I’m lucky to call Anthony Vela a friend. Dude’s a sick athlete and a better human. I’ve worked with him in different capacities for years in the surf and paddling industries–sometimes just out enjoying the ocean, other times watching him compete. He’s straightforward and honest professionally, playful and good-natured otherwise. This spring we took a trip together to Skookumchuck Narrows, a tidal rapid in British Columbia. Tucked into the Northwest Passage a ferry-ride and a drive away from Vancouver and surrounded by coastal peaks, the setting couldn’t have been more pristine.
On the drive from Seattle, I pre-interviewed Anthony to get ready for filming. We really got into his experiences growing up in Los Angeles in a mixed-race family and his experience as a lifeguard for LA County. I love this most about my job: I talk to so many people it demands I empathize with other’s experiences. Because it’s his. Not mine. It’s different. And that’s a very good thing.
We’re living in extraordinarily disturbing times. Race, color, and creed are playing a larger role in our national identity than they ever have in my lifetime. Hate groups are seemingly on the rise while a sitting president fans the flames of these extremists in an unprecedented way: from refusing to acknowledge their existence to retweeting the rantings of obscure, far right-wing leaders to millions of people.
In short, as a nation, we seem to be having a difficult time feeling empathy. Empathy for one another and our respective experiences.
Here’s an example: Facebook has become an all-encompassing social device, spreading good and evil throughout the land. And on no other social media platform (save for Twitter, of course), can the old and curmudgeonly thrive. I often see the older (see white) generation–and some young, for certain–share social messages from dark corners of the web, places where imaginary conspiracy theories are formed and hate is born. Where unaware, right-wing social commentators put down and verbally attack those of color or those from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Without empathy or understanding.
And so it benefits us to look at the things we do outdoors for enjoyment in terms of the greater social environment we find ourselves in. Here, Anthony gives us a slice of the black surfing experience in his typically-articulate way. It might not be how you’ve experienced a lineup. It’s definitely not how I’ve experienced a lineup. But it demands empathy and understanding nonetheless. Something we could surely apply to the world around us, every day.