Words by Nicole De Leon
We live and breathe in our ocean environment. We are enamored with the conditions, the tides and the times of day. We literally sweep the ocean surface with our hands, our fins, our toes. Some of us call our surf time “church,” yet many of us are not actively protecting it. What can we do as surfers to protect the environment? Does being a steward of the environment mean marching, advocating and petitioning for change, or are there things we can do on a daily basis that will have a material impact over time?
Local surfer and environmental advocate Kristi Birney, who is also the associate director of career development at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UCSB, says there are many simple things we can do to help protect our environment. Number one is to “replace three car trips with three vehicle trips per week.” What does that mean for us? Swapping a car trip with a vehicle trip takes a genuine commitment to change. Let’s face it—you don’t see many surfers with their boards on public transportation. An independent lot, we want to be able to check the surf when we want to, or race down the coast for an evening session whenever we darn well please. Even when we live locally and can realistically bike or walk to the surf most of us haven’t engrained that into our daily routines.
The convenience of a “to go” lifestyle has our coastlines littered with non-biodegradable garbage…
Think about how many of us actually bike to our local surf spots instead of driving. If we are blessed to live close enough to the beach to bike or walk, then we are a step ahead of the game, and of course there are those of us who have created this kind of life for that very reason. But we all live in a world of convenience, and studies have shown that most of us in Southern California rely solely on our cars as the root of our transportation. There are currently 253 million cars and trucks on U.S. roads. Shocking amounts of greenhouse gases are being spewed into our environment every day. Simply cutting back on daily driving or carpooling to the surf with a buddy could really make a difference.
Birney’s next suggestion is to use one’s power as a consumer to effect change. She suggests only shopping at businesses that are members of 1% for the planet, local breweries, wineries, farmers markets, and other small/local businesses. Next time you are hungry after a long surf session and want to swing through the first fast food restaurant, try going to a restaurant supporting local farmers instead. And when buying items to cook at home you can make a big difference by avoiding large supermarkets full of plastic and styrofoam packaging and processed food, and shopping instead at farmers markets and local mom-and-pop stores.
Speaking of plastic and styrofoam, let’s talk about waste and storm drains: surfers are directly affected by storm drain run off and filthy beaches. There is plenty we can do personally to create less waste. That “to-go” coffee cup that gives us our pre-surf session caffeine buzz in the morning, or the straws and plastic holding our cold drinks on a hot day go straight into a landfill or our local beaches unless recycled properly. The convenience of a “to go” lifestyle has our coastlines littered with non-biodegradable garbage, so there is no excuse for us surfers not to have re-usable bags, coffee containers and water bottles on hand at all times. If we support restaurants, chains and stores that use styrofoam and non-biodegradable bags products that don’t break down in the environment for thousands of years if at all, then we are supporting an industry that directly affects our well-being as ocean-enthusiasts.
It is easy to get swept up in our day-to-day busy-ness and to forget to do our part, but if we really want to enjoy this natural playground we have to become less ambivalent and more proactive about protecting it. The many surfers who are already vigilant about making pro-environment choices are awesome examples for everyone to implement important lifestyle choices. We surfers are not immune to the modernization of a society that strongly emphasizes convenience over environmentalism, so we must stand strong and truly practice what we preach to protect the ocean and natural world.