Surfers: Sentinels and Coastal Stewards
In 2004 I met waterman/artist Howie Cooke, who, like me, was born in New Zealand born and presently resides in Australia. Howie has been an activist working on oceanic issues for some thirty years and continues to bounce from one campaign to another. He informed me of the fact that commercial whaling was in full swing despite the moratorium that came into effect in the late eighties, and that in coastal Japan, Iceland, Norway and the Faroe Islands coastal whaling was still taking place. This blew my mind. I had no idea these things were happening in areas that I had visited while traveling as a surfer. I was also dumbfounded to find that there was a group of people working to intervene and defend cetaceans without the surfing world’s support. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society led by Paul Watson was like a mysterious group of renegades that I thought would be filled with surfers volunteering from the world over. But when chatting with surfers from many different areas of the globe, I found that virtually none knew of their efforts, or the issues they were fighting.
This was a major turning point in my life. I arranged to interview Paul Watson and deliver the conversation to our surfing media. The chat ran in Surfer magazine and Surfing World magazine in Australia. Paul fired me up in that talk, and inspired Howie and I to start our group Surfers for Cetaceans, with the hope of involving surfers in the effort to defend dolphins’, whales’ and porpoises’ right to live in clean waters free from human harm.
It was at this point that Justin Krumb and Steve Barilloti rang me up to ask if I was willing to document the journey of this work. Actually Barlo rang me twenty minutes before I was to interview Captain Paul. We met up not long after that chat and decided that it could be interesting to tell the story of my trip going from an observer to an activist and what that journey looks like. Five years later the result of that documentation is the film Minds In The Water, directed by Justin, and written by Barlo.
Within that time Howie and I concocted one campaign after another, at times without any rest between. Perhaps our most ambitious campaign has been in Japan where our objective was to expose the “Killing Cove” in the town of Taiji. We succeeded by collaborating with the group Ocean Preservation Society, though on the day that we paddled into the bloody water at the cove, we had to leave while eleven remaining pilot whales waited for their slow, painful death. That experience has proven to be a constant motivator, and probably will for the rest of my life.
Our Surfers for Cetaceans campaigns are an attempt at doing something to bring light to environmental atrocities that seem to fester in the dark corners of human awareness. We don’t have any “golden formula or solution” that can be applied to the issues that we focus on, but if there were a format that could turn environmental negatives around then we would all be using it. So we’ve come up with an idea to peacefully intervene while exposing an issue that needs attention – all the while never really knowing how it will succeed.
Within that dynamic is the idea that surfers are perfectly crafted for being environmental activists and coastal custodians. Inherently, many of us are risk takers, aware of the fact that when we begin riding a wave, we have no idea how it is going to turn out, though we know it will require commitment and focus while our position climbs and falls among it all. We are consistently at the beach watching the changes to our foreshore, animal migrations and water quality. What a perfect community to sit as sentinels on watch for such changes and then stand up when an imbalance occurs.