Dive into our exclusive interview as we catch up with Haley, SeaTrees Partnerships Director, following her recent visit to The LineUp at WaiKai, the world's first Ocean Positive surf park located in Hawaii. This groundbreaking surf park is redefining sustainability in the industry through its partnership with SeaTrees to eliminate its CO2 footprint. With every guest activity booking, they donate $1 to obtain carbon credits, providing crucial support to the Hoʻowaiwai Watershed Project. Haley sits down with Skip Taylor, who helps oversee the operations of The LineUp at Wai Kai, to explore their extraordinary sustainability initiatives. Join us as we uncover how The LineUp at WaiKai is driving a greener future for surf parks in our captivating interview with Skip Taylor.
What is your name, title, and affiliation?
I’m Skip Taylor, Partner, Surf Park Management. Our team oversees the operations of The LineUp at Wai Kai.
What sustainability initiatives does The LineUp have?
One of our founding initiatives is a partnership with STOKE Certified (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoors Kit for Evaluation). STOKE is the world’s first sustainability certification body with standards specifically for surf and ski tourism operators. They’re working with us to certify the Wai Kai resort. We have achieved the initial “benchmarked” status and after a few months of full operations, we will ask an evaluator to come for an onsite visit in order to become fully certified. They’ve helped guide our buying, operational standards, and HR practices to align with the STOKE criteria in all areas of our operations. STOKE is great, but it creates a lot of constraints running a venue like this. We’re a no single-use plastic venue, which is challenging when you’re running food and beverage centers and you’re not allowed to sell a bottle of water or soda. We buy Mananalu water, which is in cans, and we only sell fountain soda, in reusable or compostable cups. We have brands that want to sponsor the venue, but we have to toe the line and say we won’t sell plastic bottles. They tell us their plastic products are 100% recyclable, but we know that only 8% of plastic is recycled so that’s not the answer. In Hawaii, the practice is called “Pono”, which is about doing things in the right way and being good community citizens. We really take it to heart and use that as a mandate.
We work with the Surfrider Foundation’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program by adhering to the seafood buying practices they outline. We also reference Ocean Wise’s seafood program as another benchmark for our food and beverage team to work with.
We have a sustainability page on our website that talks about our practices. We live on an isolated island nation. The recycling practices are a whole generation behind here. I travel back and forth and I cringe as I have to throw plastic in the trash. At home, I can recycle and compost. You can’t do that everywhere here due to the limited facilities in Hawaii. The residents that live here haven’t been exposed to what we have on the mainland. As we implement our sustainability practices at Wai Kai, what we found as a really cool by product is that we’re teaching the staff more about sustainability and they take those practices home to their ohanas (families). The connected ohana way of life in Hawaii is so deep you can really enact change. It’s a really great outcome of our efforts resulting in local community awareness and hopefully behavoir change.
And last, but certainly not least is our partnership with Sustainable Surf and the SeaTrees program. It is a massive commitment our owners have made. One concern we had coming into this project was the power consumption of the artificial wave. Anytime you have to move water, using any of the surf technologies, there’s a power consumption issue. We wanted to recognize that as best we could by wiping out the carbon footprint of the wave with SeaTrees.
We’re also collaborating with HECO (Hawaii Electric Company) and listening to where they’re going. They’ve made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2040 and 75% carbon neutral by 2030. There are initiatives like a 2.5 megawatt battery storage facility just now coming online nearby. That facility is pulling all the solar overproduction and storing it so it can be redistributed in off-peak hours. This facility has now replaced a fuel burning 2.5 gigawatt factory. So things are now happening in a more progressive way in Hawaii.
How do you communicate your sustainability initiatives to your guests?
We have a sustainability page on our website, as mentioned previously. We also use our social media and newsletters to talk about our programs. Onsite, we could do a better job. We’re only 60 days into opening right now. So there are a lot of things we want to do better.
We want people to understand that when they shop in our retail store, Sessions, that we have curated a collection of eco-friendly brands and products. When they see the food on the menu and plates, we want them to know they’re consuming food that’s sustainable. We would love to do more with the SeaTrees program and some signage with QR codes.
There are a lot of cultural things that we want to do a better job communicating too. For instance, our standing wave created with Citywave® technology creates a deep water “river wave”, similar to what you see at Waimea Bay when they dig out the sandbar after big rains. There is some interesting Hawaiian history connected to this. Most people know that Hawaii is famous for being the birthplace of ocean surfing (He’e Nalu), but river surfing (He’e Pu’e Wai) is also an important part of the culture. Many people believe river surfing started in Europe and the Rockies of North America in the 80s, but the reality is it was birthed here in Hawaii at the same time ocean surfing was.
How did you first hear about Sustainable Surf and SeaTrees?
I first heard about Sustainable Surf in 2010 or 2011, right around when the organization started. It’s my personal advocacy and something I follow in my own day-to-day life. I’ve always been a supporter and try to find avenues where I can create pathways that connect with the work that I do. I’m a lifelong ocean and mountain sports guy, which has connected me to nature my whole life. When I work with large scale developers, I find I can have a voice and bring sustainable practices to projects. While it might cost money initially, in the long run it can actually make the bottom line better. I help educate developers in the ways we can bring sustainblitiy to the forefront and how it drives more customers, affinity, and support for the projects.
I started working with the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore of Oahu in 2010 and I was looking at how we could integrate with key sustainability players. We had 5 miles of coastline so we were gifted with being custodians of a huge ecosystem and an Ahupua'a (a historical Hawaiian land subdivision). We were able to put approximately 1,200 acres into a permanent conservation easement. We wanted to work with different nonprofits and programs that would help us accelerate the responsibility of being custodians of the land. The Āina is what Hawaiians call land and there are many generations before us that bestow a responsibility on the new landowners that needs to be recognized but also allows business and economy to thrive. If you want to work in Hawaii, you need to understand and respect that responsibility. As I researched different organizations, I came across Michael and Kevin and we welcomed them with open arms at Turtle Bay. They came onsite for events and programs like Wanderlust. We did Talk Story events and they used Turtle Bay as a base for the WSL contests they partnered with. When Turtle Bay was sold in 2018 and I transitioned to work on this project with Haseko, we brought all the partners that we knew would add value, including Sustainable Surf.
What inspired you to make The LineUp Ocean Positive?
It’s my own personal responsibility. The Surf Park Management team comes from similar backgrounds and visions. We don’t really think we have a choice. It has to be done in a way that is going to be viewed as “Pono”. The local community has eyes on us to ensure we act responsibly. They’re quick to call us out if we’re not doing things in the right way. The inspiration was really organic for me. It was just in my DNA.
One thing that’s really telling is a recent survey that Jess Ponting and Surf Park Central did around sustainability initiatives for surf parks and what that means for consumers. The survey clearly showed that consumers would choose a venue with sustainable practices over a venue without and they would actually pay more. Those were two super key findings. We’re advocating for this as we’re dealing with other surf park venues in development and that fact is helping us make decisions.
What kind of surfboards do guests use at The LineUp? Are they ECOBOARDS?
We’re working with a few different suppliers and shapers. As a surf park, the first thing you need is durability in the boards you use. It doesn’t matter how sustainable the materials are if they’re constantly breaking. Any surf park technology beats the heck out of surfboards. With the soft tops, we’re working with Catch Surf and a couple of other brands that we’re testing. We also work with Firewire who have a great mandate towards sustainability and they’re an awesome company to work with. Firewire has built an Artificial Wave Technology (AWT) line of boards that are beefed up for surf parks. We also work with Libtech and their Lost / Mayhem line of boards, which are super durable. We’re looking for the most durable, eco-friendly boards to use. We use Starboard paddleboards for the lagoon and they work closely with Parley. What’s also great about these boards is they come in sustainable packaging.
Hawaiians have a long history of riding standing waves at the river mouths. Was that part of your decision-making when looking at the type of wave to use?
The footprint needed for the wave was a big consideration. Wai Kai plans to be Hawaii's best new resort destination, which is going to require a lot more development. We have a 52 acre natural water lagoon next to us. The bigger wave technologies require a custom-made lagoon with treated water like a swimming pool. John Luff (Surf Park Central) and Shane Beschen who sit on an advisory board for the project, presented the Citywave® technology and introduced the concept of a standing wave. They then brought Surf Park Management to the table and our team brought in a lot of the other key designs and plans for all the elements around the wave including the restaurants and retail. The decision to use this wave was really due to space limitations and the amount of water needed. The water is the most visible entity, so people attack us for wasteful water usage, but without conext. The fact is, resort swimming pools and golf courses use way more water than we do. We are a water user, but we’re not an egregious water user. We’re a contained pool, there’s no runoff, we’re not dumping into the natural water bodies around us, and it’s treated just like a swimming pool. Citywave® allows us to have the smallest possible water usage of all the wave technologies.
How can surf parks inspire future generations to be more sustainable?
Educate the staff and do it regularly to account for turnover, ensure customers know all the things they consume (food and merchandise) are sustainable, and walk the walk of sustainability. All of this combined leaves a positive impression on the youth.