Reef Safe Surfing Tips - Maui Surfer Girls

Reef Safe Surfing Tips

Reef-Safe Surfing

Or: How to be Nice to the Coral while Surfing

The stunning underwater reef at Olowalu is visible even while surfing!

While preparing to write this post, a quick search of ‘Reef-Safe Surfing’ revealed mostly articles about how to avoid being injured by the reef while you are surfing. While anyone would agree your own personal safety is important, there are also things that you can do to protect the reef while you are surfing.

You may not think too much about the coral reef while you are actually out there, but don’t forget: if it wasn’t for the reef, you probably wouldn’t be surfing right there.

Coral reefs are alive, made up of tiny coral polyps, but what does that mean to you? It’s simple, it means you should help keep it alive, if you want to keep surfing there (and having a healthy marine environment)!

So here’s a few things that you can do to help keep the reef safe while surfing:

  1. Use reef-safe sunscreen 

2018 UPDATE: Click HERE to view our blog post about Hawaii’s Sunscreen Ban

While no sunscreen has been yet proven to be completely ‘reef-friendly,’ those with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients, have not been found harmful to corals. Sunscreens sold for children or for those with sensitive skin may contain these gentler compounds as the active ingredients.  It would also be recommended to apply sunscreen prior to arriving at the beach –  as in, when you are putting on your sunscreen at home, before you even get in the car – which would give the sunscreen time to absorb or adhere to your skin.

Here are a few options of safer sunscreens (click image to go to company’s website):

2. Wear a Rash Guard

A simple way to reduce the amount of sunscreen that you need to apply (or risking missing a spot!) is to wear a rash guard. A growing trend (which we LOVE!) is surf pants!  No risk of sunburned bums, losing bikini bottoms, wedgies, or rashes if you are on a soft-top surfboard. Check out these prAna surf pants, -> which work great for yoga too!

3. Stay off the Coral

Everyone in the water, whether you are surfing or snorkeling, needs to be cautious not to touch or stand on the coral.  When you fall down (which happens to everyone) you will want to land as shallow as possible, not only to avoid injury, but to avoid damage to the reef.  This is also why our instructors actually surf beside our students during our lessons, instead of standing in the ocean and just pushing them in, like some schools have been known to do! Keep your body and gear away from the coral, as this contact can hurt you and will damage the delicate coral animals. Even when you are on a sandy bottom, if its anywhere near the coral, its best to stay off the bottom because stirred-up sediment can settle on coral and smother it.

And why do we care so much about being reef safe? 

Our primary surf lesson location is Olowalu, which is often referred to as one of the best (and likely oldest!) reefs around the state. Besides the amazing corals and fish, we can see turtles, monk seals, eagle rays and humpback whales right from our surf spot. This pristine reef must be protected – read more about Olowalu in this article from Maui Time Weekly.

Green Sea Turtles are regular visitors to Olowalu Humpback Whales are also frequently seen off of Olowalu in the winter

Mahalo to Joe West for the drone photography

And to read more about the impact of sunscreens on our reefs, here are some additional links:

National Park Service -Protect Yourself, Protect the Reef/ The impacts of sunscreen on our coral reefs

Washington Post, How we are all contributing to the destruction of coral reefs: Sunscreen (October, 2015)

Alert Diver Online: Sunscreens Linked to Coral Bleaching


And this graphic courtesy of Time Magazine :

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One Response to “Reef Safe Surfing Tips”

  1. Sharky

    Cool chart! It makes sense! Coral need sun if it’s covered in sunscreen…

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