Stewards of the Sea

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To preface this wee article, I must confess that I’m not the best person to write about the world’s oceans. I was raised in the Midwestern United States and I lived most of my adult life there. But despite my limited direct experience with the salty majority of planet Earth, I’ve been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember.

As a young boy, I was the biggest fan of a short-lived television show called “The Man from Atlantis”, which starred Patrick Duffy as a man who could breathe underwater. This was my goal. I was lucky enough to have a little pool in my backyard, and I spent every summer day frolicking in it. I lived to hear the French-accented narration of my personal hero Jacques Cousteau and watch his team’s exploits around the globe. I listened to the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and the Ventures on Oldies radio with great gusto, as if this music could transport my land-locked soul.

I knew in my heart that I’d simply been misplaced in Illinois. On a childhood trip to Florida I finally tasted the brine and got pummeled by my first wave. I was thoroughly hooked, but it would be nearly 25 years until I was able to achieve my destiny — living by the sea.

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Surf ... the word conjures the rushing sound of the breakers, a host of Gidget and Annette Funicello movies, and arguably the coolest sport ever. The Surfrider Foundation USA is dedicated to the protection of our oceans and beaches — resources that too many people view as inexhaustible and indestructible. The foundation has an interesting “man with nature” attitude. Its mission statement and nine principles lay it all out succinctly and eloquently. The mission statement is:

“The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans, waves and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research and education.”

This statement exhibits respect for the environment, but doesn’t discount the fact that oceans and beaches are a real hoot. I think that natural, pristine environments are fun and pleasing in a sublime way that no strip mall can match. Surfrider has really hit on something here: Nature is fun, but we have to work to keep it that way. The foundation’s fourth principle states:

SURFRIDER believes environmental education is essential to the future health and well-being of the planet. SURFRIDER seeks to develop and utilize educational materials that are informative, factual, proactive, synergistic and fun.”

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I was immediately smitten with this principle and the others, because they reflect a balanced, long-term plan. They take into account the fact that we must inculcate our children into a culture of caring if we wish to keep them from destroying this beautiful planet. I’ve been to some countries where the ignorance of environmental protection is obvious and painfully sad. Good people often do bad things unwittingly. If we can get these same good people good information, there is no limit to what we achieve.

The world has to stop using the oceans as dumps and untended food pantries. The classic case of over-exploitation is the collapse of the cod fishery in the Grand Banks. The concept that humanity can actually destroy parts of the natural world is something that needs to be engrained in every child.

Who better to be stewards of the sea than ones who’d brave gulping down a turd to enjoy it?

Many things that we dump into the oceans don’t necessarily eradicate all life, but they do make them less hospitable places. A big problem for surfers is riding in water that is contaminated with sewage, medical waste, agricultural effluvia, and other assorted toxic soup. One fantastic service, a joint venture between Surfrider and, is (“rash guard” refers to the rashes that surfers commonly get when they ride in contaminated water). This site tracks the water quality, or lack thereof, at beaches around the United States. I checked a few and they were quite scary. Any time the words “raw sewage” are used in print, they get my attention. All I gleaned was that those who surf the waters off Santa Cruz County, CA, are a hardy bunch indeed. Love of the water among surfers borders on fanaticism at times. Who better to be stewards of the sea than ones who’d brave gulping down a turd to enjoy it?

Surfers and the rest of us who love the world’s oceans and beaches must work to get the word out: Without our Mother Ocean there would be no life on this planet. Surfrider uses the catalyst of sport to fight the good fight for the benefit of all of us. Surfing is, arguably, the ultimate environmentally friendly use of our oceans. Although buzzing around on a jet ski and letting internal combustion do the major work is a lot of fun, it’s a guilty pleasure for sure.

Surfing is all about a human being frantically paddling to get in perfect synchronization with a wave. The metaphor is obvious here: We, as a species, need to adapt to nature if we wish nature to carry us forward.

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