Surfing is in danger as a result of climate change
Surfing has its roots in human interaction with the natural world. However, there is an inherent conflict between the toxic process of manufacturing surfboards and the preservation of surf-spots around the world. Specifically, ocean acidification and rising sea levels resulting from climate change threaten to destroy many of the world’s natural surf breaks1,2. According to a study out of Stanford University, 34% of surf-spots in California will be endangered or threatened due to drowning by 2100, forcing the growing 1.1 million surfers in California to crowd into the surviving spots3. The impact on surf communities could be substantial via loss of real estate value for homeowners and economic value for local tourism4. Economist Jason Scorse conducted a study in Santa Cruz that determined houses next to surf breaks were $106,000 more valuable on average than nearby comparable houses, and, in Puerto Rico, a study determined that tourism, mostly surf-related, generated $52 million annually for Rincon4. While the surfboard industry is small, projected to grow 10% annually from 2015-2020 to $1.3 billion, the global adventure tourism market is much larger, expected to grow 46% annually from $0.6 trillion to $3.7 trillion over the same period5,6.
While most surfboard companies today still manufacture surfboards in a highly toxic process, Firewire Surfboards (“Firewire” or the “Company”) has established itself as a leader in sustainable manufacturing7. Management at Firewire believes that climate change poses an existential threat to humanity, to their sport, and to their business and views its product as part of the problem and potential solution7.
Firewire is leading by example
The ECOBOARD Project was created in 2012 to provide independent, third party labeling to educate consumers on which surfboard companies are focused on carbon footprint reduction, increased use of renewables, recycled inputs, and reduction of toxicity in manufacturing8. Today, Firewire is the only global surfboard company to produce every surfboard in accordance with ECOBOARD certification7. Firewire is a high-performance sporting brand; therefore, while the Company aims to produce less toxic surfboards, it strives to maintain the highest level of performance7. Below is a video of 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater using an ECOBOARD9:
The standard poly surfboards today are made in a toxic process using polyurethane foam, polyester resin, and acetone7,10. In the short-term, Firewire maintains its leadership position in sustainable manufacturing by using bio-resins, sustainably grown timber, 20% recycled foam core, zero acetone, and 50x less volatile organic compounds7. Per the below, ECOBOARDs produce on average ~30% less CO210.
The Company is also ISO9000 certified, reflecting its repetitive, consistent manufacturing outcomes7. Over the short-term, Firewire will be rolling out its use of REREZ recyclable epoxy resin in its surfboards7. REREZ can be removed from its boards with a concentrated vinegar solution and used to produce new products, like surfboard fins7. In the medium-term, the Company is aiming to achieve ISO140001 certification for environmental management, reach carbon neutrality, achieve zero-waste by 2020, and earn fair trade certification7.
In order to further address climate change, Firewire should focus on aspects of its manufacturing process that can further reduce pollution, putting more concrete action steps towards its lofty medium-term goals. First, they should continue to pursue solar options where possible throughout its headquarters and manufacturing facilities7. The Company should also aggressively pursue additional sponsorships beyond Kelly Slater to further dispel the performance fallacy of the ECOBOARD7. Firewire should relocate its manufacturing facilities from Asia to reduce transportation emissions per board (see below for CO2 per board)10.
The Company should look to find ways to partner with the surf tourism industry, like having the boards at prominent surf hotels and hostels with displays to educate consumers. Firewire should partner with the World Surf League to do advertising and education at events. Today, ~90% of professional surfers still use standard, poly surfboards7. Firewire should continue to strive for the highest quality and durability of its products to justify higher pricing7. In doing so, the Company should help smaller manufacturers, who might have a more difficult time justifying the higher costs associated with a sustainable supply chain. Finally, Firewire should consider the role it can play in promoting mental health as a way to further educate consumers on the importance of the sport. Organizations like Operation Surf are proving out the mental health benefits of surfing: the organization’s wounded veteran participants have exhibited decreases in PTSD symptoms by 36%, decreases in depression by 47%, and increases in self-efficacy by 68%11.
As the surfing world evolves, Firewire should consider the role it will play in surf parks (see below video12). Should Firewire partner with these organizations to spread the sport? It is tempting for surfboard manufactures to view artificial waves as a force to counteract climate change’s impact on natural breaks.
(1) National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, “How does climate change affect coral reefs?” https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coralreef-climate.html, accessed November 2017.
(2) Gregory Thomas, “Surfonomics quantifies the worth of waves,” Washington Post, August 24, 2012, https://www.washingtonpost.com/surfonomics-quantifies-the-worth-of-waves/2012/08/23/86e335ca-ea2c-11e1-a80b-9f898562d010_story.html?utm_term=.1b5af4658958, accessed November 2017.
(3) Dan R. Reineman, Leif N. Thomas, and Margaret R. Caldwell, “Using local knowledge to project sea level rise impacts on wave resources in California,” Ocean & Coastal Management 138, (March 2017): 181-191. Accessed via ScienceDirect in November 2017.
(4) Paul Kvinta, “Surfonomics 101,” Fortune, June 5, 2013, http://fortune.com/2013/06/05/surfonomics-101/, accessed November 2017.
(5) “Global Adventure Tourism Market 2016-2020,” Technavio, https://www.technavio.com/, accessed November 2017.
(6) “Global Surfboard Market 2016-2020,” Technavio, https://www.technavio.com/, accessed November 2017.
(7) Firewire Surfboards, “Sustainability,” https://firewiresurfboards.com/sustainability/, accessed November 2017.
(8) The ECOBOARD Project, “We’re All About It,” http://www.sustainablesurf.org/ecoboard/about/, accessed November 2017.
(9) Slater Designs, “Kelly Test Rides the Banana in FST by Greg Webber,” Vimeo, published April 25, 2016, https://vimeo.com/164126615, accessed November 2017.
(10) The ECOBOARD Project, “The ECOBOARD lifecycle study,” http://www.sustainablesurf.org/ecoboard/lifecycle-study/, accessed November 2017.
(11) Amazing Surf Adventures, “Operation Surf,” http://amazingsurfadventures.org/programs/operation-surf/, accessed November 2017.
(12) Kelly Slater Wave Co, “Looking into the Future,” Vimeo, published May 27, 2016, https://vimeo.com/168364510, accessed November 2017.