Photo: Jeff Duke

The Inertia

If we’re being honest with ourselves, our insatiable thirst for travel is brutal for the planet. And if you’re anything like me, your travels have shoved the realities of pollution, plastic, and environmental degradation into your face and inspired you to care even just a little more about what you buy, how much, and why.

Overall, I’d say this creates a net positive. But ironically, becoming more conscious of your impact also makes it tough to ignore the fact that hopping onto planes and chasing waves is actually not environmentally-friendly at all. Last year, the commercial airline industry burned 94 billion gallons of fossil fuels, making tourism a major contributor to global carbon emissions annually (eight percent) as well as the deepest footprint you will create on any trip.

Without giving up airline travel altogether, here are some simple ways you can lower your travel footprint:

Fly Economy


Simple as that. The more seats on a plane, the more people that environmental impact is spread across. Your individual footprint is reduced when flying economy or budget airlines that don’t have bedrooms for the ultra-rich.

So rub elbows, it’s better for the planet.

Are there actually surfers that can afford to fly private? If you’re out there reading this. Stop it. Dickhead.


Know That Not all Airlines Are Equal.

Some airlines are pushing the boundaries of getting to net zero emissions. Virgin Atlantic recently powered a flight from London to Orlando with jet fuel that was a blend of ethanol and waste emissions from a steel factory in Beijing. Mind. Blown. Jet Blue recently powered a flight with a renewable blend fuel that contains 16 percent recycled cooking oil that would have otherwise been wasted. United powered a flight from San Fran to Zurich using a fuel made from mustard seed-blend. What? 

In the future, electric planes will be our best bet for short haul flights. But for now, we’re stuck with blends for safety reasons. But pure biofuel will be a thing in the future as well. Like anything you buy, if you actually give a shit, buy from companies pushing the boundaries. They may not be perfect but supporting them means you’re allowing them to continue to improve. Airlines that we found making fuel changes are:

Jet Blue
Thomson Airways
Continental Airlines
Gol Transportes Aereos

Jeff Duke Lineup

Traveling is great. But it’s not so great for the environment. Photo: Jeff Duke

Fly Direct

Studies say that 25 percent of emissions from a flight are used during takeoff and landing. This means going straight from Point A to Point B is an incredibly simple way to dramatically reduce your footprint — just what I needed to know to justify shelling out that extra cash for direct flights. Oh, how I’ll miss the 14-hour layovers from separately-booked connections.


Offset Your Carbon Footprint

This is the last resort, like recycling plastic. It’s better to actually avoid using it altogether when possible, but if you have no choice, at least recycle it. So if you’re going to fly to the Mentawais for two weeks, tick off all of the above tips and then create other ways to offset the impact of your trip with carbon offsets.

Carbon offsets are programs that essentially counteract the impact you make. By paying for carbon offsets, you are funding a program that will reduce carbon emissions by the same amount you created. These include investments in renewable energy, solar, wind, methane capture, and more. From what I understand, this is a largely unregulated industry, so it’s something worth researching. My own company uses an online calculator  to offset the emissions of our business flights and clothing shipments for L/L Supply. We’ll soon offer the option for customers to do it on their orders as well. To give you an idea, it only cost $32 per person for us to offset a round-trip to Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, Once You’re Off the Plane… 

You may be considering renting a car at your destination to drag around those boards. I’m a big fan of solo missions but splitting a car also means splitting the emissions. Even better, take a train or bus and split those emissions between a bunch of traveling strangers.

If you’re driving, try not to drive alone, as that impact is likely even worse than a commercial flight. Adding one mate to the trip in a somewhat fuel-efficient car most likely makes driving more economical and environmentally-friendly than flying. Plus, nothing beats a chicken bus trip through Central America. You will appreciate your local public transport like no one ever has before you.


Like many things, you should look at your carbon footprint from a holistic approach. Everything you do has an impact and the more you consider each aspect of your life the better.

You’re also likely buying some new gear for your trip. Put a little thought into the sustainability of your pre-trip purchases and even into your day to day life. Everything from boards, clothing, wetsuits, and even down to your sunscreen can contribute to the overall reduction of your personal environmental impact.

Travel is an integral part of life as a surfer, on our minds since we first flipped through the pages of mags in our teens, drooling over the waves breaking along foreign shores. We aren’t about to stop seeing the world, so tick these things off and you can feel a little less guilty about ticking off all your bucket list waves.

Editor’s Note: You can easily learn how to offset your next flight right here. Read more about the author’s travels here


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