I tend to believe things happen for a reason. One day I caught an interview with David Gessner the author of “My Green Manifesto”. Gessner suggested an alternative approach to environmentalism. His premise is people will do more to protect the environment if they care about it. To get people to care about the environment people have to spend time outside in nature.
Surfers fit nicely into Gessner’s hypothesis. They spend a lot of time in nature. The ocean is their playground and they are more likely to fight to protect it. When people mess with surf spots, surfers mobilize to protect them. Trestles and Ruggles are great examples of this.
While the surfing community puts up a good fight for the ocean, the reality is there are not many surfers in the world. With a population of over 7 billion people, it is estimated only one third of one percent (0.3%) are surfers. Even though nearly 80% of the people in the world live within 60 miles of the coastline, few join the surfing ranks. Surfing tends to be an insular community; family or friends who surf introduce most new people to the sport.
The challenge is getting more people to use the ocean as their playground. What better way than to share the stoke.
After listening to Gessner’s words, I skipped drafting my manifesto and jumped to action. My goal: take kids who don’t usually get a chance to go surfing out for a day in the waves. My hope: the kids would fall in love with our local beach and want to preserve it.
While surfing would be the main draw of an event like this, I wanted it to be more. My hope was to create a sense of responsibility in keeping the ocean clean. In order to make that happen I worked with Save the Bay and Clean Ocean Access, groups dedicated to preserving our coastline and beaches, and Island Surf and Sport. Together we created a day centered on learning about marine life, keeping the beaches clean, and surfing for kids from the Boys and Girls Club.
At the Save the Bay Exploration Center the kids from the Boys and Girls Club were allowed to touch and handle several species of animals found in our local waters. While the kids acted squeamish about touching the spider crab, horseshoe crab, sea anemone, dogfish, and skate their curiosity outweighed their apprehension and they eagerly took the opportunity to find out what these animals felt like.
After learning about the animals in the water, it was time for a beach clean up. Clean Ocean Access transformed their traditional clean up into a scavenger hunt. The hunt targeted items that are commonly found on our beaches such as cigarette butts, pieces of plastic, and plastic bags, which can harm ocean birds and animals. Turning the clean up into a competitive scavenger hunt appealed to the kids, they took pride in trying to outdo each other on what they could find. At the end the kids boasted they found a baby diaper and a potato chip bag.
The reward for a clean beach is surfing. Island Surf and Sport donated boards and wetsuits. After a quick surf introduction on the beach, we donned our wetsuits and headed into the water. The waves were friendly and generous. The kids took to right to surfing. Their stoke was evident by the smiles that never left their faces. Each of them rode waves on their knees, bellies, and feet. After each wipe out, they quickly hopped on the board and paddled right back for another wave.
The day was a success. We learned about the water, cleaned the beach, and got stoked.
A lot of surfers complain about the ever-growing line up and competition for waves. Some people don’t want to welcome new surfers into the fold. But we need new people to love the ocean and to fight for it. Surfing is a great way to start the love affair.
Gessner’s manifesto is pretty simple: go outside. Our surf event followed that guidance, we took some kids outside, and our hope is they develop a passion for the ocean.