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The big surf

How could surfing be affected by climate change?

Surfing is becoming one of the most popular sports in the UK. It has its own culture with clothing, language and music. Did you know that ‘wave riding’ was first recorded by Captain James Cook in 1778 when he saw a number of the local people of Hawaii ‘wavesliding’ on solid wooden boards?

The sport reached Engand in the 1920s in the Channel Islands and Cornwall and the town of Newquay in Cornwall remains at the heart of surfing in the UK. It grew throughout the 1960s influenced by the boom in the USA, and today there are around 300,000 people who surf in the UK.

Will the future of surfing be affected by climate change?

Surfing and climate change: Meet a surfer

Ben Haworth is the British Junior long board champion and is currently ranked no. 2 in Europe.

How does climate change affect this surfer?

Interview with Ben Haworth

Read the interview with Ben to find out what he thinks about climate change. Do you think a changing climate is an important issue for him?

As a surfer, are you worried about global warming?

A little. There are advantages and disadvantages

Have you surfed abroad? Where have you been?

Yes. France, Spain, South Africa, North Africa, Ireland, Canaries.

Is it really necessary for you to travel abroad?

Yes, the surf conditions during the winter make it necessary and many competitions are abroad.

Do you offset your carbon emissions when you travel abroad?

We try to recycle at home.

Would you consider riding a sustainable surfboard made out of balsa wood?

Depends, the main thing is that it has to be suitable for competition, so if it weren’t exactly the same as my contest boards it would adversely affect my performance so in this case no.

Climate change might mean that there are more hurricanes in the Atlantic. Is this a good thing for you?

It depends what affect it has on winds locally, but in theory, yes as it will generate bigger waves.

Does it matter to you if sea temperature increases?

No, its better for us.

Will rising sea levels affect surfing?

Yes, can be both good and bad. It would destroy some existing ‘good’ breaks but create new ones

Find out more at Ben Haworth's website

How could surfing be affected by sea level change?

Surfing is a hugely popular activity, driven by a multi-billion dollar industry. Climate change, and the possibility of rising sea levels, could have a drastic effect on the sport.

This lesson uses Google Earth to investigate the impact of sea level change on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.

The Gold Coast is the most popular location for tourism in Queensland; one of the biggest draws being the internationally renowned surfing beaches.

The aim of the lesson is to create a series of Google Earth polygons to illustrate the impact of sea level change. These form the basis for a report style assignment like the image below.

Starter activity

Zoom in to Snapper Rocks to note the surfers in the water.

Open the folder of placemarks illustrating some of the other surfing locations. Discuss why the location is so important to the surfing community.

Activity one

Describe the physical and human features of the region

Open the Gold Coast overview and investigate more closely in Google Earth

Activity two

Check the live webcams: Surfers Paradise and Duranbah

Activity three

Draw a sketch of the Gold Coast region, based on the overview placemark. Use information from the Layers Panel to annotate it. The most useful information from the panel can be found under "Geographic Web" as shown below. Other information can be turned off.

Activity four

Create a series of polygons to represent sea level change, or use the sea level change polygons.

Zoom to the desired level and turn on Terrain via the Layers panel

Choose Add Polygon from the top menu

Use the mouse to click and drag nodes to create the polygon over the desired area. The polygon appears white and the dialogue box appears.

In the dialogue box name the polygon and add a description if desired.
Under Style, change the colour (reds and purples work well) and set the opacity to between 50 and 60%.

Under View click snapshot current view.

Under Altitude, move the slider to the desired sealevel height (e.g. 5m)
Select Relative To Ground and then click OK to exit the dialogue. Create polygons to represent 1 5 and 10m sea level rises:

Activity five

Draw another sketch of the coastline to show how sea level change could affect the Gold Coast.

Activity six


Write a report or produce a presentation to describe the impact of a 1m 5m and 10m rise in sea level on the region. Use screenshots from Google Earth to illustrate the report.


Discuss whether it is feasible to protect the Gold Coast from sea level rise with engineering solutions. There are several examples of large scale coastal management engineering projects in the area including the Narrowneck Reef and other Gold Coast manaegement projects.

How sustainable is surfing?: Sustainable surfboards

Find a video of a surfboard being shaped online.

What are the differences between this new type of surfboard and a traditional surfboard?

Is it possible to make a completely sustainable board? What are the environmental impacts of surfboard manufacture?

Find out at:

Why did Grubby Clark close his factory?

Surf World Shocker! Clark Foam Shuts Down

Board Building Community Stunned by the Sudden Shut Down of Clark Foam, the World’s Leading Supplier of Surfboards

The Clark Foam factory in California produced foam for 90% of the world’s surfboards, but it closed down in 2005. There were many rumours for the reasons for the shut down, but none were confirmed.

Your role is to find out the reasons why and create your own surfing magazine article.

In pairs or in groups work out the reasons for the sudden closure of the California factory. Discuss your responses before writing your own surfing magazine article about the reasons for its closure!

Listen for more instructions from your teacher. 

Green matters

Visit the Drift magazine website, the digital only magazine. It is marketed as an environmentally friendly magazine. Is this type of ethical magazine a realistic alternative to traditional magazines? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages?

Have a look at these other surf related websites.

Case study

Download information about how a changing climate could affect other sports