With its recent debut in the Tokyo Olympics, professional surfing’s presence on the global scale is no longer radical or taboo, but revered and aspirational. Hell, WSL comps may even find their way onto primetime ESPN in the near future, rather than the lowly sister network only available to those willing to fork up enough cash for access to an obscure cable channel.
But with this rising popularity in the sporting world (and by “sporting world”, we’re talking professional surfing here, not strictly surf culture), you have to wonder what level of responsibility the surf industry is willing to take in terms of regulation for the sake of the environment. Because the more popular surfing becomes, the more surfers you’ll see out in the lineup. Which means more boards, more wetties, more kook-crazed collisions, more, more, more of everything.
It’s also worth mentioning that professional surfing doesn’t have any environmental or equipment-related regulations of note. I get it, “regulate” equals a big red flag, right? But bear with me here…
Think about any other sport: Rugby uses a regulation football with specific dimensions and psi; American Football has regulation helmets and pads; Cricket has uniform regulations that would put a parochial student to shame… you get the point. All of these measures are theoretically in place to ensure a level playing field – pun intended.
For surfing, it’s pretty difficult to level the playing field when the playing field is the actual ocean (for argument’s sake, we’re excluding wave pools from this discussion). You can’t regulate waves, you can’t regulate tides or currents and you definitely can’t regulate marine life (lookin’ at you, Mick). But what if the responsibility of regulation goes beyond uniforms or surfboard shape or wave priority? What if we need to regulate our impact?
Let’s travel back in time, all the way to 2014. Pharrell’s “Happy” played every hour, on the hour on Triple J, and Kanye West and Kim Kardashian were blushing newlyweds. But even more groundbreaking, Formula One (you know, the highest class of international auto racing on the planet) took a massive risk and implemented sweeping changes to their technical specifications, changing the naturally aspirated 2.4-litre V8 engine to a 1.6-litre V6 hybrid-powered intercooled engine.
In layman’s terms: that means one of the world’s most popular sports that revolves around excessive petrol consumption has now made it mandatory to use a hybrid engine for every competing vehicle. They’re less dependent on fossil fuels, resulting in lower emissions, have more efficient gas mileage and require significantly less energy to run. All in all, pretty bloody good.
The results of this mega shift? Top speeds have gone up more than 20km/hr and Team Mercedes came out with a better hybrid powertrain than anyone else and has dominated the sport from then on, racking up world championships in 2014 and every year since.
Formula One champions efficiency, and hybrid-powered engines are simply more efficient than their gas guzzling predecessors. And although this Formula One regulation shift wasn’t necessarily made in the name of environmentalism, let’s treat this as a prime example of what you can accomplish when you impose regulations that benefit the planet.
Ahhh yes, back to surfing. With the raging popularity of surfing in mainstream culture gaining more traction by the nanosecond, our quest for sustainability in the industry is more urgent than ever. The climate crisis is at a point-of-no-return and more surfing in the midst of an environmental disaster will take its inevitable toll on the planet if we don’t get ahead of it.
And as surfers, while we collectively tout our devotion to the ocean, this claim feels almost performative at times, especially when taking into account our ongoing affair with oil-based products presented in every aspect of our surfing lifestyle: wax, sunscreen, leg ropes and of course, our precious boards.
And while sustainable options for all of the aforementioned surf gear is more widespread than ever, the decision to purchase falls predominantly on the individual. It may make us feel better to make these eco-minded purchases, but as we’re seeing on a higher environmental scale, while change can certainly happen on an individual level, a grand portion of responsibility falls under the umbrella of corporate and industry-level entities. With that in mind, let’s elevate this impending hypothetical to the professional level:
You ready for this one? What if… and we’re just spitballing here… WSL took a leaf out of Formula One’s book and imposed environmental regulations, requiring competitors to surf strictly with sustainably-made surfboards?
I know, I know, this is a travesty, this is a blatant attack on surf culture and how we’ve always done it. “MAH RAHHHTTS” as they say in America. But guess what, changes made in the name of progress are usually just that: progress. It can present itself in the form of tradition interrupted, but more often than not, it simply provides an opportunity for our society to become better.
It would be fascinating to see how the professional surfing world rises to the occasion and approaches this challenge. With sustainable technology proving to be more innovative than ever, it’s clear that performance doesn’t have to be sacrificed in the slightest, giving our Carissa Moore’s and Italo Ferreira’s more edge than a Maurice Cole board rail. Because as we’re seeing in Varuna Surf, we can redefine the world of sustainable surfing together, and WSL has a unique opportunity to inspire impactful change within our surfing community and for the planet. Sounds pretty radical, right?
What are your thoughts on introducing sustainable mandates in the professional surfing world? Share your thoughts on our Instagram and let’s get a little discussion going – we’d genuinely love to hear your perspective!