Making Waves with Eco-Friendly Surfboards

While traditionally surfboards were made of wood, nowadays most surfboard blanks are made from polyurethane, which does not break down in landfills. We check out the coolest and most sustainable surfboard brands out there.

“The typical surfboard is a slab of petroleum-spawned polyurethane, slathered in layers of toxic polyester resin.”

Surfing is great. Catching a wave can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have in nature. Paddling out on your board is a time when any other thought or stress that has been swimming in your mind just melts away. It’s a cliché often repeated—and one that holds true—that you truly feel one with the ocean. But, during a recent surf trip to Byron Bay I also started thinking about the environmental impact of surfing. While I was feeling pretty pleased about my chemical-free reef-friendly sunscreen, I hadn’t really given much thought to the surfboards I’d had in the past, nor to their environmental and health impact.

While there’s a huge environmental activist and eco-culture around surfing, unfortunately our wetsuits and our boards do have an ecological impact on our oceans. A 2012 article in Forbes magazine sums it up well: “The typical surfboard is a slab of petroleum-spawned polyurethane, slathered in layers of toxic polyester resin.”

Traditionally surfboards were made of wood, but nowadays who wants to schlep a wooden surfboard around on the beach? For more than a half a century most surfboard blanks (foam cores) have been made from polyurethane, and guess what? It does not break down in landfills. With 400,000 new surfboards produced every year, that’s a lot of polyurethane piled up in landfills around the world—and then there are the leashes and fins to consider too. These polyurethane boards are coated in toxic non-biodegradable polyester resin, which the EPA says cause a number of health issues including memory loss, central nervous system damage and even cancer to glassers and board shapers, which is why they wear respirators as they laminate and shape boards.

Then there’s the surf board wax, most of which is made from paraffin—a byproduct of petroleum— and contains benzene and toluene which has been shown to be harmful to humans. About 95% of surfing waxes in the global market contain these petroleum by-products. And they end up oil our ocean.

Obviously, surfing has to get more sustainable. And there are a number of surfboard brands and companies who have gotten on board with more eco-friendly materials. The ECOBOARD Project by Sustainable Surf is a great example of a sustainability pioneer in the industry. The first, independent third party 'eco-label' for surfboards —developed and managed by Sustainable Surf— the ECOBOARD Project is focused on reducing carbon footprints by awarding certifications to high-performance board brands that have a ‘red