Sustainable Surf: The WSL Are Going Blue

Sustainable Surf: The WSL Are Going Blue

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We recently covered the fact that the Surfer Poll awards this year were run as a Deep Blue Surfing Event; an environmental standard set out by the guys at Sustainable Surf – check it out here. The Vans Triple Crown stops are also Deep Blue events and now the WSL has finally got a CT event to match the criteria too. Not just any CT event, but perhaps the most prestigious event in the world calendar: the Billabong Pipe Masters .
Is this the start of something special – coated in a lovely tinge of green? You may have caught the awesome guys from Sustainable Surf and Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii at the Pipe Masters talking about Greening up the event. If you didn’t, check it out below.

Michael with Peter Mel
Kahi not using a plastic bottle and looking out for the recycling facility
So, is this now the turning point? Not only for the WSL but for surfing as a whole? Are we finally realising the link between our actions and the damage to our favourite places? We caught up with Michael from Sustainable Surf to find out more:
Sustainable Surf have made some awesome headway lately with backing from top surfers and events; you’re quite a unique organisation in the fact that you take a very practical approach to greening up the surf industry including surf contests. What do you attribute these successes to and what wins have you made for sustainability most recently?
We probably owe much of the success we are now seeing to the fact that we had a fairly clear strategy from the beginning about how we would approach working with the surf industry (as partners vs. adversaries) and we’ve just spent the last 4 – 5  years following through with it. What might seem like overnight success has been years in the making but it’s very fulfilling to now see the concept of sustainability being put into practice as a core value by more and more surfing brands. It feels a bit like being an organic farmer; there’s a lot of work that goes into preparing the ground and planting the seeds before you even start seeing the little green shoots of success start to pop up. But when they do, they all seem to start coming up at once.
What has been the response from both the spectators and the guys running the event? Are we finally seeing a realisation that our actions should not be at the cost of our beaches and coastlines?
We love going the contests that we get to designate as Deep Blue surfing events, because the response to the sustainability efforts has always been super positive from everybody involved: operations, athletes, community groups and especially the fans. The immediate impacts of running a more ocean-friendly event is just so obvious to everybody onsite at the contest – cleaner beaches, less plastic, better food, better air quality (when running the power generators on local biodiesel) and bigger smiles. And the fans on the webcast are stoked see the stories of how the event is “blueing” (“greening” is so 90’s! ) up it’s environmental footprint. Two years ago, we had a great guy from Japan see the sustainability videos on the webcast during the Volcom Pipe Pro, and and he was so stoked about everything that he saw that the next year he came over to Hawaii to volunteer his time with the waste diversion efforts. Now that’s what we call impact!
Making high level surfing events such as the Triple Crown, the Pipe Masters, the Volcom Fiji pro (to name just a few) a Deep Blue Surfing Event obviously comes with its logistical challenges. What factors are most challenging and which ones give you the biggest sense of achievement?
Each event site and contest end up presenting its own unique set of challenges to solve, based on what assets are available. Such as what pre-existing partnerships might already be in place with vendors or even what requirements the site might come with; so based on the city like the US Open at Huntington Beach or the federal entity like the California State Parks which control the events held at Trestles and issues the permit. But even given all that, the impacts are still coming from the same basic five categories that we track and measure so there is a basic template that most events adhere to. It’s hard to say what factors are the hardest to overcome but the category that makes us smile the most when we do it right is probably renewable energy. When we can get the power generators used at the event site to be running on locally produced Biodiesel, it reduces the carcinogenic pollutants put into the air and dramatically cuts the carbon footprint of providing that power. Meaning the event staff are happy and so too are our coral reefs. It  also supports local sustainable businesses that strengthen the community keeping the locals happy!
You work closely with the Kahi at the awesome Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii, how important is it to engage local groups and the community?
We love our local partners as they provide the real ‘flip-flops on the ground’ for doing the dirtiest (and perhaps most visible to the community) job at the event – waste diversion. In Hawaii we work with the cool team at Sustainable Coastlines Hawaii (and it was Jen Homcy at Trees before that), in CA we work with the great team from Waste Busters at the US Open of Surfing and in France we worked with Surfrider Foundation Europe at the Quik Pro France. And wherever we go around the world, we will plug into the great local people there because that’s how the program works and that’s why it’s been flexible enough to work around the world from Cloudbreak in Fiji  to Pipeline on Oahu or Ocean Beach in San Francisco.
Whats next? More events? More pro riders surfing ECOBOARDs?
Besides getting more pros on ECOBOARDs (Channel Islands have just made Lakey Peterson her first one!) we’ve been having an ongoing discussion in 2015 with the team at the WSL and our pitch to them has been simple – let’s make every single event on the WCT tour designated as a Deep Blue surfing event instead of just a few of the marquee events like the Volcom Pipe Pro, the US Open and the Vans Triple Crown Series. If we can do the entire tour as an integrated operation, the positive impact it will have both on the ground and through the reach of the webcast, will dwarf what we have done up to this point. Discussions are ongoing but looking very positive so ask me again after the New Year! And last but not least, the Kelly Slater Wave Co just sent a shockwave around the world with the video of their fantastic wave pool machine and we’ve been having some early conversations with the team from WAVE UK (just about to break ground on a new wave park in Bristol, England), so we are eyeballing the future of working with inland surfing parks to designate their entire operations as being Deep Blue. Watch this space!
So come on Michael give us the inside scoop! Which of the pro’s are truly green and drop all their trash off in the recycling and which ones have you seen still drinking from nasty disposable plastic bottles?
Nobody’s perfect, especially not anybody from Sustainable Surf; but we do try everyday to be conscious about what we do and how we do it, we’re always on the lookout for ways to improve. And that’s the message we try to broadcast about all of our programs; it’s not about rating anybody as being truly green or not, because we’re all on the curve somewhere between being really switched on and mindful – to simply just unaware. Be aware, do your best, look to improve and repeat. That’s our motto and it works at the scale of a huge series of events like the Vans Triple Crown or simply at the level of an individual.
And for the most part the WCT athletes are really happy to do their part and they end up being big fans. But, if you want a really interesting example of a professional surfer outside of the WCT who is about as Deep Blue as it gets, you can look to Ireland’s own big wave hunter Fergal Smith – a veggie-only eating organic farmer who is growing healthy food for his local community. He’s currently living in a yurt with his young family and has recently sworn off surf trips that require aeroplane travel because of the associated CO2 footprint it carries with it. You can read all about this from Fergal himself in the first issue of BackWash magazine, that was recently published at the beginning of December in the UK.
Finals day at the Pipe Masters looked like a super tense affair, although the waves weren’t epic it must have been quite something being there?
When Pipe is big like it was for the first part of this years Billabong Pipeline Masters, the beach literally shakes when the sets unload on First Reef and there’s literally not a bad seat in the house. Even when it’s not like that the beach scene at Pipeline is still a thrill to soak in and the best waves are still mesmerizing.
Thanks Michael and keep up the awesome work!
Thanks for noticing, and looking forward towards many more great partnerships to unfold in 2016!
Impressed by the Pipe Master becoming a ‘Deep Blue’ Surfing event, well you can become a ‘Deep Blue’ surfer with Sustainable Surf, check it out here


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