Story By SURFER Magazine.
If you're a surfer who cares about our collective climate future, you may have made some changes to your surf lifestyle. Perhaps you've forked over the extra several hundred dollars for a yulex wetsuit, made from natural rubber rather than petrochemical neoprene. Maybe you ordered a certified "ecoboard," constructed from a recycled core and glassed with plant-based resin. And if you're really on it, you started offsetting the impact of your surf-trip air travel, by purchasing carbon offsets from a program like SeaTrees.
But even if you've checked off all of those commendable acts of climate kindness, the biggest environmental impact caused by surfing remains unaddressed. "The blind spot in the equation is how we get to the beach," says Kevin Whilden, co-founder of Sustainable Surf. For the average surfer who isn't jetting around the globe chasing swell, of all the actions we take and purchases we make in order to surf, it's driving to the beach in gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles that hurts the ocean the most.
Transportation accounts for about one-third of emissions in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and half of transportation emissions are from passenger vehicles, including light-duty trucks, SUVs and minivans, some of the most common vehicles used by American surfers and by Americans in general. (Last year, SUVs, vans and pickup trucks made up 72% of auto sales in the U.S., and that number is only expected to rise.)
Let's examine how going for a surf contributes to those emissions. In a 2011 survey conducted by Surf First and the Surfrider Foundation, the median distance traveled by surfers to go surfing was 10 miles one way, and the median number of times they surfed per year was 97. This would mean the median surfer drove 1,940 miles per year to surf. The Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) estimates that there are 2.3 million surfers over the age of 18 in the country today -- multiply those two numbers and surfers might be driving as many as 4.5 billion miles a year to surf. (I thought this number couldn't possibly be correct, until I read that Americans drove 3.22 trillion miles in 2017).
Now let's translate that to CO2 emitted: According to the EPA, 4.5 billion miles driven equates to about 2 million metric tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere. That's right -- two million metric tons of CO2 per year -- from driving to surf.
While these are loose, non-academic calculations, the point is that most surfers' commutes to surf are killing the ocean on which their wave riding depends. "The burning of the fossil fuels from the tailpipe causes oceans to acidify as they absorb CO2," explains Whilden. "This also warms the ocean, bleaches coral reefs, and causes kelp forests to die off. It stops ocean circulation so there's fewer plankton which disrupts the ocean food chain, and rising sea levels will affect the quality of the surf by causing a bad case of permanent high tide."