choking on plastic

Tue, 24 April 2018

Surfing is freedom, says surfer and philosopher Aaron James but as Melissa Volker writes, not when it chokes us in plastic. Enter the first plastic-free SA Longboard Champs.


SURFERS WITH SOUL: Diony and Spider share a plastic-free moment. Photo Supplied

Aaron James is an interesting guy. An avid surfer whose been tubed at Nias and travelled the world to surf, he is a philosophy professor at the University of California, and well known for best-selling book Assholes: A Theory. Yes, he wrote about assholes, and their role in society. Finally.

But his most recent book - Surfing with Sartre: An Aquatic Inquiry into a Life of Meaning - examines how surfing gives us purpose. He submits that no water sport exemplifies freedom better than surfing. “The surfer’s spray flies off the surfboard, into the air and then rains into the ocean medium, being reabsorbed completely. In [a] snap in the wave pocket, the spray will erupt in a fanning plume, with an existence as evanescent as a passing fancy."

And of course, no trace is left behind. What a lesson for us humans: how to interact with our physical world. If only. Sadly, our presence in the world is not quite as “evanescent as a passing fancy”.

laden oil tankers

DUMPING GROUND: A massive mindset change is needed across the board. Photo Unsplashed

Help us make the Longboard Champs plastic free

Our terrestrial activities are problematic enough. Even on the beach and at surf contests, there are issues, not least when some think they can appropriate the ocean. Incidentally, James suggests wave appropriation is impossible. While some might claim a wave or a tube, you can never conquer the ocean, but you can stop it from choking in plastic waste.

Diony Lalieu heads up Ocean’s Pledge, an activism group that fights for a plastic-free ocean. It was formerly Surfer’s Pledge, but happily for kooks like me who surf a SUP (and even the poor suckers who sit on their bums and paddle) the group now has a more inclusive name for wave riders and ocean users of all persuasions.

She thinks we’ve got some work to do. Last year, at the SA Longboard Champs, she was appalled when plastic water bottles were handed out. Why would surfers, who are essentially advocates of a clean ocean, be party to one of the world’s greatest plastic pollutants?

all choked up

CHOKING UP: The ocean will end up asphyxiating unless we stop the plastic. Photo Unsplash

Tyler Pike Grade 12 Project

    ABOVE: Painting with found objects by Tyler Pike.

starbucks takeaway coffee with strawsIf you were down in JBay for the Corona JBay Open last year, you would have noticed (when your mind wasn’t being blown by perfect waves and perfect tens) that the event was plastic free. All the bottled water (and that other amber coloured water) was in glass. You couldn’t get a bag, a straw, a plastic fork or a coffee lid on the WSL’s watch. And, when Felipe Toledo was done landing his back-to-back alley-oops, you would have seen WSL staff clearing trash from the beach. They stepped up and took responsibility.

Thanks to Ocean’s Pledge and their partnership with Faithful to Nature, that vibe is coming to the Western Cape. The SA Longboarding Champs - starting tomorrow at Lamberts Bay and ending on Sunday 29 April will be a plastic-free event. Ocean’s Pledge gave the organisers and vendors guidelines to ensure that there will be barely any single-use plastic around. There will be no straws, no plastic cutlery, no polystyrene, no plastic bags, no plastic coffee cup lids and definitely no plastic water bottles. Water will be provided by a local purifier. Faithful to Nature is sponsoring metal water bottles for the judges and competitors.

But if you’re a soul surfer and contests are not your thing, your plastic footprint each time you hit the beach is still worth some reflection. That after-surf coffee? Do you refuse a lid? Or better still, do you take your own reusable cup or a coffee mug? Do you take your own shopping bag when you stock up on wax and solar resin?

Because even if you are responsible and throw your trash away, the reality is that there is no away. You merely relocate the item that you used for all of 90 seconds to another place. And that relocation results in more and more plastic ending up in the sea.

I think Aaron James is right. Surfing is the true “ideal limit of aquatic sports.” In his view, “surfing ... is a full, maybe the fullest, expression of the free human’s natural state of being.”

But then he asks of us, thinking surfers, natural custodians of the ocean:

“What should we do in a world in which ecological resources are a lot scarcer than they have been? Just party on?”

The answer according to James is “Yes. Just a different kind of partying.”

Indeed. The kind that excludes plastic.


0 #1 PauliPaupi 2018-04-26 20:28
I agree completely with this article and want to add... we surfers are all responsible for the amount of surfboards being checked away! That is also rubish so we should always try to reuse recycle surfboards before making our own custom made new one!!
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