Over the past two and half years we’ve been searching for an answer to this elusive question – what is sustainability and how does it relate to surfing? When we began there was very little talk about sustainability in the surf industry whether in terms of the environment or social responsibility. For clarity’s sake let me begin with a wiki definition of the term.
“Sustainability, in a broad sense, is the capacity of maintaining a certain process or state. It is now most frequently used in connection with biological and human systems. In an ecological context, sustainability can be defined as the ability of an ecosystem to maintain ecological processes, functions, biodiversity and productivity into the future.”
To explore the popular definitions of sustainability within our surfing culture I asked the question to many of the people we interviewed …“what does sustainability mean to you?” And here’s what a few had to say about sustainability.
“Sustainability to me means managing resources in a way that ensures they will be available forever. But not at the expense of equally important products such as crops.” Paul Jensen, Shaper
“I think of respect as being almost synonymous with sustainability. If you respect something you do not squander or neglect it.” Tom Wegener, Shaper
“I just think the key is to give back an equal amount to what you use or take.” Ned MacMahon, CEO Homeblown US
“My definition of true sustainability is the unaltered natural environment functioning in perfect balance as nature intended it to be.” Danny Hess, Shaper
“Sustainability means that an action can be done indefinitely.” Jim Moriarty, CEO Surfrider Foundation
These are all accurate representations in their own ways but do any of them come close to defining how we as living beings can change our current lifestyles so that our ecosystem sustains us? Because isn’t that what it all boils down to anyway?
Phoresia has been an interesting exercise in the sense that we’ve talked about sustainability and lifestyle choices from the safe vantage point of surfing — which for many of us is a hobby and a passion. But try talking about the same subject matter in relation to everyday life and there’s a lot more discomfort in the dialog.
Our modern industrial society as we know it, based entirely on energy derived from non-renewable and polluting natural resources (oil, coal and gas), is not sustainable. Why? Because we are using resources at an exponentially growing rate — resources that have a definite point of exhaustion. So it does not matter whether you surf or don’t surf, at some point we will all be faced with the end of our current social structures because there will be no more fuel. How that end will manifest in terms of peace or war, sickness and health is to be seen.
I recently read a great interview on Surfline with “green” minded pro-surfer Jeremy Sherwin. Jeremy’s main view is that at some point we will (or should) come up with regenerative technology for surfboard manufacturing. He defines this saying that “to regenerate means to use in a way that nourishes the next generation, or to re-create, especially in a better form or condition.” He goes on to say that “using the term regenerative, by its very definition, captures the essence of what the sustainability movement is undertaking, yet leaves zero room for green washing.”
But this very same article on a website selling us weather predictions IS green washing. Should we focus on green surfboards when surfboards are but a trifling needle in the haystack that is our modern unsustainable world? The reason that Sherwin’s words are important is because we need to look at our entire livelihoods in using the regenerative model.
“So what?” you say.
That is what I’ve been asking myself this entire time. Is sustainability achievable? According to some thinkers it is not. Derrick Jensen, a writer and anarchist thinker, feels that our society as we know it cannot continue. Jensen argues that “for us to maintain our way of living, we must tell lies to each other and especially to ourselves. The lies are necessary because, without them, many deplorable acts would become impossibilities.” So we can and should continue to support the “green” movement in its honest manifestations but we should also be not naÃ¯ve and recognize that we are living at a time when we are taking a lot more from our ecosystem than we are giving back and that is not sustainable.
Surfing, the act of paddling and riding waves is unlike any other human undertaking in the sense that we intentionally become a part of the cycle of energy moving timelessly through our natural environment rather than try to harness it and use it for our purposes. The winds that create waves out to sea are created by other weather systems, which in turn were created by other phenomena that continue infinitely (that is the definition of sustainability). Not unlike how our bodies will decompose and provide energy for a next purpose.
Surfing allows us, if only for a few moments, to transcend all of the problems of un-sustainability and human suffering. It is a fleeting enlightenment that once gone cannot be recaptured until the next wave. And because of this many choose to live simply, to forgo the unbridled pursuit of material goods in exchange for the time to surf —to transcend again and again our paradoxical existence. And this willingness to consume less may actually be the answer to a sustainable society. If we realize that we do not need more, faster, better, shinier, and lighter things each week and each year, we may see that our quest for more of less could sustain us.