From organic hemp, to coconut husk fibres blended with recycled polyester, the surfing industry is tracing back to its roots and using ecological ingenuity.
Quite frankly, the human race has become a pest on our own planet as we continuously push the limits of creation. The surfing industry does not fall far from the tree. Innovation in the industry has predominantly been expressed through trial and error, along with a vintage DIY culture that provides us, the modern breed, with all of the essentials. Not only are aesthetics desired, in the land of barrels, functionality and design are absolutely critical. A fault in your tools could turn a washing machine wipe out at pipeline into a deadly feat.
The surfing world has evolved into a diverse, awesome and complex web of sub-cultures. People are starting to take the philosophy of surfing into their own hands and sculpt from it a definition that holds intrinsic meaning. We can find reckless, professional, sleek, joyful, radical, and alternative versions of surfers, all encompassing a loyal following with distinct trends for surf gear. Across the surf industry, sustainability is a word that has gained rapid familiarity.
Although the act of riding a wave is environmentally friendly, the industry and lifestyle associated with surfing certainly have progress to make. The clothing, boards and epic adventures all create a significant footprint on our planet. The conundrum also lies in the fact that, even if as a conscious surfer you invest in a locally made, up-cycled, wooden board, if your surf sessions require an hour drive to get to the destination and you hydrate with water from single-use plastic bottles, the positive environmental actions are perhaps just an illusion. Another example of unintended consequence is the fact that an estimated 4,000 – 6,000 metric tonnes of sunscreen wash off ocean swimmers’ bodies annually having an impact on our fragile ecosystem.
So, how impactful is the creation of a surfboard in comparison to, say, a pair of jeans? According to the life cycle analysis conducted by California-based non-profit group Sustainable Surf, a typical 6’0” short board, weighing approximately 2.5 kilograms emits over 270 kilograms of CO2 during its lifecycle, spanning from manufacturing to disposal. Based on our calculations of jeans that are washed weekly and kept for 4 years, the impact of the consumer behaviour alone amounts to 400 kilograms of CO2. According to Levi’s estimate, the production of one pair generates an additional 20 kilograms of emissions. Although this does not take into account the end of life (which is super important), it is interesting to see what relevant comparisons can be made.
A New Wave of Sustainability
A huge trend occurring that VOX POPULI recognises in the surf industry is the uptake of sustainable textiles and materials. Sustainable fabric and practices are fast becoming the norm in the surfing industry. Surfing giants like Billabong and Quiksilver have since taken the backseat to thriving niche brands that are loyally supported by unique surfing subcultures. The previously dominating, universal fast fashion brands failed to cater to all and survived at the top through largely unsustainable practices. A handful of leading companies took the leap of faith towards sustainability and began experimenting with innovative fabrics, whilst building the fascinating stories behind them. Very rapidly, sustainability is becoming a norm in the surf industry. We are seeing big brands like Patagonia who have had sustainable intentions from day one. For other companies, like Volcom, they are beginning to experiment with alternative fabrics and publically celebrate their intention to move towards a lower impact.
Now on the market, we have boutique brands like Afends, Banks, Finisterre, Mollusk Surf and the Salty Merchants. Some of our favourites at VOX POPULI who are experimenting with sustainable methods to craft beautiful goods, whilst using smaller production lines and using certified raw materials. Even though the brands don’t go out of their way to express their dedication to sustainability, they are doing it as though it is the standard. As anyone who appreciates the ocean, it should be.
So, who is kicking butt? One relatively young company, Vissla has taken off like a frog in a sock. The ethos behind the brand is to support creators and innovators. Vissla is a brand that represents freedom and a forward-thinking philosophy, embracing the DIY attitude within the surf culture. One of their recent creations are wetsuits, made in Japan by BETWET.
“The limestone is sourced in the Kurochime Mountains area in Niigata, Japan. They were originally plankton piled up over 300 million years ago in the Pacific Ocean, making it one of the highest degrees in purity. The limestone is heated with cokes (fuel with few impurities) to make a carbide bond. Then the carbide is processed with acetylene gas and hydrochloric acid to make polychloropene. To heat the materials, the factory uses only hydroelectric power that comes from 15 power stations located in the Hida Mountains. This makes it self-sustainable and eco-friendly. Corn oil is used as softener instead of petroleum additives.”
Considering a typical wetsuit is made from synthetic rubber, neoprene, the alternatives are necessary and they are just getting better and better.
It has been estimated that the Australian surfing population alone equates to 2.5 million wave riders. At 10% of the population, it is clear that ecological
innovation is critical in the industry. Many are nailing it, but there is plenty of room for improved design and disruptive solutions. In fact, we at VOX POPULI are working diligently with leading scientists and engineers in Australia to make the surfing industry even more radical, with epic products on an ecological mission.