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Clean ocean water to surf in and enjoy in Nicaragua.

Clean water. A beautiful site to behold. And plenty worth protecting… Photo: Patrick Ruddy

The Inertia

I have this theory that surfing is one of the most selfish things a person can do. Of course, there are those moments where surfing with friends is rewarding, and, in fact, I find it almost as fun watching someone get a great wave as I do getting one myself. The operative word there, however, is almost. No matter how rewarding it is watching a friend pull into a great looking wave, I’d rather it was me on it. That’s selfish. I’m selfish when it comes to surfing. And I’m not the only one. Surfers scratch for waves, doing things they’d probably never do in a parking lot, dropping in, stealing waves, or claiming local status, whatever the fuck that means.

Surfing has always held a certain something for those interested in solitude. A crowded lineup is one of the main complaints around the world. No one likes to share waves, myself included. That’s selfish. But here’s the thing: surfing also seems to have a general attraction for people who are environmentally conscious. I don’t know the numbers, but I’d wager that if someone did a survey, more surfers would (or at least say they would) be inclined towards a more earth conscious way of thinking, if only to keep our oceans pristine and those waves rolling in, which if you think about it, can be construed as another selfish pursuit. And that’s okay. Surfing is fun. Catching waves is fun. No one likes it when someone ruins their fun. But what if more people in the water meant a healthier planet?

A long time ago, I watched a video premiere of a ski film called All.I.Can. The premise of the film is simple: The more skiers that exist in the world, the more people will take an interest in the environment – specifically skiing environments. Interaction with nature lends itself to some kind of preservation instinct. If you’ve surfed for more than a day, you’ve probably had that moment. For me, it usually happens during a lull in sets. I’ll turn around, stop focusing on when the next wave is rolling through and where I need to be so that guy beside me doesn’t get it, and realize that things on our planet are pretty freaking nice. It’s a shame that we’re doing such a fantastic job of screwing it up.

So here’s something I’ll throw out there (outlandish as it may seem and as you may valiantly argue in the comments) in the interest of good conversation: what if promotion of our sport (think the predictably hated big businesses – Nike, Billabong, etc…), for whatever the reason (read: money) are actually a good thing in terms of the environment?

If there are more people in the water experiencing the “freaking nice planet” moment, then maybe more people will actively try to fix things. Sure, it might be taking some of the fun out of it for surfers who want the lineup to be completely devoid of humans (like me), but if what I’m saying is actually right (which is rare), I’m reasonably sure that those fleeting moments of solitude pale in comparison to the importance of fixing our leaky faucet of a planet.

Of course, as hypothetical as this whole thing may be, a comparison must be made between the amount of pollution the titans of industry produce versus the impact of increased awareness.  Awareness is an incredibly vague principle. People like me throw the term around as though it’s the end-all-be-all of solutions.  But it works, and here’s an example: In July of 2011, one of the most outspoken advocates of the environment, Greenpeace, launched a campaign called Detox. “Campaigning to stop industry poisoning waterways around the world with hazardous, persistent and hormone-disrupting chemicals,” Detox rustled the feathers of enough industry peacocks to get Nike, Adidas, Puma, and more to commit to staunching the flow of hazardous chemicals from its supply chain over the next eight years. That’s significant.

Greenpeace did this by pitting a few major companies against one another and making sure everyone knew about it. They employed all the gimmicks: a 600-person striptease that was (badly) synchronized across 29 cities, Snoop Dogg, break dancing, skateboarding… they even made up a fancy logo for the campaign. All in the name of awareness. Although I – and many – have a sneaking suspicion that the reasoning for joining a movement like this can be largely attributed to how the public perceives a company which, for an action sports company, directly relates to their bank account, it really doesn’t matter. Just so long as they’re doing it.

I love pulling up to an empty wave as much as the next guy, but I’d give that up if it meant never pulling up to that same empty wave, paddling out, catching a few waves, then spending the next few days draining my sinuses of toxic waste and dead fish particles. Or worse yet, watching that empty wave from the sand because, hey, did you see the sign? Toxic. Beaches Closed.


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