The state of sustainable surfing

This week saw the fourth edition of the Global Wave Conference take place at the Bedruthan Hotel in Mawgan Porth, Cornwall.

The first Global Wave Conference was a two-day event held in 2010 in Tenerife, Canary Islands. It was co-organised by big wave surfer Dr Tony Butt and Dr Angel Lobo, who is not only a lecturer at the university of La Laguna, Tenerife, but also the President of the Canary Islands Surfing Federation.

Since then the event has travelled to France in 2011 and Mexico in 2013 before landing on our British shores, courtesy of Surfers Against Sewage. 

This year the Global Wave Conference was the biggest edition yet, regrouping some of the world’s most respected surfers, environmentalists, grassroots activists, campaigners and marine experts. The 2015 conference focused on the protection of waves, oceans, beaches, wildlife and surf habitat worldwide.

The Green Wave founder Gordon Fontaine went down to get a first hand view on the state of sustainability in today’s surfing world.

Being able to attend this conference was a huge privilege. It featured some of the surfing world’s most influential environmentalists and conservationists. The list includes the likes of Chad Nelsen (CEO of Surfrider), Hugo Tagholm (CEO of Surfers Against Sewage), Greg Long (Multiple Big Wave World Tour champion), Ramon Navarro (Winner of the Eddie Aikau), Tom Curren (no description needed), Brad Gerlach and plenty more.

“Marine conservation is the world’s biggest solvable problem”

It was Lucy Siegle, columnist at The Guardian and author of To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World, who opened up the conference with a great speech on how to sensitise non-surfers to environmental issues. “Marine conservation is the world’s biggest solvable problem” she said as she highlighted the need for bigger and better NGO collaborations.

“You’ve got to segment the problem into digestible chunks, and find the connection point. Celebrity influence often works well” she went on to say; using the example of Harry Styles’ recent call to boycott Seaworld. According to Siegle, a big emphasis needs to made on humanising ocean problems, so that people can easily relate to it and engage.

It was great to open up such event with a non-surfer as it opened our eyes on new ways to connect with mainstream media.

The Conference went on to tackle a variety of enviro-surf issues, including the protection of surfing habitats, marine litter, climate change, surf tourism, sustainable surfboards, community led projects and more.

"One man's crazy is another's reality"

One of the highlight of the Conference for me was Greg Long delivering a speech I’ll never forget. Ironically it had nothing to do with the enviro-surf movement, instead the keynote presentation went through Greg’s upbringing and journey to becoming the world’s most decorated big wave surfer, including his near death experience in 2011.

The real inspiration was down to his life philosophy, which proved to us all that if you work hard enough, surround yourself with the right people, and are dedicated and hungry for challenges, you can achieve almost anything in life.

The speeches on sustainable surfboards were another highlight with three very different but complimentary presentations from Micheal Stewart of Sustainable Surf, Mark Price CEO of Firewire Surfboards and James Otter from Otter Surfboards. There are a number of different factors coming into play when trying to green up the surfboard industry.

While James Otter was looking at involving surfers in every step of the wooden surfboard manufacturing process, Mark Price was focusing on making eco-boards as widely available as possible, by reducing profit margins and using a mass production business model. On the other hand, Micheal Stewart was talking about the launch of Sustainable Surf’s ‘Eco-Board’ label, which will inspire shapers around the world to use greener materials and processes, thus reducing the industry’s environmental impact.

Derek Sabori - Volcom

I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Derek Sabori, Vice-President of Sustainability at Volcom, about the company’s sustainability efforts since the mid-noughties. After launching the V.cological ranges quite early on, Sabori realised more needed to be done if he was to make a real difference.

Since then he’s been working tirelessly, and alongside the Kering Group after their acquisition in 2011, to increase Volcom’s environmental initiatives and reduce its carbon footprint. The strong relationship between Kelly Slater and Volcom suddenly made a lot more sense and surpassed the simple Kering connection.

The high caliber of attendees at the event was an important part of the conference’s success. Having the CEOs of both Surfers Against Sewage and Surfrider Foundation in the same room, alongside a number of experienced and committed environmentalists was really special.

But the presence of 90’s surf star Brad Gerlach, 3 x World Champ and living legend Tom Curren, Chilean nutter (and also winner of the Eddie Aikau Waimea contest) Ramon Navarro and multiple Big Wave World Champ Greg Long really made this event unique.

It was really humbling to see that these guys attended as many presentations as possible and were carefully listening, being themselves inspired by everyone else in the room.

Surfing's very own equation, courtesy of Dr Tony Butt

The overall message that prevailed from those two days in Mawgan Porth was a strengthened need for collaboration. Collaboration between NGO’s, businesses and individuals. The problem that is climate change is bigger than all of us, and it’s only by working together that we’ll be able to make a difference.

Everyone has their role to play, and if you’re reading this, you can make a difference too.

Start by joining Surfers Against Sewage and/or Surfrider Foundation; think about what you consume, opt for better greener alternatives; and make changes to your lifestyle, like cycling to the beach, rigorously taking part in recycling, attending beach cleans and/or saving energy and water… All make for a good starting point to a better future.

In the mean time, go for a surf and really enjoy the environment you’re surrounded with, it’s the one thing that will bring you the inspiration to take the first step.

Micro plastics


Andy Cummins - SAS Campaigns Director

Gregory Borne - Co-author of Sustainable Stoke

Sean Smith - SIMA

Gordon Fontaine
Gordon Fontaine


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