Is surfing sustainable?

Dr Gregory Borne, director of Plymouth University’s Sustainability and Surfing Research Group

Surfing sits at the centre of all sorts of sustainability issues and they are all connected

Dr Gregory Borne, director of Plymouth University’s Sustainability and Surfing Research Group within the School of Business, has been down under to address the International Surfing Symposium on Australia’s Gold Coast. The conference looked at how surfing can help our beleaguered oceans. Here are some lessons to learn.

Surfing is one big ecosystem

From creating sustainable livelihoods and tackling marine pollution to surf tourism and cultural initiatives, there’s a lot of activity related to getting on a board and riding the waves. “Surfing sits at the centre of all sorts of sustainability issues and they are all connected,” says Dr Borne. Sustainable surfing is as important on the micro level of individuals’ behaviour as it is on the macro level of national policy-making.

A straw up a turtle’s nose

“There are a lot of challenges facing our oceans at the moment,” continues Dr Borne. These encompass ocean acidification, depletion of fish stocks, climate change affecting sea levels and, crucially, plastic pollution. “Images of beer packaging deforming turtles' development or whole plastic straws being pulled from a turtle’s nose are shocking.”

Surfers can lead the way

Managed properly, surfing can bring a huge number of benefits to coastal communities. It can make them more prosperous and contribute positively to mental health and wellbeing. Surfing’s economic value to the UK’s South West is around £250 million per year, and that's not even including investment from businesses that have developed around the surfing industry in the region.

Buy an eco board

The flipside is that the potential negative impact that surfing can have has to be managed carefully. “Without sounding preachy, you have to think about the effect that you are having when you go for a surf, from getting to the surf in the first place to the equipment that you use,” Dr Borne advises. Check out Surfers Against Sewage and think about investing in an eco board and wetsuit – they’re comparable in price and performance but have a lower environmental impact.

Stay tuned in

Dr Borne is currently researching how sustainable Plymouth’s own surfing community is and will be looking to incorporate some of the pearls of knowledge gleaned at the Gold Coast symposium.