From flake to wave, solutions that respect environment in the broad sense of the term
For the good good, the french online media dedicated to sustainable fashion and lifestyle, I wrote an article about Mathieu Crépel, snowboarder, free surf and athlète ambassador for OXBOW and Water family.
In a context where the values in sports and adventure are as inspiring as they are contradictory, the place of beneficial influence on ecological transition is both crucial and controversial. Here, we give a chance to speak to those who live and are committed to solutions that respect environment in the broad sense of the term. So, Mathieu Crépel is taking the floor, snowboarder, free surfer and Damien Castera’s old wave pal whom we met for his documentary Wave of change, the low tech surf trip realizeed for Picture organic clothing. During our meeting, he talked about his vision of the sporting world, his role with the outdoor and surfwear brand Oxbow and about the projects that have taken this child from the mountains to the shore.
Mathieu Crépel, rider champion in all categories
Mathieu Crépel is a world champion. In the literal sense, for his discipline of snowboarding, in a figurative sense, because he carries inherent values to sport and to planet earth respect.
Who are you Mathieu Crepel the Waterman?
I was born in the mountains, raised by the ocean . Thanks to my family’s way of life, we spent winters in the mountains and summers on the Basque coast. As a child, I discovered snowboarding in a joyful way. I practiced it with my friends, then came the competitions. When I was ten, thanks to Quiksilver, I traveled to Greenland with my idols by the time. At that very moment, I lived an initiation, an awareness. For the first time, I faced an unknown culture and a wild environment with another relationship to space. Above all, I snowboarded with the athletes I admired.
“Competition is not an end in itself. To become better in my discipline and to progress are my additional motivation.”
©Oxbow ©Greg Rabejac
I always have been a nature and outdoor sports lover. I have a sensitivity towards environment and water cycle. I like challenging myself, it makes me evolving. Today, I question myself about sports I love and about my playground: mountains and ocean. I am not a scientific expert, my expertise is sharing my observations, my passion. I wish to change things in the right direction, to preserve my instinctive link to water. Water is a relationship to biology, an unconscious connection to who we are.
Editor’s note: It was precisely to make the general public aware of the water cycle that in 2009 Mathieu and Bernard Crépel founded the association Water Family , from flake to wave, whose today scope is national .
You are ambassador and with your father, co-founder of Water Family, why did you create it?
I don’t know if we can say that I co-founded the association, but I actively participated in the discussions and development. This was very spontaneously done from scratch given our way of life. Degradation obervation, reporting and lack of information about water and living things in general. It started with a sporting event “The Odyssey from Snowflake to Wave”. fFor a journey from the Pic du Midi to Biarritz, we have brought together top athletes . From Bixente Lizarazu (World soccer player) to Tony Estanguet (Canoe Olympic champion) , athletes promote alongside scientists the merits of preserving our environment. It’s been going on for 13 years.
Some of the water pollution is invisible. What contaminates oceans begins on land. We wanted to invite upstream and downstream of the local populations to an evolution of consciousness. Action with children is also essential to change habits. The heart of our collective action is education, collaborations with schools, training around preservation, organization of sportive events.
We have just made a proposal to the french government to teach ecology as a main discipline at school.
We also cooperate with companies like Petit Bateau or Oxbow. Finally, we launched Agir à la source endowment fund. It supports and finances educational, sports and entrepreneurial projects, the purpose of which serves current climate issues, particularly around water.
Sustainable board sport Ambassador at Oxbow™
As a former professional athlete & crazy about winter and water sports, Mathieu Crépel is ambassador of the Oxbow brand. In 2020, two French entrepreneurs bought it. With values more rooted in sustainability, Mathieu joined them and he told us about his action with the product development team.
Why working with a brand like Oxbow?
©Oxbow ©Jerome Tanon
I spent 27 years with my previous sponsor, leaving it was a very difficult decision to make. With Oxbow, we are building a long-term partnership. Eco-responsibility is at the center of their new strategy. Particularly with the 1985 range developed and manufactured with European and mainly French suppliers. The exception are surf wetsuits whose manufacturing technique is not present in Europe. I want to support them in designing quality, eco-designed products that last over time.
Whenever possible, I’m participating in product development and testing for outdoor and surf products. The brand has shown ready to commit by sending a message. Because manufacturing in Europe is more expensive it had to change its relationship to profitability. At the moment, 1985 range is not profitable. It is supported by the other brands of the Oxbow group. Also, there is an internal reflection for the responsibility of the end of life of the products. Furthermore, the first store offering only second-hand products has just opened in Bordeaux.
What is your vision of an eco-designed product? What do you prefer?
Simplicity that lasts over time! Products suitable for my practice, warm, breathable, flexible and eco-responsible. Multifunction products to adapt to my uses and habits, snowboarding, cycling, hiking, paragliding, surfing, climbing… At Oxbow, there are archives with products whose quality has hardly changed, I want to find this long-term use term.
We use the most virtuous materials possible, neoprene remains a real subject. I have just tested the first combinations in Yulex™ which improves eco-responsibility. For winter, we continue to review things for the coming season. The ambassadors are the first testers, we are as involved as possible.
Durability is a quality and in a versatile product.
Oxbow has just produced the documentary film Hono  in french Polynesia, to provide a more holistic view of the elements. What is the main message of the film?
©Hono movie by Oxbow™
There are several messages. The main thing would be to bring users back to a benevolent humility in their relationship with the ocean. Without trying to surf the biggest wave, we took advantage of the forecast conditions regardless the board (Surf, Foil, Paddle, Va’a Polynesian canoe…) Polynesians are the protectors of those practices in a total harmony and respect for nature. As watermen, they allowed us to reinstate it. In the discussion we had, we quickly understood that it is not a concept but a way of life. They are island people whose DNA is the ocean.
Hono means “link” in the Polynesian language, what is your link between equipment & ocean today?
There are many contrasts between the two of them. I practice outdoor sports where you need tools. Equipment has a direct impact from production to use. For this reason, my boards are made with a greener material that is recycled and 100% recyclable. For example, if I break my board, the foam pad can be reused to make another one. When they are shaped, the scraps are recovered to make other boards. The same goes for snowboards, my sponsor works in particular on the sourcing of raw materials to reduce the impact of their manufacture.
The second contrast concerns marketing, ambassadors are a medium to sell products. The objective of brands is selling as much as possible to be profitable. Oxbow is a human-sized brand whose financial independence gives the opportunity to set up interesting and local things
Influence by example
You have participated in several documentary projects including Aurora and Odisea du flocon à la vague with Damien Castera, what does this type of experience bring you?
Picture ©gregrabejac Text ©damiencastera ©mathieucrepel
First, visibility. It is a platform to convey my vision, my values, my way of doing things and telling stories. My sensitivity to environment brings me back to its natural aesthetic. To respect something, you have to learn how to love it. Through the image and the speech we can highlight nature.
A documentary film combines both content and style. We can transmit a message and give access to fragility and evolution, to show the way to improvement. Outdoor sport become a vector for talking about something else. It’s a way to get out of our microcosm and spread a thought more widely. With a stronger impact!
By giving a voice to others, I am the link between the characters, their expertise and their ecosystem.
In a world between microadventure and exploration, what did you look for in the Jacques Vabre crossing?
This journey was not planned. It all started with a meeting with Roland Jourdain and Stan Thuret to talk about another project. I was not looking to cross the Atlantic ocean. Meeting with Stan echoed my bulimia for discovering new practices. The boat was the tool of this adventure. He included me into his crew. He intensely trained me as a skipper to learn before the race. I was at the heart of an environment that fascinates me. I realized the possible reciprocal inspiration. For a person born into the theater like myself, it was a beautiful sharing. I was not looking for anything there and I found a new relationship to time. I also experienced a dilemma, between the technological race and the race for innovation which wants to integrate biomaterials into boats. But thanks to these technologies and these elites, we reach the general public to bring efficiency to the cause.
On a boat, time only has value in the present moment. He is super flexible. Sailing taught me how to deal with boredom, which I can manage less on land.
Another dilemma, the Beijing Olympics provoked real questions. While you have commented on snowboarding events and participated several times to the Olympics, how do you position yourself on the limits of such an event?
I was torned. I almost didn’t go there and I asked France Television channel to comment from Paris. On the other hand, artificial snow question for China was going the wrong way. During the Olympics games, It has already happened not to have snow. The conditions were the same as in Korea. In Vancouver, snow from the glaciers had been brought in by helicopter. Of course, things have to be improved. The darkest point was the respect for human rights because it is a complicated subject. It’s not easy to put that aside, to talk only about sport, these are deep and topical subjects. Also, I have a responsibility in relation to my sport and to democratize it, I want people to talk right about it.
It’s difficult to impose a rule when you have already realized your professional dreams.
To make up my mind, I asked myself: Can professional sport and the Olympic Games be a sporting event in line with the values of Ecology? I think so, but there must be a big change in the vision. We can adapt the performance, face adversity, be less in the absolute competition and the search for records. France TV has a very large audience, talking about snowboarding on TV was the opportunity to speak to people who don’t know this sport and are not interested in environmental causes. To commit them to snow and ecology. This is a rare audience for these messages.
What do you think Low Impact competitions would look like?
©Oxbow ©Jerome Tanon
I don’t have the answer, that’s why I carry on questionning myself on a locally stage, with experts to make the microadventure more accessible and more desirable. To seek a challenge in a new model. With competitions and high-level practice, we have advocated ideals of travel, what do we do with that now? I ask because in France we have incredible sites. For sporting events, it’s necessary to review the calendars, concentrate the races and in a restricted area to minimize the impact. Some athletes are beginning to no longer want to compete if they have to fly.
How do you get started in stages as sports citizens?
Confronting nature to inspire yourself and others to connect with it in other ways. To think differently, the stake must be repositioned. It is not about saving the planet or humanity. We must see further than that and ask ourselves what we do with the life after us. By making the conditions more livable and equitable. We need to restore some sort of balance. It is made up of global and political issues, of course.
There is no ONE solution to ONE problem. The challenge is to accept the sum of the challenges to be met.
What are you dreaming about? What are the new upcoming projects?
I want to instil a message of responsibility and respect through outdoor sports. I’m working on a Water Quest documentary project, for which I just won an award that will help me get it started. It is a series of expeditions and interviews with specialists, scientists. It aims to tell the memory and stories of water lifecycle. The starting point will be the Pyrenees, then Greenland, I want to find the children there with whom I played when I was 10 years old. Collect their testimonies on global warming, which hits them hard. Immerse myself in their vision in a world where we Westerners believe we have everything in hand. Then following the Gulf Stream and going down to the Azores. It is a lifetime project over several years.
I do not claim to be able to change the world but to try to have a positive influence in my immediate and further circle, like a hummingbird.
Ocean as many watchmen and Mathieu is one of them
As Nelly Pons writes so well, in Océan Plastique, an investigation into global pollution : “There is no replacement ocean… This Mother Ocean is not ours, we know it and yet we are not aware of it.”
Under a basque country’s variable weather, Mathieu Crépel is steady and proves that beauty and truth of nature pass through authenticity and go further than the rational issue. Because for many of its snowboarders or surfers, the promise is beautiful snow in the right season, healthy water and nature whose memory of man footprint will never be forgotten. not that devastating.
His consciousness is embodied from childhood, goes through the expedition and continues with a quest to learn and protect the most essential element for our survival. Our ways of producing, of feeding ourselves, of heating ourselves depend on water. What he embodies is that when you have a choice to make for the planet, education is the first step. Pedagogy, passion, gathering and multiple commitments are the tools of Mathieu Crépel. It’s athletes like him, able to link words, actions and questioning of sports actors, that the level of collective consciousness rises. To go from shade to light, from bottoms to the surface of the water.