Steamer Lane. Photo: Gilley

The Mindblowing 2018 Global Wave Conference

Experts convened in Santa Cruz to discuss the ocean's future—will the wider surf industry get on board?

Halfway through a film festival at the Santa Cruz Patagonia store, a man handed me a plastic container full of writhing meal worms. They were happily eating their way through a crumbled fistful of styrofoam, leaving organic, plant-growing matter as waste.

“There’s a real big beetle in here too, I want to find him,” said Eddy Garcia, a permaculture guru who lives, among many places, on Molokai where he’s figured out how to make mealworms eat and digest EPS foam, turning it into a useful organic, soil-like matter. We’d talked earlier about his project, and he wanted to show me the worms in action.

Amidst a crowd of several dozen surfers, activists, scientists, conservationists, and general ocean lovers, enjoying beers and mingling while a massive screen played a series of feel-good films about surf breaks saved and sustainable surfboard inroads, Eddy and I had our hands full of worms, and it made perfect sense.

For three days earlier this week, the Dream Inn, perched on the bluffs overlooking Cowell’s Beach at the foot of Steamer Lane, the world’s foremost ocean conservationists shared the good and, occasionally, the very bad news about the state of the world’s oceans, surf breaks saved and threatened, and the rapidly growing sustainability movement in the surf industry.

A common refrain I heard at the conference, and one I’m used to hearing from NGOs working on ocean health awareness: How do we get more surfers to get on board with what we’re doing? How do we get traction in the surf community?

More surfers and surf industry representatives at the Global Wave Conference would have been a good start. Patagonia was there in force. As was Firewire, who showed off some of the tricks they’re using to head full-steam toward zero waste surfboard production. Other than that, not many surf industry heavies.

Why? The event’s been publicized for quite some time, but, save for a few familiar surf media faces, there was not a big surf industry presence at the conference. This at a time when boards built with eco-friendly materials are appearing on more and more racks, wetsuits made with sustainability in mind are found on more surfers, and, equally important, threats to our ocean playground are popping up seemingly everywhere.

It was clear from the attendance who in the industry cares about these sorts of things and who doesn’t.

We’re all in this together, and it would be uplifting if the traditional surf industry took more of an interest in what’s being done to keep the oceans, and our sport, as clean as possible. There’s some fascinating work being done to make the surfboard business eco-friendly, and that work is growing. The Sustainable Surf team presented some impressive numbers showing the rise of more sustainably-produced surfboards. Tom Kay, the founder of Finisterre, presented their efforts to develop a recyclable wetsuit. Firewire and Slater Designs are already industry leaders in sustainably-produced equipment, and they’re doubling down on their efforts.

In terms of ocean health, Save the Waves, one of the co-sponsors, has developed an app surfers can use to help track threats to surf breaks--everything from structural issues with the coastline to garbage on the beach or in the water. Surfer scientists like Dan Reineman of CSU Channel Islands are trying to determine what sea level rise means for historic surf breaks. And conservationists all over the world are beginning to establish the value of surf breaks as a resource, enabling them to protect them like they would a threatened ecosystem.

There is some truly incredible work being done by brilliant ocean science minds, all concerned with protecting the health of the seas and our cherished surf breaks, and moving our entire industry in a direction that puts the ocean first.

Whether that’s through boards “glassed” with non-toxic wool (yes, a real thing Firewire is working on), or mealworms eating your old EPS-foam board and pooping out usable soil, this is a fascinating and crucial time to care about the health of our oceans. The more the industry gets behind these causes the better.

Thanks to Save the Waves and the Surfrider Foundation for fighting the good fight and sharing the good news.