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FOUR SEASONS: AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH ABOUT SURFING

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 8 September 2012

THE SURFING lifestyle isn’t as environmentally friendly as it may appear – or as some surfers may like to think. There seems to be a common misconception among the wave-riding fraternity that spending lots of time bobbing around in the sea makes you some sort of eco-warrior by osmosis. Never mind all the travelling involved in getting to the beach, or all the toxic substances involved in the manufacture of boards and wetsuits – it’s as if by communing with Mother Ocean on a regular basis, you’re, like, somehow more “connected,” man – and that makes it OK to fly to Bali and back whenever you fancy a bit of warm-water tube-riding.

This communal logic fail is summed up nicely by an amusing Twitter bio I stumbled upon the other week. I’ve changed the name of the person in question to spare her blushes, and anyway, it would be unfair to single her out as she’s by no means the only surfer in the world who thinks like this.

“Barbie is an award-winning filmmaker, actress, model and surfer!” it begins. “She loves to get into wild adventures around the world and live an eco lifestyle!”

OK, so let’s get this straight: Barbie loves to get into wild adventures around the world AND live an eco lifestyle? Really? How, pray tell, does she manage to do both at the same time? Does she think that by recycling her copies of Vogue when she’s in New York, only eating locally sourced papaya when she’s in Fiji and frolicking around in the surf in recycled hemp sandals when she’s in Hawaii she’s somehow making up for her elephantine carbon footprint? Just cos you can’t see all that CO2, honey, don’t mean it ain’t there.

There’s a similar disconnect in the long-running advertising campaign of a certain manufacturer of recycled, surf-oriented footwear. Again, I don’t think it’s fair to name the company as it’s far greener than most of the competition, but sadly, its ad department’s grasp of environmental issues is more-or-less in line with Barbie’s. “Look at all the garbage our sponsored celebrity surfer picked up at his local beach,” says the blurb in the ads, next to a picture of said surfer standing over a huge pile of trash. But there’s no mention of the fact that the surfer has clocked up more air miles than Donald Trump in the last 12 months while scouring the world for perfect surf. Recycling is great, beach cleans are great – the extent to which we use the world’s oceans as a giant landfill site is a disgrace that will blacken the name of our generation for hundreds of years to come. But making a big show of recycling and beach-cleaning while supporting surfers who burn aviation fuel like there’s no tomorrow shows an almost incredible lack of self-awareness.

Just to put things in perspective, global average CO2 emissions were 4.48 tonnes per person per year at the last count. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests a cut of 85 per cent by 2050 if we’re to avoid the worst effects of global warming. A return flight from London to Los Angeles equates to 1.5 tonnes of CO2. A return flight from London to Sydney? A little under three tonnes. Take several intercontinental flights a year, in other words, and you’re a walking ecological disaster, no matter how many plastic bottles you pick up at the seaside.

The environmental impact of surfing has been on my mind a lot lately, after my wetsuit of five years finally gave up the ghost. The cats that prowl our back green recently started using one of the legs as a scratching post, and when the badly corroded zip broke the other night it was finally, undeniably, unuseable. Neoprene, the wonderful insulating material modern wetsuits are made from, is notoriously difficult to recycle, but it turns out Steve Powner, owner of the St Vedas surf shop at Coldingham where I originally bought the suit, offers a comprehensive rehabilitation service. “I’ve just got a dozen suits in from Free Spirits in Pitlochry,” he told me when I called. “Their backsides are absolutely ripped out cos they’ve been doing canyoning courses, but we should be able to patch them up. And if the damage is really bad, there’s a company we can send away to to get new panels fitted.” So there may be life in the old suit yet. Good news for my wallet, good news for the planet and even good news for the cats.

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