Plastic pollution, ocean acidification, overfishing, these are just a couple of the major problems facing our oceans today. The ocean is being destroyed and the need to take action is greater now than ever. Two organizations spearheading this effort are Saves the Waves and the Surfrider Foundation. Last week they hosted the Global Wave Conference (GWC) in Santa Cruz, CA, which has a mission of bringing together the best international minds from the surfing, conservation and innovation communities to tackle the world’s most challenging ocean issues. John Felts, CEO of Cruz Foam, was lucky enough to attend the conference and discusses his experience and takeaways below.
The conference was hosted at the Dream Inn overlooking the breaking waves of Cowells. I had being looking forward to this conference with a lot of excitement. It was a fantastic opportunity to connect and learn from the greatest minds confronting the important issues threatening our oceans. There were over 300 attendees that included world surfing champion Shaun Tomson, big wave champ Greg Long, surfing companies Firewire, REEF, Patagonia, and also organizations like Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), 5gyres, and Parley for the Ocean. The conference involved keynote speakers and workshops that allowed for a fantastic level of engagement and collaboration.
“Plastics: The Global Experiment” was one of the first talks I attended. It focused on how plastics created by humans are shaping the future of our planet, and how we can help lessen this impact. The panel included Dr. Marcus Eriksen from The 5 Gyres Institute (www.5gyres.org) and Hugo Tagholm from Surfers Against Sewage. These two organizations illustrate very well how information and ocean awareness can be translated into actionable results. The 5 Gyres Institute’s mission is to empower action against the global health crisis of plastic pollution through science, education, and adventure. Dr. Eriksen gave a fascinating talk about their recent publication, Ban List 2.0, which examines the true life cycle of plastic products in the US, and how a majority of products labeled as “compostable” and “biodegradable” do not actually degrade in soil or the ocean. I was shocked and honestly felt betrayed by these findings because as a consumer when you use these products you are told you are making a difference. This realization showcased the importance of organizations like Surfers Against Sewage led by Hugo Tagholm. Hugo is a surfer who was disgusted by the amount of plastics entering his hometown waterways and was driven to do something about it. Surfers Against Sewage is a movement determined to fight the plastic pollution that blights our beaches by motivating and uniting communities to take action and achieve plastic free communities. Check out their great work and learn about their goal of establishing 125 Plastic Free Communities by 2020.
One of the topics at the conference I was most interested in learning more about was the use of plastics in surfing, and the growing push for sustainability within the industry. These two things hit home for us at Cruz Foam where we feel stopping the use of petroleum-based plastics in the surfing industry is long overdue. Therefore, two of the talks I found really insightful was “Marine Plastic Pollutions: Changing Tides in the Surf Industry” and “Climate and Sustainability in the Surf Industry”. A few of the speakers I found really compelling was David Stover, CEO and co-founder of Bureo, Tom Cook from REEF, and Chris Grow from Firewire Surfboards. First thing I have to talk about is Bureo and the awesome work they do (https://bureo.co/). Bureo is based in Chile and these guys are taking trashed plastic fishing nets and recycling them to make skateboards, preventing this plastic from entering and harming our oceans. I had heard of this company previously, but having the opportunity to hear David talk about their work and what it means to them was something special. You could feel his passion as he spoke about the importance of protecting our environment, and the need to get consumers to care and to give them a platform to engage in such impactful efforts. Their mission is simple: find innovative solutions to prevent ocean plastics. Recently they also started exploring making surfboards fins with a similar process, and I’m really stoked to see how they evolve. Firewire surfboards and REEF are two companies embracing sustainability and pushing the boundaries of the status quo within the surfing industry. Tom Cook of REEF stressed the importance of established companies supporting companies like Bureo. In fact, Tom shared that REEF is exploring the use of a technology recently discovered by scientist at UCSD. These scientists created an algae-based foam for use in making sandals, which is a huge market for REEF. Firewire surfboards are arguably the most progressive company when it comes to incorporating sustainable practices into their surfboard manufacturing. Chris Grow emphasized how they do this for each part of their surfboard construction: using bio-based resin, Entropy Resin, using sheep wool instead of fiberglass, Bloom Foam traction pads made from algae, and in the end all of their boards are ECOBOARD certified. One of the really cool things Chris Grow announced is that Firewire have recently developed a process to upcycle their styrofroam waste into garden paver stones. Bureo, REEF, and Firewire are doing amazing work and I hope they continue to spark innovation and change within the industry towards sustainability.
The final thing I wanted to highlight was the keynote given by world champion surfer, Shaun Tomson. Shaun is someone you sort of gravitate to as he has an aura that exudes positivity. Tomson has been supporting the Surfrider foundation since its inception and is currently a board member and ambassador for the organization. Shaun’s talk focused on his best-selling book the Surfer’s Code. The book talks about 12 life lessons born from the collective wisdom of the surf community, but the Code also acts as a source of inspiration to the challenges of everyday life. Shaun has lived his whole life by the Code of “I will”, and has been awed to see the impact his book has had across the world. In his talk he stressed an idea he has called the ripple effect where, simply put, what you do here and today will cause a change in the people and things around you. Shaun is without a doubt one of the most engaging speakers I have seen, and his unwavering support and ongoing activism for ocean conservation is something to be honored. Hearing his passion when speaking to a room full of people, unable to look away, it was clear in that moment the ripple effect is real.
The Global Wave Conference was an amazing three-day event that showcased the desperate need to protect our oceans and environment NOW. How plastics and other pollutions are irreversibly destroying our planet and the oceans we love. But, hope is not lost. The amazing work of companies like Surfers Against Sewage, Bureo, and Firewire show there are people and organizations willing and ready to step up to the fight. Their work along with all the other amazing companies, individuals, and organizations represented at the Global Wave Conference inspire and drive us at Cruz Foam to continue pushing the boundaries and help end the plastic pollution epidemic.