The Purple Beach Flag

purple flag at the beach blowing in the wind.

The purple beach flag is not as well-known as its red, yellow or green counterparts. But it does sometimes make an appearance at the beach. This article will dive into the various meaning of the purple flag, so the next time you’ll know what’s happening in the water when you see the purple flag swaying in the wind. Dangerous Marine Life This summer, I had my first encounter with the purple flag. I went down wanting to go surf in Seignosse in the South West of France, when I saw the unfamiliar color hissed next to the lifeguard house. I went towards the water and asked some people at the beach if they know what it means. Most haven’t noticed the change of the flag yet. Luckily, I found a woman with her surfboard saying that it’s because of the man-o-war jellyfish that being blown across the line-up towards the shore because of the onshore winds. Having encountered bluebottle jellyfish in Australia before, I knew firsthand that jellyfish stings could be highly uncomfortable and painful. But jellyfish aren’t the only creatures that prompt the hoisting of the purple flag. It can also serve as a warning for sharks, sea snakes, or other potentially hazardous marine life. So, if you ever see that purple flag, it’s best to stay out of the water until the all-clear is given. Water Pollution and Bacteria When we think of water pollution, images of plastic waste often come to mind. However, there’s more lurking in the water that can make you sick. While surfing, we swallow 10 times more water than a swimmer and spend longer time immersed in the ocean. Waterborne bacteria, including E. coli, can pose a significant threat to your health. These bacteria often find their way into the sea from sewage treatment plants and wastewater systems. In some places like England, sewage spills from wastewater treatment plants happen all too frequently, leading to beach closures. Swallowing water contaminated with E. coli bacteria can result in various health problems, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps. A study conducted in England even revealed that surfers had a significantly higher percentage of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in their bodies compared to non-surfers, all due to their frequent exposure to polluted waters. Organizations like Surfers Against Sewage are actively raising awareness and working toward solutions to combat water pollution. They offer tools like an app that highlights pollution hotspots, although it’s currently only available in England. Surfing after heavy rainfall After heavy rainfall, water pollution at the beach can spike dramatically. Swimmers and surfers are advised to avoid the water for a certain period following heavy rains, and the duration varies by location. In general, it’s recommended to wait at least three days before taking a dip, but a study from California suggests it should be as long as five days. Heavy rainfall can wash pollutants, bacteria, and other contaminants from streets, roofs, and other surfaces into storm drains, which ultimately flow into the ocean. The purple flag may be raised to alert beach goers about the potential risks of swimming or surfing in these contaminated waters. So, if you’re planning to hit the waves after a rainstorm, keep an eye on the flag system, and when you see the purple flag, remember to wait it out for a few days. Hazardous conditions In some places, the purple flag can mean similar conditions as indicated by the red flag. This can be strong currents, rip tides or other dangerous conditions making water-related activities unsafe. So next time you spot that purple flag fluttering at the beach, seek information about what’s going on in the water to stay safe and healthy weather its dangerous marine life, water pollution or hazardous conditions. For German speakers: There is a podcast about the purple flag and what it means.

Why choose Yulex over petroleum-based Neoprene wetsuits

Two women holding longboards and wearing yulex wetsuits.

Wetsuits have been around for ages, keeping us surfers warm and cozy in the water. With the surfing industry booming since the ’90s, wetsuits have evolved, now coming in various sizes and thicknesses. Today’s value of the wetsuit industry is around $2 Billion USD. Most of these wetsuits are made of synthetic rubber called neoprene. It is a petroleum-based material, which also has the commercial name chloroprene. Though this material has been the go-to since its development by DuPont in the 1930s, the surf community was largely unaware of its harmful and toxic nature for quite some time. However, Patagonia started to bring some light into the darkness in 2008 when they introduced the first Yulex wetsuit made from a natural rubber sourced from the Guayule plant. It proved to be a more sustainable alternative to the conventional neoprene wetsuits that most were accustomed to. The revelation continued when Lewis Arnold and Chris Nelson started their documentary ‘‘The Big Sea’’ bringing more information about the harmful effects of neoprene to light. Header: Credit: Aentonia | Zoé and Lili wearing an Ecoalf x Deeply Yulex summer wetsuit. The Toxic Truth of Neoprene The film takes us to the Denka factory, a Japanese owned chemical company in Louisiana. It is the only chloroprene plant in the US. Why it’s so problematic is that there is no home in the predominantly black community without having been touched by cancer. The U.S. Government Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the high cancer risks of chloroprene, thus the majority of wetsuits sold today are made out of chloroprene from the plant in the Cancer Alley.  Denka owns a second company in Japan, where Limestone chloroprene wetsuits are made by melting Limestone in an electric furnace. It’s not a petroleum based material, but the process to mine, crush and melt the Limestone requires a huge amount of energy. So, environmentally speaking, it’s not much better. Also, there is no data or public records that are kept about the chloroprene emissions in the second plant according to The Big Sea findings. Since the toxic truth of chloroprene is becoming more evident, more and more companies are aiming to bring more sustainable wetsuits to the market. Are Yulex wetsuits an alternative?  Surfers are very picky when it comes to material. The wetsuit should be flexible, tight but not too and perform in its dedicated water temperature. These characteristic traits of surfers make it quite hard to introduce a new technology that might not directly have the same performance aspects. Yulex wetsuits have been around for a while now, gaining more and more trust and credit for a great performance. Yulex is a natural plant-based material that can replace neoprene. Today, the rubber for wetsuits is sourced from the Havea rubber tree from different plantations from Sri Lanka to Guatemala. The trees produce natural rubber for 20 to 30 years, absorbing some carbon in their lifespan as well. Since 2016, Patagonia went completely neoprene free, making all their wetsuit-based products with natural rubber. To make the more sustainable Yulex material widely available, they decided to open up the material for the wetsuit market. Since then, many other brands such as Ecoalf with Deeply, Finisterre, Billabong and SRFACE started selling all-natural rubber wetsuits. Yulex wetsuits offer several key sustainability advantages over traditional neoprene wetsuits, which make them a more environmentally responsible choice. Switching to Yulex reduces the CO₂ emissions from one wetsuit by up to 80% (Patagonia). The primary difference between Havea wetsuits and neoprene wetsuits lies in the material source. Neoprene is derived from petroleum, a non-renewable resource that requires energy-intensive processes to extract and refine. The Havea trees can be sustainably harvested for their rubber, providing a more eco-friendly alternative to petroleum-based neoprene. The rubber used in Yulex wetsuits comes from responsibly managed plantations, ensuring sustainable harvesting practices that protect biodiversity and local ecosystems. In contrast, the extraction and refining of petroleum for neoprene wetsuits often lead to environmental degradation and habitat destruction. And as the Big Sea documentary will show, the production of neoprene involves the use of certain toxic chemicals, including chloroprene. These chemicals can have harmful effects on human health and the environment. Yulex wetsuits, being derived from natural rubber, do not require the use of such hazardous chemicals, making them a safer option for both consumers and the planet. We as surfers have an impact on where we hand our money. We can make an informed choice. Not everything is as black and white and natural rubber can not be the singular solution over a long time. We need to diversify sustainable choices.      

El Niño | How it might affect our surf

Big wave peeling perfectly to the left.

It’s in everybody’s mouth: El Niño. The weather phenomenon occurring every two to seven years that likes to shake things up everything is making its way back into the spotlight. According to the WMO (World Meteorological Organisation), La Niña has ended after a three-year run, currently leaving the tropical Pacific in a neutral state (neither El Niño nor La Niña). This year we have a 60% chance that El Niño will start between May and July and a possibility of 80% that it starts between July and September as WMO experts updated. Credit: Jeremy Bishop/unsplash But what does it do exactly? Well, think of it as Mother Nature’s version of a plot twist. It occurs when the waters of the Pacific Ocean around the equator become warmer than usual. On the coasts of Peru, the water temperature increases, resulting in fewer nutrients in the water and fewer fish for fisherpeople —which is how it was first noticed. The temperature shift is causing a domino effect that is changing atmospheric conditions and causing crazy weather patterns around the world. So how does this affect our surf? During an El Niño event, the Pacific Ocean becomes a bit wild. Strong winds that typically blow from east to west across the equatorial Pacific weaken, which has a profound impact on ocean currents. These weakened winds cause warmer water to slosh back towards the Americas, altering the normal patterns of ocean circulation. As a result, some surf spots can experience unusually warm water temperatures, leading to changes in wave patterns.  The effects of El Niño on surfing vary from region to region. In the Pacific Ocean, certain areas may experience a decrease in wave heights as wind patterns change and wave formation is disrupted. But the warm water can also fuel hurricanes in the central and eastern Pacific oceans. Other regions, such as parts of Central and South America, may experience larger and stronger waves. It’s as if the ocean is putting on a big show and demonstrating its unpredictability.  La niña El Niño also has a rebellious sibling, La Niña, who also deserves a mention. La Niña occurs when the Pacific Ocean cools down, acting as a sort of reverse El Niño. This chilly sibling can have its own effects on surf conditions, often bringing more consistent and larger waves to certain areas. So, while El Niño may temporarily disrupt the surf scene, La Niña ensures that the mood doesn’t tip. When La Niña pays Europe a visit, she tends to bring colder and stormier winters, resulting in more favourable conditions for larger and more consistent waves. But we can think about this in a year or so.  Impact on surfing in Europe While El Niño and La Niña mostly affect countries around the Equator such as Central and South America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, and eastern and southern Africa, Europe feels it a little too. Not as much as the Pacific region, but it still leaves its mark. During an El Niño event, Europe often experiences milder winters with higher temperatures, which can translate to less intense storm systems in the North Atlantic. Consequently, this can lead to reduced wave activity along some European coastlines as the weather phenomenon hinders hurricane formation in the Atlantic Basin. The last three weeks waves were already absent in most parts of Europe leaving surfers hungry for waves. Might this be some first signs of El Niño? Well, one thing is certain, the two weather events from mother nature disrupt our instincts of predicting waves, and spicing forecast reading up. Let’s see what this summer brings. And let’s not forget that the weather phenomena also bring flooding in some parts of the planet and drought in others. We are all in this together and let’s help with what we can. 

Ebb and Flow: Connect with the Patterns and Power of Water

Easkey_Britton_Ebb_and_Flow

Text written by Easkey Britton  On 11th April my third book Ebb and Flow: Connect with the Patterns and Power of Water was released. A bit of background, I’m a surfer, writer, artist, film-marker and marine social scientist, with a PhD in Environment and Society. A life-long surfer, I was taught to surf at the age of four, and now channel my passion for the sea and surfing into social change. My promotion of female surfing in Iran is explored in my TEDx Talk ‘Just Add Surf’ and the award-winning documentary Into the Sea. I am also the author of Saltwater in the Blood (Watkins, 2021) and 50 Things to do by the Sea (Pavilion, 2021).  Ebb and Flow was written as a response to our disconnect from the waters of our world, especially the last ‘wild’ waters that exist. The book is a reflection of the bodies of water I have come to know and is deeply enriched by the words and wisdom of many others who are all, in their own way, keepers, protectors, healers and bearers of water. So much of this book is about how we might learn to simply be, fully inhabiting our own watery bodies so that we are better able to listen to the world around us and receive the message water has for us. My hope is that we will come to understand our interdependence with watery places and beings, and to sense and feel the aliveness of these connections. To feel that we too are water.  Like the flow of the water cycle, renewing our relationship with water is a cyclical tale of rhythm and movement; giving and receiving; inhalation and exhalation; ebb and flow, with water at the beginning and end of every cycle in life. The story of our lives begins in water. From this point onwards, our contact with, and immersion in, water has a powerful ability to alter our perspective and introduce us to a richer and more sensory way of knowing. That is what I hope you will begin to feel as you read this book. Restoring our relationship with water is essential if we are to heal the waters of the world and, because we are water, heal ourselves. Ebb and Flow offers ideas and practical ways to engage with the patterns and power of water, for the benefit of our health and the health of water. These practices are themselves invitations to deepen attention through stillness, movement and reflection.  Our connection with water in all its forms is central to us as humans. I have found that if we can deepen the meaningful ways in which we interact with water environments, water can, in return, offer us profound experiences of healing, renewal and connection.  To hear more from Easkey, pick up a copy of Ebb and Flow: Connect with the Patterns and Power of Water (Watkins, 2023) and Saltwater in the Blood: Surfing, Natural Cycles and the Sea’s Power to Heal (Watkins, 2021).  We will also have a little special sometime in the next weeks and some more insights from Easkey.  

Threatened bubble butt | The dying Baltic Sea

Threatened bubble butt - dying Baltic Sea

Foto: Mats Heitzmann Big butts are out of fashion, and that finally gives me a bit of hope. Maybe we are approaching the point where women’s bodies are simply accepted as they are. In the case of this starfish with the bubble butt, we are not dealing with a controversial beauty trend, but with climate change, which is happening all over the world. The Baltic Sea, where this starfish lives, is on the verge of death and with it this little guy.  The baltic sea just a glimpse what our oceans are likely to face  The slow death of the Baltic Sea began a decade ago. Many people live around the waters, about 85 million in 11 countries. Nine of these countries have a coastline on the Baltic Sea. It is one of the most polluted waters in the world. And why? Because nutrients from agriculture and modern sewage systems spill into the sea and remain there. These nutrients are mainly nitrogen and phosphorus.  What happens when you change the amount of nutrients is comparable to what a plant does when you fertilise it. It grows bigger in a shorter time. In the ocean, these plants are micro-algae (phytoplancton) that grow enormously due to the increased amount of nutrients especially in summer. Not to be confused with macro-algae, which we use for sushi. The Baltic Sea then turns into an algae soup. The micro-algae first float on the sea surface and sink down after they die. The rotting algae are dissolved by microorganisms that consume the oxygen in the bottom water. The amount of oxygen therefore decreases enormously, resulting in dead zones in the ocean. Shellfish, mussels and our little starfish cannot escape this zone and die due to the lack of oxygen. This is just a simple explanation,  but the matter is much more complex.    With global warming and extensive agriculture around the world, the Baltic Sea could be a foretaste of what other oceans face in the future. The more we become aware of this, the better we can think about solutions and change our habits.  Hope on the horizon  It is still a long way to work on solutions that can counteract our destruction. I talked to an expert in the field of marine science, especially in the Baltic Sea. Mats Heitzmann is a surfer and diver, grew mussels on a prototype in the Flensburg fjord and recently came back from working on a seaweed farm in Norway. There are some projects and initiatives that try to counteract the dying of the Baltic Sea. Mats says we urgently need to reduce the input of nutrients. Factory farming and manure are harmful. This is a task the politicians need to act upon though. The Baltic Sea naturally has a lower exchange of water compared to other oceans due to its geographical conditions. The only place where water is exchanged with the North Sea is Kattegat between Sweden and Denmark. Mats tells me that there is an underwater mountain range that makes the exchange of water difficult. Mostly huge storms with a west wind can bring larger amounts of saltwater into the Baltic Ocean but with climate change, these don’t happen regularly anymore. Initiatives from the field of geoengineering trying to change this. The University of Gothenburg conducted a pilot study by pumping oxygen-enriched water to the seabed and with it airing the sea. Mats says it’s viewed critically as it is a symptom treatment and not addressing the root cause. But it could be a solution and in combination with other projects might work. Can algae be useful?  Explicitly regenerating dead zones it’s not useful, it takes more than algae farms, Mats mentions. Also, algae treat the symptom, not the cause of the problem. Despite that algae-farms are the most sustainable form of agriculture or aquaculture. They don’t need fertiliser, antibiotics or fresh water. And the best thing is – their waste product from photosynthesis is oxygen. In combination with mussels, the water becomes clearer, there are fewer microalgae and the photosynthesis of the macroalgae is better. Algae farms also advertise taking nutrients out of the water and the seaweed can be used as biofertilizer for agriculture. Own ways to act and step up for the bubble butt and its home  “You only protect what you know. With oceans, it’s difficult because most people associate it with something like holidays but don’t experience what’s underwater. Superficially, you only see the surface. Very few people have the opportunity to go diving. It’s very important to do educational work”, Mats describes. The Baltic Sea looks like a desert in many places. For people that are not aware photos and movies are a good way to show them. Recently in politics mussel fishing was banned, Mats continues. We need to avoid single plastic waste and shop locally. There is no fish where stocks are endangered except for carp. In the Baltic Sea, the fishing of cod and herring just has been banned.  Mats explaines: “In my opinion, we shouldn’t eat any fish at all and aquaculture is no alternative.’’ There is a documentary about a Norwegian fish farm you might want to watch. It’s a toxic industry for the environment and not healthy at all. As a consumer, we have a great responsibility, and power in the masses. Consume less meat, then there is less manure. In Europe, we have the possibility to live without any animal products. If you want to get involved and help save the Baltic ocean there are a handful of organisations you can support and political engagement actually exists in every major city on the coast. Nabu Germany Baltic Sea Task Force, German Foundation for Marine Conservation, Seasheperd, Marine Mammal Conservation, Coral Reef Alliance or WWF – to name a few. And just as butt implants are now getting removed, our little starfish was having a temporary bubble butt. It was just on top of a mussel, trying to crack it open for dinner.

Why the sea makes us feel good

why the sea makes us feel good

When we are at the seaside, we just feel good sitting by the sea or being in the water. Have you ever wondered why it actually feels so good? Most of the time we don’t think about what actually happens to our thoughts, feelings and bodily functions when we are near bodies of water. Or to what extent the sea has a concrete influence on our well-being. The sea can somehow influence our feelings. Small waves have a calming effect and make us feel peaceful. Large waves and rough water, on the other hand, can make us feel restless and nervous. These different wave strengths can make a direct connection to what is going on in our minds. At times when we are uncertain and anxious, things go up and down, like a big day at sea. But the sea can also be a mirror and show us what is going on inside us. We are in a time when there is a lot of uncertainty, fears arise and thoughts sometimes go crazy. Especially in difficult phases, we feel connected to nature and especially to the sea. Nature reflects emotions, moods and physical changes in all its many manifestations and can have a particularly positive effect on our well-being. The healing effect of nature has been known for a long time. Surfers know the indescribable feeling after a surfed wave, the calming effect of just looking at the sea as well as the wonderful effect of salt water on skin and hair. Feeling high from surfing After a surfed wave the whole body is buzzing. A euphoria starts spreading from the gut to all corners of the body. This is one expression of the stoke we feel from surfing. The psyched feeling makes you glow and smile all over your face. This feeling can actually make us high. We experience increased levels of adrenaline and dopamine when surfing. Adrenaline increases reaction time and raises the heart rate as the body goes into “fight or flight” mode. While the adrenaline is pumping, a certain state of intoxication sets in the brain. During activities like surfing, the chemical neurotransmitter dopamine, also known as the happy hormone, is released in greater quantities. This biochemical cocktail makes surfing a sport that captivates people because we always strive to experience that fantastic feeling. Long car journeys, days of watching the wave forecast and investing our last penny on surfing equipment – we gladly accept all this for the stoke. The best thing is that this state lasts even after we are no longer in the water. Although the adrenaline rush wears off shortly after the last wave, the surfing euphoria remains. Researchers assume that the positive effect of the sea air also intensifies this feeling.  The positive effects of sea air Researchers found that sea air contains a greater amount of negatively charged ions compared to “normal” air. These ions are the result of breaking waves because when atoms with enough energy collide, ions are released into the air. So the turbulence of breaking waves changes the physical composition of the ocean air and releases charged ions into the atmosphere. Surfers are constantly exposed to this special constitution of the air in the water or near the ocean. Scientists assume that the accumulation of negative ions has a positive effect on mood by releasing endorphins and serotonin in the body. Other environments such as snow-covered mountains, rivers or waterfalls also have a similar negatively charged air. If the beach or mountains are too far away, a shower at home with sufficient pressure can also bring about the properties of active water. Ocean therapy for mind and body The endless blue mass of the ocean soothes our eyes and mind without causing sensory overloads like social media or the TV do. When we take a sip of fresh ocean air, we feel relaxed and calm. The mind is freed from entanglements. So-called gazing at the sea can be considered a form of meditation where the sea serves as a focal point. Scientific evidence for the positive effects of gazing at the sea is hard to find. In my opinion, it is very healing, not only for the mind. The so-called thalassotherapy or “healing treatment of the sea” uses active ingredients from the sea such as seawater, algae, mud, sun and also sea air as therapeutic agents. These are said to have a healing effect on the body and mind.