Thursday, January 11, 2007

What are the Surf Industry's true colors?

"The surfing industry is merely the garment industry with a good hook." - Glenn Hening

There is a wave for surfing in Chile that is very hard to get to: in winter it is very wet, cold and muddy and access is often cut off for a week or more due to poor road conditions. It has a couple of local surfers who surf it when it's good, and its traditional agricultural economy is based on small-scale fishing, potatos, wheat and lentils; it has been this way for 250 years. Since the 1980s, vast monoculture forests cover its coastline with trees for pulp and lumber. There are no paved roads within 20 miles, most of its land has been passed down through local families for generations, and internet does not exist here.

This is the story of the area's latest brush with a multi-national corporate dinosaur who also surfs:

A surfing brand, one of the global industry's oldest and largest companies, is seriously considering this area of Chile for its signature contest. The number one wave for the contest is also one of the waves that Save the Waves Coalition and Proplaya fear will be irrevocably polluted by the forestry industry. So I managed to contact the executive-surfers who were behind the contest. We spoke of worldwide environmental issues, the "green" surfing movement and the company's commitment to environmental causes. They told me their company is now delving into "green" clothing with a new surfing line of organic and alternative fabrics. So I expected an open ear and willing corporate help in our struggle to save the wave from pollution.

This area is presently in a slow process of exposure to the international surfing-tourist industry. In principle I am opposed to this exposure, yet I recognize that change is inevitable and modern growth is coming to this area. The locals and concerned individuals such as myself hope to harness that exposure and growth in a sustainable way to truly benefit local culture and economy and avoid the "Kuta Beach Syndrome".

The surf brand and contest in question will remain nameless because its senior surfer executive has since accused me of "statements which paint our company in a poor light and could be considered defamatory." I've heard rumors of litigation against me by the company. Although I do have great lawyers, I'd really prefer to avoid a lawsuit accusing me or my organization of defamation.

But I'm getting ahead of myself: after learning of this surf company's interests in the area, I sent an email to the top surfer-executives in the company asking for help in saving the wave from industrial pulp mill pollution. I also expressed concern because of the area's remoteness, environmental fragility and complete lack of media exposure; a contest circus would put extreme stress on the wave and its locals. Promptly I received a phone call from the boss of marketing for the company. After educating him on the area's fragility and its environmental issues, he asked how he could help. I clearly and honestly asked for what we really need: substantial financial support for the local environmental movement.

I specifically asked for money for local environmental activists to pay for transportation, printing expenses, lobbying, land conservation and erosion control at the point break in question. With a harsh tone in his voice he quickly accused me of being opportunistic; I replied I was being honest, open and passionate about what we need because his company can obviously provide it. He replied that they cannot give any money to our projects, but can help publicize our concerns through the contest: unfortunately, international publicity we already have in droves: Surfing Magazine, The Surfer's Path, all of the local surf magazines, this website and numerous other websites and newspapers all heavily publicize our issue. But our funds are very slim. So once again I asked for dollars for the local movement, and once again I was given a firm "no" by this decision-making surfer-executive who has a million-dollar-plus budget to produce one local contest.

The local mayor, local environmental movement and the local surf clubs have all decided to send this surf contest packing its bags for other shores because of the company's refusal to help their movement. This company makes billions of dollars selling clothes on the back of the "clean and green" surfing image. But who will buy their brand when its customers are too sick from industrial pollution to even crawl down to the mall or the surf shop? Where will they take photos of perfect waves when these perfect waves are fluorescent green and stinking of pollution? As long as they refuse to support our green surfing movement in a substantial way, we will encourage them to seek a different place for their contest.

Personally, I continue to buy only Patagonia, the most green and privately-owned surf brand, when I need something to cover my back in a surfy style. The rest of the surf brands can go to hell until they realize that they're shitting in their own nest.

How can you help? Instead of buying that groovy tee shirt or those fancy sneakers, give it to Save the Waves Coalition! Cold hard cash is what we need. Since we're a very small organization, every bit truly helps, and every bit will last much longer than your new sweatshop sweater with that catchy surf logo: Save the Waves Coalition and Proplaya will help you help us. Come on over and act, now!