Based in Cape Town, South Africa, trying to start a surf school and have the environment in mind are two very difficult goals to align. Looking at all the options out there, it really seems like the only way it can be possible at all is if you live in the right place and have the right amount of money(a lot) to spend on acquiring the most ecologically sound and sustainable equipment.
When I started researching all the top well-known brands in surfing, Rip Curl, Billabong, Quiksilver, Hurley, etc, and checking what options they had to offer, in the wake of this obvious worldwide wake-up to the environmental impact we are all having on the oceans and the planets as a whole, I was sorely disappointed to see that they don't really have any options available at all. The best they seemed to be doing is the occasional limestone-based neoprene wetsuit and some recycled bottle polyester boardshorts. Honestly, it seems like none of the big-name brands, that support pretty much all the surfers on the championship tour, care about their impact on the planet at all.
Then thinking of the soft top surfing market, I do believe these boards are the best to learn on or mess around in shallow beachie closeouts and have a laugh. They really are pretty disposable though and it would be really epic if someone could come up with a soft board that has some kind of goal of being completely eco-friendly. I like what the guys at Notox and Spooked Kooks are going for and It's a shame that Skunkworks seems to have fallen off the face of the earth, but they had a sweet vision. If big brands like Catch Surf and Surftech could try and implement some kind of ecological strategy it would lift up the whole surf school industry.
I understand that pricing is the issue. That you can make so much more selling cheaper high-performance products than more expensive products that just get that performance standard, financially it makes sense. If these products were even just built for greater longevity and durability the overall impact would be so much less, but obviously our wetsuits need to deteriorate and our boards need to snap as soon as possible so we can run out and buy another one.
I can't pretend I can afford to get Patagonia suits or Notox surfboards for my surf school(or even for myself) and that's my biggest problem. We're essentially forced to buy the cheap alternatives made with petroleum-based neoprene and awful expanded polystyrene foam and toxic resins.
I really do believe, that if small companies like Sen No Sen, Picture Organic Clothing, and Soöruz (The French are definitely on it!) can make a profitable business, with the planet in mind while still maintaining a reasonable price point, why can't larger internationally established brands that have a foot in the door of every surf shop in the world, choose to do the same? Patagonia is the closest thing to it and maybe if you're from the USA, Australia, or Europe then you can actually afford the R8000($520) that they ask for a R3 suit, but here in South Africa, that is just not an alright number to pay. It's also just so cheeky that these suits cost us more at the tip of Africa than anywhere else in the world. Relative to what we earn, it puts these options out of reach of 90% of South African surfers.
When it comes to all the other little things we need to make our surfs work, wax, fins, leashes, grip, etc. I think we should all be trying to get biodegradable or recycled where possible, try Greenfix wax or fins like Shaka Surf that are made from old bottle caps. With leashes, just get the most durable tough leash you can find and try not to rely on it so much in the surf. See if you can make all your equipment last longer by really taking the time to care for it and fix and reuse it when you can.
There's a need for old messed up unusable wetsuits to be repurposed for example in government hospitals on the Wild Coast in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where they are used as soft splints. If you have any old rubber lying around or when your suit gets too far gone to get repaired (try Coral Wetsuits in Salt River if you ever need a fix) then consider if there's another way your wetsuit can be reused!
Have you heard of any cool developments in the surf industry we should know about? Send us a message we'd love to see what's being developed in this area!