Former CEO, Surfrider Foundation

Just before I went on a recent trip to Salvador I met Gaston, a Surfrider chapter leader from Southern Argentina.  I posted a podcast with him a few days ago here.

A story Gaston shared with me really stuck.

I should preface this story with the fact that Gaston is about as surf-stoked as anyone I know. He gets around. He had just come back from Bali, during his brief stay in San Diego he was making daily treks up to Trestles… and looking for a connection for Cortez Bank.  This is relevant in the fact that the story he shares, he practices all over the globe.

What he shared wasn’t particularly revolutionary and it wasn’t even new as many of us have done similar things.

“When I go somewhere to surf, before I paddle out… I clean it up.”




So there I was in Central America, in-between sessions and it hit me.  I need to contribute a bit here… and not just take.

So I did a quick cleanup and picked up what seemed like five large bags of abandoned filp-flops – but this story isn’t about me… nor is it really about Gaston.  It’s about what happens when people do this in foreign lands.

The locals engage.

Gaston told me his story over lunch (and I captured part of it on the above-mentioned podcast).  He talked about cleaning a beach in Bali while his friends ate their breakfast.  A local cab driver was perplexed with what he was doing.  Why would someone clean up this beach (when they’re not even from here)?  The cabbie approached Gaston and Gaston told him what he was doing and why he was doing it.  The gold in this story is that the man turned his cab off and took up the cause with Gaston. Much to the amazement of Gaston’s friends… he was literally leading a local, sharing his ethic that  clean beach is a good beach… and passing that idea along.  My favorite part of his story was the excitement Gaston shared when he told me the local cab driver promised to look after the beach in the months and years to come.

My story is a mini-version of Gaston’s.  The truth is that I wasn’t really paying attention to the locals, I was just sick of walking past plastic trash.  What happened, however, made my day… the locals followed my lead.  After twenty minutes of watching me pick up trash a few locals, who I had been surfing with an hour earlier, joined me.

A friend took that picture of me picking up trash and I wish he took it of the locals.

This story is about the locals. All my stories are about locals.

The truth is that outsiders can only do so much. It’s the locals that will drive change in a coastal town.

This is an age-old proverb. If you want to change a life teach a person to fish, don’t fish for them.

Cheers Gaston. I hope you find endless waves wherever you land (I know the beaches will be clean).

Read more from Jim on his Surfrider Blog.


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