Surfing During COVID-19: How to Be a Responsible and Eco-Friendly Surfer

Mill Valley resident Michael Stewart in pre-virus times was found at the beach with his family, talking to his friends at Prooflab and maybe stopping by Hookfish Co. to grab a taco and beer after a surf. As a lover of the ocean and outdoors Michael wanted to be active in the fight against climate change, but most non-profits he encountered were only telling people about the problems instead of offering opportunities to get more involved. Taking his experience in environmental consulting and working with partner, Kevin Whilden, in 2011 the two founded Sustainable Surf. Their non-profit uses the appeal of surf culture to encourage people to take an active approach to stopping climate change and adopt a sustainable lifestyle in order to protect and restore ocean health. Sustainable Surf empowers people to make positive changes through their projects which include;, Sea Trees, the ECO board projects, Waste to Waves, Deep Blue events and promote Deep Blue Life.. We caught up with Michael to discuss this business and more importantly at this moment, his thoughts on surfing or not surfing during this pandemic.

What change has COVID-19 had on the way you are approaching business and the work sustainable surf does?

At Sustainable Surf we have taken a step back and asked ourselves what can we do that will be of value to the community and our cause while being realistic about where the world is and what it will look like when the Pandemic ends. As a surfer in the ocean there are moments of uncertainty that may take you by surprise, like a big wave approaching, about to crash on top of you. At this time you don’t panic, because you know what you need to do to get out the other side; you duck dive and let the wave roll over. We wanted to take this experience and create a community resource guide in the form of a weekly newsletter to help those who feel uneasy and powerless to take action and stay on track. As seen through this pandemic together we have the power to agree and make change happen. “Resurface. Stronger.Together ” helps people at home take initiative and look into the future by offering opportunities through the programs and projects we are running and support to contribute in a positive and powerful way. By getting the word out on environmental crises, like here on the California Coast where in the last few years we have lost 93% of our kelp forests, we can give guidance and offer the chance for you to directly take action and be part of the solution.

There seems to be a lot of pressure to stay home. Do you think going out to surf or get in the water is jeopardizing the states efforts to keep people from social distancing? 

Though the water is one of easiest places to stay socially distanced, the less people outside is the biggest factor for how long the quarantine will last and the impact on the medical system. If you don’t have to be outside then try and stay in. If you are in a position where you don’t have to travel, like a resident close to a beach then enjoy, but avoid traveling and coming in contact with other people to go surf.

Do you think the virus will have an impact on our approach to combating climate change? Do you think it’s taking away our focus, or do you foresee a potential productive outcome?

Right now the virus is on everyone’s mind, but during this pandemic we can’t forget that climate change hasn’t gone anywhere and we can’t lose anymore time. Though we’ve seen some benefits from people staying home like air quality improvement on the other side, NOAA just reported the biggest bleaching of the great barrier reef to date. It’s challenging to still talk about the health of our environment, but we can take advantage of the  availability of people at home and encourage them to continue to support and take direct action. Our SeaTrees project, for example, allows people to take a part in the health of our coastal ecosystems by eliminating our carbon footprint simply by planting trees (from home).

How is quarantine affecting your sustainably focused lifestyle, how are you advising your audience to maintain a climate friendly attitude while in this situation?

During the last few weeks of seeing what is going on in the world I’ve taken this opportunity to slow down and be intentional about my actions. My family and I are staying home, supporting local business and staying aware of what’s going on in the community. It is a lesson on how we take the benefits that come from a time like this and make them into a teachable movement like shifting to the “Deep Blue” Lifestyle.

Once the world returns to some type of normalcy, how can people get involved with Sustainable Surf?  

We have a few options. SeaTrees is uniquely focused on direct action and allows people to balance their climate impact by planting, restoring and protecting our coastal ecosystems. The ECOBOARD Project  unites the water-loving and board-riding community by creating a sustainable surfboard patent ensuring the use of eco friendly manufacturing practices and materials. Waste to Waves supports companies based in upcycling by aiding in the collection of foam, old wetsuits, and sails which are then turned into new surfboards, yoga mats and bags. Deep Blue is the name that brands the idea of taking a solution to climate change past a surface issue and diving “deeper” into the business of behavior change and simple solutions. Deep Blue Events are Ocean Friendly events based on sustainability performance standards and focused on reducing environmental impact and providing social benefits for the community. Finally Deep Blue life is looking at how we live our lives and making small modifications that improve our carbon footprint. To fit into the deep blue lifestyle people need to keep climate change present amongst other stuff and not lose sight of what we can do and are doing as our part. We have a critical call to action and we need to take action whether it is planting trees with our sea trees program or using your dollar to support sustainable and local practices.

Grace Towle

Grace Towle is a born and raised Marinite currently an Environmental Studies Major and Spanish Minor at the University of California Santa Barbara. Growing up at the beach and hiking the hills of Mt. Tamalpais sparked her passion for nature and the environment. She enjoys the perks of studying and surfing at the beach in Santa Barbara and is eager to pursue a career that will help her explore climate change solutions and expand her sustainable design interests.