5 Ways to Get to the Ocean Without Killing It

By Kevin Whilden August 14, 2017
Let’s all face reality, most surfers use cars to get to the beach but we rarely think about the impact all our driving has on the ocean. For a sport that creates a unique connection to nature, it’s quite a contradiction to directly threaten its existence by how we choose to travel to it.

That doesn’t mean you should stop driving entirely because that’s not very practical in the lifestyle of a typical person today. However, you can at least act with awareness of the alternatives, and perhaps try to make them happen in your life.

Burning petroleum emits carbon dioxide, which is absorbed by the oceans and directly threatens a healthy ocean. Ocean acidification is happening 10 times faster than ever before and is a primary driver of mass extinctions. Sea level rise is accelerating because ice caps like Greenland are melting faster than expected. If we keep going on this path, it won’t be long before coral reefs are extinct and sea level rise swamps out our favorite breaks with a bad case of “permanent high tide.”

So without further ado, these are the top five ways to get to the ocean without killing it.

5. Plug-in hybrid vehicle

If you’re going to have one vehicle for driving to the beach, a plug-in hybrid is the way to go. Plug-in hybrid vehicles combine a large battery and electric motor with a petroleum-powered internal combustion engine. Assuming you live fairly close to the beach, you can keep the car in electric-only mode for the minimal carbon footprint commute. However, when it’s time for the surfing road trip, the gasoline motor eliminates any range limitations as compared to pure-electric vehicles.

-Effective range for a battery-powered surf trip: 10-20 miles

-Pros: The majority of your local surf trips won’t use any petroleum and you will save money on gasoline. For long-distance trips, the vehicle still gets good fuel efficiency because it acts like a standard hybrid vehicle.

-Cons: They’re more expensive than a standard vehicle of same make and model due to the addition of a battery and electric motor. Most plug-in vehicles are optimized for fuel efficiency, which limits the utility for carrying boards.

Can’t get your hands on the latest plug-in hybrid? Another great way to reduce your imprint is to carpool, which effectively shares your emissions with your surf buddy or cuts yours in half – however you choose to look at it. Surfing is always more fun with a friend anyway. Just ask the crowd that turned up to the recent Cobblestone Classic, where more than half of the surfers competing carpooled.

4. Public Transportation

Even though SoCal residents may shout “inconceivable,” many people commute to surf by bus or train. In fact, New York surfers often change into their wetsuit on the train in winter because it’s warmer there than on the frigid beach. And on the Gold Coast, trams are fitted with surfboard racks (and it’s cool to ride half naked…).

-Effective range for a surf trip: 30+ miles

-Pros: You don’t need a car, and you won’t need to find parking.

-Cons: You can’t just drive to a different beach with better waves. Could involve a fair bit of walking, planning, and waiting.

3. Electric bikes

An electric cargo bike is about as sweet a ride as you can find, as it will carry multiple boards and kids. (Photo and bike by Payload Bikes @surfnm)

Due to recent advances in battery technology, electric powered bikes and skateboards are quite common and affordable. Electric bikes are fast (20mph), have a typical range of 20-30 miles, and laugh at steep hills.

-Effective range for a surf trip: 10 miles

-Pros: Long range, fast cruising speed makes short work of a long trip. They are fun to ride.

-Cons: They are still significantly more expensive than a normal bike or skateboard. You have to remember to keep them charged.

2. Ride a bike or skateboard

Sustainable Surf ambassadors Alex Gray and Greg Long showing off their greener transport options at the Cobblestone Classic.

Using human-powered transportation fits perfectly with the vibe of surfing itself. There’s no need to get aggro fighting traffic and bad drivers. You can also cover a surprising amount of ground in a short period of time and human pedal and push emissions are about as low as you can possibly get.

-Effective range for a surf trip: 2-3 miles

-Pros: It’s a good physical warm up and you get some cross training out of it.

-Cons: You have to live pretty close to the beach

1. Walking

If you live within walking distance of a good surf break, you’re probably already walking to it anyway. At least I hope you are. Some people have all the luck.

-Effective range for a surf trip: 0.5 miles or less

-Pros: There is no better eco-friendly way to get to the surf

-Cons: Beach-front property is expensive.

Bonus: Carbon offsets for air travel

Air travel is by far the most carbon intensive way to go surfing. Until a reliable biofuel for aviation becomes available, there is no way to avoid emitting fossil fuels. Assuming that you don’t want to stop making those dream trips, the best solution is to buy carbon offsets from a reliable offset developer. This is a totally viable way to minimize your carbon footprint, and we recommend offsets from companies like Cool Effect or Wildlife Works. You can also offset other emissions from home energy use and vehicle travel.

-Effective range: unlimited

-Pros: The best carbon offset projects protect endangered species and provide social and economic benefits to the local inhabitants.

-Cons (kind of…): Good quality offset projects cost $8-10 per ton of CO2. A round-trip flight between California and Hawaii could cost as little as $20 to offset completely.

And finally, once you get to the ocean there are still ways your sessions can carry a reduced footprint. There are many surf brands who make ECOBOARDS with more sustainable materials than the status quo.