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Noosa Festival of Surfing: Sustainable surfboards

March 27 2008 | Jim's Blog,
by Jim

Noosa, Australia is the home of somewhat of an unrivaled event... combining the enjoyment side of surfing and ocean activities along with the more serious side.

Hmm, sounds like our mission statement.

I caught up with Sean Sullivan to get an overview of the event and his keynote on sustainable surfboards.

What was the general tone of this years festival?

This year's festival was about enjoying surfing by acknowledging the people who have defined surfing as we know it today and exploring the future potential of the sport. It gave everyone a chance to catch a few waves at the points of Noosa, meet the past and present of competitive surfing, 'have a go' at stand up paddleboard surfing and watch the pros battle it out in the longboarding comp. The festival vibe had the feeling of a big family reunion, with everyone greeting old friends, meeting new people and all celebrating something they love, surfing.

Your keynote, "Sustainable Surfboards – Fact or Fantasy?" is timely.
What was your umbrella message?

The main message I was trying to get across is that the technology behind the boards we are riding is 50 years old and it's deleterious to both the health of the shaper and the environment at large and thus needs to be reworked. Although surfers seem contented with the status quo, the industry's reality is that the future holds rising petroleum prices, stricter environmental standards and an increasingly environmentally conscious marketplace all of which will inevitably lead to a demand for something better (more durable, less toxic) than the modern surfboard. Through an explanation of both the social and economic incentives of shifting surfboard manufacturing towards 'greener' technologies and ideas for a plan of action, I challenged the surf industry to take the initial steps towards building a more sustainable surfboard.

Tell me about the " Towards a Sustainable Surf Industry" forum?

Surfrider's contribution to the industry summit was the most anticipated portion of the day. In a large room filled abuzz with 75 of the biggest power brokers in the surf industry, from executives to world champions, manufacturers to journalists - ideas and theories on sustainability were explored. No media cameras were allowed in order to facilitate a free flowing exchange of ideas and after my speech I was able to sit on a panel with Bob McTavish (world champ and legendary shaper), Mark Kelly (head of Global Surf Industries - world's largest surfboard mfr), Terry Fitzgerald (of Hot Buttered Rum), and Mark Richards (4x world champ, legendary shaper) to answer questions from the audience and discuss issues raised in my speech. (see picture) This was followed by a forum panel discussion with leaders of "The Big 3" (heads of Quiksilver, Ripcurl and Billabong) who continued to explore sustainability initiatives and options in addition to fielding other questions from surf journalists and the audience.

What were the reactions to these?

Surfers and industry members still seem uncomfortable directly addressing the truth of the surfboard manufacturing process, but this summit wasn't about blaming anyone for the past, it was focused on addressing the changes which need to be made for a better future. Sadly, I can't report that one of the companies offered millions to fund the development of a sustainable surfboard, but this was not my intention. I do believe these leaders acknowledged the social and economic advantage of devoting more attention to sustainability initiatives - which is a vital step in the shift towards sustainability in the surf industry as a whole.

Facing the future, what concrete practices do you hope to see embraced?

I hope surfers, both groms and especially pros will keep an open mind towards changes in surf technology, a willingness to try something new is vital to progression. I hope big and small time shapers will make efforts minimize their environmental impact by exploring new materials and innovating ways to reduce their waste and localize their process. I hope an open dialogue about the environmental and health issues of the modern surfboard is encouraged in the media, so surfers can make the best decisions when buying a new board. I also hope the surf industry will create goals which allow the ever-growing popularity of surfing to be balanced by sustainable business models.
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