Surfers love to travel. There is a sense of walking the edge of the unknown, an oceanic dream drives us, coupled by the desire to find that perfect uncrowded wave hidden like a Balinese treasure deep in the forest.
However, indulging ourselves in liquid gold comes with a price—but is it an ecologically unfriendly price? Quite frequently, surf travel requires us to jettison across the globe and as a conscious surfer I have felt the pangs of guilt tugging at my eco heartstrings barraged by articles encouraging a zero carbon footprint and requests for carbon offset purchases to help counterbalance my long international flights.
Can you really lead a green lifestyle and still feel good about traveling across the planet in search of the perfect wave? I do want to be green, but I don’t want to give up the gift of surf travel—this is my dilemma and yours too.
You hear in the media how ecologically damaging the aviation industry is but did you know that industries such as IT have overtaken aviation in terms of their CO2 output from the one billion servers currently on the planet. Turning off our computers when they aren’t being used can have a large impact on our energy footprint and could be more effective than skipping that surf trip.
The Office of Sustainability at Tufts Institute of the Environment reports that according to FAA studies, including idling and taxiing, an airplane gets about 48 miles to the gallon per seat. Longer flights are more efficient, newer planes are better, but on average it’s 48 MPG. Thus, traveling solo in an SUV is more harmful in terms of emissions than buying a plane ticket. So don’t feel bad about flying anymore because 48 MPG is better than most cars on the road. I did the calculation and I consumed 179 gallons of fuel to get me to Indo, that’s like 9 tanks of gas. I feel ok about that.
As technology advances fuel efficiency in the aviation field will improve dramatically and we’ll be able to fly longer distances more ecologically. Some airlines and airplane manufacturers are taking steps to improve their eco-flyprints. Southwest and Continental have implemented fuel efficiency improvements, waste reduction programs and increased recycling, and are investing in newer, more fuel efficient airplanes. Another airline on the cutting edge of green is Virgin Atlantic, which made news in 2008 when it became the first major carrier to test the use of biofuels (liquid fuels derived from plant matter) on passenger jet flights. Now Air New Zealand, Continental, Japan Airlines (JAL), JetBlue, and Lufthansa are also testing or using biofuels on some routes. I love this concept because it starts to address our dependency on oil and gives us some eco alternatives.
Boeing is getting eco by developing a carbon-neutral jet fuel made from algae. Boeing’s newest commercial jet, the 787 Dreamliner is twenty percent more fuel efficient than its predecessors thanks to more efficient engines, aerodynamic improvements and the widespread use of lighter composite materials to reduce weight (but for the real eco winner keep reading). Airbus is also incorporating more lightweight composite materials into its new planes and it seems other companies are jumping on the aeronautical bandwagon.
Can you fly a plane on croissants and jam with little or no fuel?
LISA, an innovative French company is building a prototype plane, named the Hy-Bird (that’s funny). This new aircraft uses solar power via photovoltaic cells on an elongated wingspan, much like the solar panels on your roof. LISA plans to use hydrogen-powered fuel cells to fly with zero emissions. The company claims the Hy-Bird is the first 100 percent eco-friendly plane, and is readying a round-the-world flight without the use of conventional jet fuel.
Even more unusual is the proposed fuel-free plane, or flying balloon, by Hunt Aviation. The company is working on a prototype plane that harnesses the natural forces of buoyancy (thanks to helium-filled pontoons) for lift-offs and gravity for landings—along with an on-board wind turbine and battery to power everything in between—to achieve flight without any fuel whatsoever. Dude!
Hands down the envelop of innovation is being pushed hardest by Richard Branson’s commercial space company Virgin Galactic. The Galactic mother ship, VSS Eve, is the largest 100 percent carbon composite plane in service and is the most environmentally friendly aircraft in the world (so they claim). Virgin Galactic plans to begin commercial flights outside the atmosphere in the next few years and once prices stabilize I’ll be signing up for sure. When those flights go live flying from Los Angeles to Sydney will take about an hour. You’ll be able to surf Blacks in the morning and Bells before lunch and you’ll likely do it on 100 MPG.
Let’s just hope that they don’t charge extra for surfboard transport!