respiratory issues if inhaled, leading to long-term health problems.

Resin hardening involves a chemical reaction that emits harmful fumes, including formaldehyde, which, with prolonged exposure, can cause serious illnesses like leukemia.

While the USA has implemented regulations to address these risks, the lack of global standards has led manufacturing to shift to countries like Thailand and China. This outsourcing not only relocates the issues but also increases greenhouse gas emissions due to worldwide transportation.

However, leading and purpose-driven surfboard manufacturers are actively developing safer materials and technologies to safeguard workers and the environment.

Can Surfboards Be Recycled?

PU surfboards are not recyclable, unlike EPS (Epoxy) surfboard foam, which can be recycled. However, public awareness about recycling surfboards remains low, resulting in most used or unwanted surfboards ending up in landfills.

Private companies handle EPS foam recycling, as EPS foams are widely used in various products, including packaging, making surfboards a less typical source of recyclable materials. If you’re interested in recycling your board, contacting these companies directly to inquire about procedures is advisable.

Additionally, Ecoboard is a global organization that certifies surfboard manufacturers who utilize recycled foams in surfboard production, promoting sustainable practices within the industry.

Durability of Surfboard

Durability stands out as a critical environmental concern, given the high likelihood of discarded surfboards ending up in landfills.

This durability can be assessed from various angles, including resistance to regular wear and tear, impact resistance, and repairability to extend its lifespan.

The inherent fragility of surfboards, coupled with repair costs and a relatively short lifespan, underscores the fundamental issue. Thin glassing is particularly susceptible to cracking, exposing the foam core. Both EPS and PU boards share this fragility, although epoxy resin renders EPS boards more resilient compared to traditional PU ones.

Two primary types of glassing, E-glassing and S-glassing, offer differing levels of stiffness and resistance to wear. For example, Channel Island surfboard predominantly employs E-glassing, opting for S-glassing for their team riders.

Apart from the raw materials, reinforcing factors contribute to a board’s strength, such as increasing the thickness of the fibreglass layer. Professionals favour 4 oz glassing for its optimal balance of weight and flexibility, whereas the general public typically opts for heavier glassing configurations.

As boards increase in size, manufacturers often utilise thicker glassing for enhanced strength.

The foam also plays a big role in durability.

Companies like Lib Tech introduce innovative closed-cell technology, preventing water absorption and enabling continued use even after damage, thus substantially prolonging a board’s lifespan. Collaborations with established manufacturers like LOST further validate such advancements.

These innovations particularly benefit beginner surfers prone to frequent dings, enabling them to continue surfing without immediate glassing repairs.

Prioritising durability remains crucial for mitigating overall environmental impact. Therefore, when selecting a surfboard, consider its longevity.

The durability of epoxy/EPS boards surpasses that of traditional PU boards, albeit at a higher cost, typically priced AUD 100-150 more for the same model from the same manufacturer.

How To Make The Surfboard Last Longer.

Increasing the life span of surfboard is a commitment to sustainability and reducing our environmental footprint. Here are four epic strategies to ensure your board keep it’s shape over the years.

1. Armor Up with a Surfboard Bag: Protect your board like a knight guards a castle. A sturdy surfboard bag shields your board from damage. Make it a ritual to slide your board into its protective cocoon after each session, chilling it out in a cool spot until the next adventure.

    2. Ding Repair is King: Don’t let a tiny ding turn into a full-blown disaster. Water infiltration can wreak havoc on your board, causing delamination and major repairs down the line. Patch up those dings as soon as possible, or place a piece of duck tape making sure no water gets in.

    3. Keep the board in shade: Direct sunlight can weaken your board’s glassing or even delamination, especially for EPS boards. Avoid leaving it baking in the car during scorching days.

    4. Don’t buy a junk: Opt for quality over quantity when choosing your board. Investing in a reliable surfboard brand means more durability, and ultimately, a longer lifespan. Having a good brand also helps you to sell the board later. See here if you want to read about buying and selling secondhand board.

    1. Surfboard making and environmental sustainability (2017): New materials and
      regulations, subcultural norms and economic constraints
      Christopher R. Gibson
      Andrew T. Warren ↩︎
    2. EPA United States Environmental Protection Agency ↩︎


    My name is James, the person behind With 15 years of experience in surfing, I am excited to help you on the journey to becoming a competent surfer.

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