In Vancouver, we’re lucky to never be far from the ocean. We have kayaking, canoeing, stand-up paddle boarding, and even surfing, all at our fingertips. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the water in British Columbia, but it’s all too easy to not realize the impact that these activities have on the ocean itself.

The gear that we use is a major culprit. Even though the outdoor industry is dependent on the health of the oceans, most gear is produced in a way that’s detrimental to the environment. Materials are usually chosen for cost and performance, without considering their environmental impact. Petroleum-based fibres that release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are popular. Other common materials like PFCs (perfluorinated compounds) and microplastics also severely impact marine life and ecosystems.

While there is no simple answer to making your time on the ocean entirely sustainable, there are things you can do to help mitigate your impact. Take care of the gear that you already have, and opt for repairs rather than replacements. When you can, try to buy secondhand. And, when you do need to purchase new gear, investing in quality, thoughtfully-produced items will help both yourself and the planet.

Here’s our quick guide to making your next session on the water more sustainable:

Sunscreen

Sunscreen protects us out on the ocean. But, more often than not, they contain chemicals that get washed away and harm marine life. Ingredients like oxybenzone and octinoxate have been shown to contribute to coral bleaching. Coral bleaching impacts entire marine ecosystems, and also harms communities around the world who are dependent on healthy reefs for tourism and fishing. Chemical sunscreens are a huge part of this problem — Hawaii even passed legislation banning the two most harmful sunscreen chemicals in an effort to protect their coral reefs.

A more sustainable option is mineral sunscreen — look for ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Mineral sunscreens block UV rays instead of absorbing them, and are considered safer for coral reefs. As a bonus, they’re healthier for you and even do a better job of staying on your skin while you’re out on the water.

Wetsuits

The average wetsuit is made out of neoprene — a non-renewable, petroleum-based material. Not only does producing neoprene require a huge amount of oil drilling and energy, but it also doesn’t decompose. Neoprene was originally used to line the bottoms of landfills, which goes to show just how unsustainable and non-biodegradable this material is. 

A few companies have started to come up with new ways to create a more sustainable wetsuit, all while making sure that it’s still durable, warm, and high-performing. Patagonia sells wetsuits made from a sustainably-sourced plant-based rubber called Yulex®. Made from hevea trees, this new material reduces CO2 emissions by 80%. Surf-brand Vissla also produces wetsuits made with a more eco-friendly process.

Even if you do end up opting for neoprene, consider investing in a higher-quality wetsuit that will last longer. Since wetsuits take so long to biodegrade, the longer your wetsuit lasts, the better.

Boards and equipment

Gear is often made in the easiest, most cost-effective way, which comes at a cost to the environment. Take surfboards — they’re almost always made from synthetic materials that take hundreds of years to decompose. But the good news is that more and more, companies tackling the challenge of creating an eco-friendly board. Boards made from balsawood are making a comeback, and brands are testing out new materials like recycled plastic and foam.

Surfrider Canada has recently partnered with Quick Water, an eco-business that sells boards and paddles that have a reduced carbon footprint. Quick Water sells Sunova surf and SUP boards made from balsa and paulownia wood. These materials are super high-performing and lightweight, but also have a reduced impact.

Ocean health is more important than ever. Half of the world’s oceans are already affected by climate change, according to recent studies. Besides considering your outdoor gear, there are plenty of other ways you can help give back to the ocean. Reduce your plastic use, find ways everyday to lower your carbon footprint, and join Surfrider Vancouver on one of our beach cleanups (stay tuned for the next one!).