Waxing poetic on surfing

This weeks posts will aim to touch on some corner of the surf world. First up is a discussion about the environmental impacts of the chemicals used in and around surf culture. EnviroSurfer created this handy infographic to help illustrate some of the concerns.

Impacts of surfing, from EnviroSurfer. Click to enlarge

Until recently, standard surfboard construction consisted of three basic materials; a rigid foam blank, fiberglass cloth, and resin. Liquid foams are poured into moulds where they’re “baked” to specification, fiberglass cloth is cut to fit and laid over the shaped blank to give it strength, and then resin is applied over the whole deal to add more durability and waterproofing (ref: Around Hawaii) . Each one of these stages had the potential to introduce harmful chemicals into the environment and presents certain hazards for workers and users. Of particular concern are the surfboard blanks, which are made of polyurethane foams, containing toluene diiscyanate (TDI). The use of TDI is heavily regulated, and it is thought that excessive emissions of TDI led to the shutdown of the most prolific surfboard blank manufacturer, Clark Foam. The closure of Clark Foam led to a new wave of ecosurfboards, using technologies and materials which range from high tech carbon fibres, to natural fibres like balsa, hemp, and bamboo.

Another important element to the surfboard is the wax. For a great description of surfboard wax and its role, check out this article on SurfScience. When surfing a small portion of the wax will sheer or flake off into the water. It is important to choose a wax that is biodegradable and environmentally friendly, fortunately there are many options available.

Another area of concern for surfers, and indeed anyone, is the use of sunblock. The risks

Give It Away for Anthony Kiedis who knows the importance of sunblock (Source)

of excessive UV radiation are well established and it is very important to limit the exposure to these harmful rays, and one of the more effective ways to do this is with sunblock and/or sunscreens (what is the difference?). While there have been concerns from advocacy groups about the chemicals in sunscreens causing a variety of toxic effects in humans, these claims are very much conjecture and haven’t been verified. Despite the lack of direct effects related to an increased body burden of some of these chemicals, it is desirable to try and limit our exposure to these chemicals. As well, there is evidence that some of the chemicals in sunblock are damaging to the already stressed corals. To those ends, it is important to try and find a sunscreen/block that is simultaneously effective at blocking UV rays, and not harmful to humans and the environment.Trying to navigate the choice of which sunscreen/block to use can be daunting as there both a lack of credible information, and a surplus of misinformation regarding the effects of these chemicals.

In addition to the use of sunblocks, perhaps the most effective way to reduce UV exposure is to wear clothing that limits your exposure. Fortunately, surf culture offers a huge variety of clothing for both in and out of the waves, that will help you to look good while limiting your sun exposure. One of the most effective public service campaigns for reducing skin cancer was launched in Australia in 1980. Sid the Seagull urges everyone to Slip (on a shirt), Slop (on some sunblock), Slap (on a hat), to help reduce skin cancer, all to a really catchy tune.

Surfing is meant to be a calm, relaxing, zen like experience, so don’t get bogged down in the potential harmful stuff going on around you, just make smart, informed choices, and then keep your toes to the nose bros.


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