– stripping surfing back down to its most elemental form

What is surfing #47: Beware of Green Marketing

There is a big difference between consumerism and over consumption. A surfboard for example serves a very specific purpose. For the sake of simplicity, lets assume that a surfboard is a tool —a vehicle, which allows you to travel across the face of a wave. This particular vehicle can be made in many different shapes and styles to fit ones tastes or the conditions or whatever the case may be.

An individual can only use one surfboard at a time (generally speaking). In some cases, it is good to have more than one surfboard if one wishes to surf a variety of conditions or approach the act in other styles (longboard, shortboard, retro, etc.). In the end however, it is this particular tool, combined with our muscular power and wave knowledge that allows us the experience which we call surfing. An experience so rich and rewarding that it has evolved into a mega million dollar lifestyle industry. The argument could easily be made that parts of the surfing world are rife with over-consumption.

Beward of Green-Washing

Although we must consume, must we over consume? I don’t mean to ask a pointless question. But it comes to mind that sometimes “green marketing” gives us the sense that we are doing the morally correct thing by purchasing an object for which a percentage of it’s purchase price will be donated to an environmental cause. Put the brakes on for a moment. Do you really need a tide watch when you can check the tides when you check the buoy and wind on your daily Internet weather search? Besides, tides are cyclical and once you learn those cycles for you local break it only takes checking the tides once or twice a week to be in tune with them and be able to extrapolate what the tides will be. There’s a lot to be said for being in tune with the ocean. A digital gadget only gets in the way of that connection.

The point I’m trying to make here is that we are bombarded everyday with encouragement to buy, buy, buy! And as society begins to get savvy to the ills of the environment and begins to consume less, the sellers of goods too get savvy and figure out ways to take the guilt out of buying by telling us that our money will go to an environmental cause and we’ll actually be doing more good than harm by consuming that next product. I propose a set of questions be asked before taking that hard-earned money out of your pocket. And in order to avoid moralizing I will take it straight to the individual. Before you buy something that has to do with surfing (somehow or another) ask yourself:

Will this make my surfing experience better?

Will this change my experience somehow?

Is this necessary for surfing?

Where is that 5% going anyway? Is it covering CEO salaries, administrative overhead, or marketing? Or is it being used for direct action like planting trees or assisting in cleaning up environmental damage (SF’s recent oil spill comes to mind)?

Surfing is about riding waves. It’s about the paddle, the take off, and the trim and kick-out. It is this short sequence of events, combined with a full body immersion in nature that causes surfing to transcend fashion movements and product placements.

Environmental activism is something altogether different. And it does not have to mean spending money on an object that fulfills no purpose aside from satisfying a need to buy. Just about every community has a local environmental organization. See what the organization in your area is doing. Get involved. Make a monetary donation. Go surf.

• Category: environment, news & media

9 Responses »

  1. I couldn’t agree more. You only have control over yourself. Limit your footprint on earth. But be awars of the BS out there.

    There’s a few new “green” or “eco” surf companies out there that are just using it as a marketing tool and aren’t telling you the whole truth. Deceptive marketing pisses me off.

    The term, bio-degradable is totally misleading. Everything is biodegradable. It’s just a word for the rate at which something breaks down. There is no governing body and it’s a total free for all. Those plastic bags you get at the store are bio-degradable…in about 500 years.

    Non toxic is another word that’s not telling you the whole truth. Water is toxic in large quantities. Remember that lady who died from the radio contest? Show me the tests that say your product is non toxic to fish, coral, and sea life. Also, Coca Cola is non-toxic, but do they have to advertize that?

    Oil is 100% natural.

    Don’t believe the hype.

  2. Great points on this last post, particularly that regarding the tide watches, and the part about surfing only being about riding waves. I also liked how you developed those questions. They are good to keep in mind and will be on my mind when shopping.

    Another thing to keep in mind is when you do need new clothes do you have to go a surf shop or other retailer? Why not Goodwill or something similar where you would actually be recycling the clothing? In my community, we have a fantastic Goodwill store where on several occasions I have found gently used or never used clothing for sale. Pants and shirts are about $3.50 each so not only do I save money but I’m reusing something that’s already been made. Keep in mind, a trip to Goodwill will not always yield great results and some of the clothes are total duds, but heck, a trip to the surf shop (or any retailer)is essentially the same.

  3. All incredibly good points and extremely well written. Thanks.

  4. You make an extremely important, and valid point in this article. And I agree totally with many of the points.

    If you already have a watch, should you replace it with one that donates (or is made from materials) which help the environment?

    No, you should not. You should keep the watch you have. The same apples to Hybrid cars, and Eco Surfboards.

    But if your watch is broken, or you don’t have one, and you need one, should you buy one which either donates to the environment, or helps by using more sustainable materials and practices over one which is not “green”?

    Yes you should!

    I’ll sell 1000 surfboards worldwide next year, whether they are “green” or not. Some of these to first time surfers. Some to surfers who’s boards are worn and broken. Some to surfers who have outgrown their current shape, or need alternate shapes for different conditions. Whether my boards are eco friendly or not, I’ll sell 1000 of them. Of the 600 000 hand shaped boards worldwide that are sold yearly, or the 800 000 mass produced boards (so a total of 1 400 000 boards a year), how many end up in dumps or waste? How many are sustainable. Less than 10 000? So every “green” surfboard sold helps. Surfers will surf. They need boards. They will continue to buy boards. But that process does not have to as bad as it currently is for the environment. Sustainable low impact materials, which are not petroleum based, have minimal VOC emissions, are as bio degradable as possible, AND (as important) last a long time so it does not need to be replaced as often, all go to helping making the “need” (if you want to surf you need a board) for boards have as little negative impact as possible.

    But surfers should NOT retire their current board to buy a “green” board just because it’s green. If your current board is in good shape, and rides well for you, then keep it. Don’t add to the problem by disposing of it and getting a new one. But when it’s time to replace that board, for any of the reasons stated above, then you should really be buying a board that has MINIMAL environmental impact. The same applies for all the gear you need for surfing, including the car you drive (or bicycle) to get there.

    I believe that this is the aim of many companies like 2Imagine. It’s not to sell MORE boards, but to sell boards which have an absolute minimal environmental impact WHEN one is sold.

    Great article that. It misses the point on many things, but it hits the point dead on with others!



    This is a really good report on deceptive marketing!

    For example, Billabong are launching a few products under a new ‘Design for Humanity’ label, which will donate to Surf Aid International. Great idea, but I couldn’t find the percentage of proceeds that will be donated anywhere in the press kit. I’m not saying it’s not a great venture, just that I’d like to see the plain facts, so I can consume smartly when I’ve decided I do need to!

  6. Back when I didn’t have any money and worked at an outdoor equipment type retail store I would be tempted all the time. I ended up asking myself, “How will this help my surfing?” and never buying a thing!

  7. Excellent points and I’m glad someone has finally taken it upon themselves to make it. The greenest way to consume is minimally. Its like buying a hybrid car… Should it seems like the eco thing to do but its even better to hang on to your existing car and treat it well rather than buy a brand new car that probably used more energy in its production than it will ever expend in tis life time…

  8. Please do not confuse degradation with biodegradation.
    To clarify:
    Biodegradability is the process by which a substance is broken down into its original organic components by living organisms (usually bacteria). Many (not all, but most) plastics cannot be broken down biologically and thus do not biodegrade, rather they are broken down mechanically or are photo-degraded (i.e. broken down by sunlight). Photo-degradation does not return plastics back to their original hydrocarbon or organic constituents (which by the way many hydrocarbons CAN be biodegraded via bacteria), rather it simply results in ever smaller pieces of plastic! One catastrophic result of this process it the alarming ratio of plastic to zooplankon in the north Pacific gyre (check out this disturbing video by Patagonia for a more on this:

  9. Hi. I’m a student at San Diego State University and I enjoyed reading the post above. This is a very tricky topic as “a few” deceptive campaigns spoil the integrity of the rest. One campaign that I’d like to promote is 5%Blue. Being a student I have to purchase textbooks for the courses I’m taking. Now, by logging onto FIRST, 5% of my total purchase on Amazon will be directly donated to the Surfrider Foundation. 5% doesn’t sound like much, but year-to-date I’ve spent about $650 on textbooks, which equates to $32.50. This won’t save the world but it’s $32.50 more than if I ordered my textbooks from the bookstore? You’ve gotta start somewhere.