Surfing for Sustainable Seas

Can surfing become the greenest industry in the world? According to Sustainable Surf, a non- profit organization founded in 2011 by Kevin Whilden and Michael Stewart, the answer is “absolutely.” Already making waves among surf industry leaders and surfing professionals, Sustainable Surf hopes to change a toxic legacy that has cast a pall over what is often described as one of the sports most in touch with nature.

Ripping a little lip on an ECOBOARD

Ripping a little lip on an ECOBOARD

Consider the laid-back and generally health and eco-conscious vibe exemplified within the surfing community. When contrasted with the negative environmental impacts embedded within the creation of a single surfboard, a clear picture emerges of an industry in need of transformation.

“The reality is that the surfboard – the iconic symbol of surfing – is one of the most toxic vehicles in all of action sports,” said Whilden. “Surfing cannot become sustainable without first cleaning up the surfboard.”

Enter The ECOBOARD Project, a program to help surfers choose a “high performance sustainable surfboard made with the latest advancements in green chemistry and renewable materials, designed to reduce the board’s environmental and toxic impact.” The ECOBOARD Project provides an ‘eco-label’ to shapers based on the use of sustainable materials when creating new boards. By meeting these specific and measurable criteria, shapers can certify that their boards are made using less toxic materials.

“Surfing is such an appealing lifestyle,” said Whilden. “Surfers can help catalyze the transformation to a sustainable society just by living a natural lifestyle while we have fun.”

Eco-resin being applied to a new board.

Eco-resin being applied to a new board.

Because no current industry-wide standard exists for what qualifies as an environmentally responsible surfboard, manufacturers are now looking at The ECOBOARD Project as the standard bearer, with industry giants such as Channel Islands Surfboards, Lost Surfboards and Firewire jumping on board early.

“We hope to have our benchmarks become the future standard that all shapers use,” said Whilden. With other major brands now lined up to consider their own involvement in The ECOBOARD Project, the reality of an official standard being adopted soon is a very real possibility.

Waste to Waves, another program launched by Sustainable Surf, aims to clean up the planet while promoting a healthier surf culture. Polystyrene (more commonly referred to as Styrofoam) ranks high among environmental “no-no’s” but is the primary material in surfboard production. Because of its extremely light weight and relatively large bulk, Styrofoam is difficult to recycle in an economically viable manner.

Waste to Waves currently works with surf shops from San Diego to Los Angeles, which act as Styrofoam collection stations. Marko Foam, a leading manufacturer of surfboard blanks, picks up this Styrofoam waste when making normal deliveries to surf shops. The Styrofoam is returned to Marko Foam’s Irvine headquarters instead of ending up in a landfill, or worse, our oceans. This waste foam is then ‘densified,’ delivered to surfboard shapers, and eventually crafted into your next twin fin, longboard, or gun.

Waste to Waves - or in this case, an epic new blank.

Waste to Waves – or in this case, an epic new blank.

“Waste to Waves, turns an annoying piece of trash directly into an exciting product,” said Whilden. “It’s one of the most interesting recycling programs ever. It also helps drive sales of ECOBOARDS.”

With a series of other projects and outreach activities underway, Sustainable Surf has quickly found itself in a leadership role as it seeks to help green an industry that owes its entire existence to the natural world. Indeed, if it weren’t for a clean, blue ocean, the ancient trees first used for riding waves, or the sound of breakers on long forgotten non-polluted shores, surfing as we know it would not exist.

Can surfing be the greenest industry in the world? Yes. Should it be? Absolutely. Learn more at

This article first appeared in volume 2, Winter, of LoaLiving Magazine.

By Eric Cardenas, LoaTree

2 Responses

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    Stephen MacIntosh

    Nicely researched and written Eric. So glad to hear that the big boys are jumping on the ECOBOARD bandwagon!

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