Transparentsea recap in ESM

ESM recently ran my re-cap of the Transparentsea Voyage:

TransparentSea is an awareness campaign aimed at highlighting coastal environmental issues, with particular attention given to cetaceans, or whales and dolphins, and the waters they inhabit. The first journey in 2009 went from Byron Bay to Bondi, Australia and successfully highlighted the plight of humpback whales and the threat of Japanese whaling fleets in Antarctica. Five waveriders, led by renowned freesurfer Dave Rastovich, made their way 500 miles down the Australian coast in sail-assisted kayaks, camping and working with environmental NGOs along the way. In October 2011, we put the TransparentSea template to work in Southern California, moving from Gaviota (just north of Santa Barbara) to Mission Bay, or approximately 270 miles in 23 days.

There’s a mainstream perception of surfers as environmentally aware and connected, even though most of us don’t act that way. Although surfing does not necessarily preclude environmentalism, it certainly does present a valuable opportunity for a reassessment of one’s place, both on land and within the water. Inspired to act by the joys given to me by surfing, I joined the TransparentSea California campaign to learn about the threats to the Californian marine environment, to share that learning, and to celebrate and support water people already working to protect the area.

As a student of environmental science and surfing, I’ve spent years investigating and publishing papers on the links between sustainability, surf culture, and activism. So, for me, TransparentSea was a natural fusion of many passions and a mission of creative activism to engage surfers in taking responsibility for the oceans and beaches we call home. First and foremost, TransparentSea California was an educational journey. We experienced many threats to coastal ecosystems, from military weapons testing to poor water quality and debris to large scale shipping traffic. We saw the sprawling humanity of Southern California from sea, as well as the still-wild and beautiful spaces we’ve spared for now. Most striking was the juxtaposition of teeming wildlife in the coastal Pacific with the still discernable chaos of traffic and relentless development of the land. To surf with super pods of dolphins and spend hours in the company of endangered blue whales mere miles from the shoreline was a testament to the original lure of California. Amazingly, those magnificent creatures, including the largest ever to grace the planet, are still there.

As an East Coaster who’d spent little time in California, TransparentSea presented an interesting way to experience the mecca of our surfing industry. Having grown up with surfing media that endlessly glorifies California and mostly neglects the East Coast, it’s tough to shake the feeling that there’s something special going on there — that surfing in California is somehow more legitimate. But environmentally speaking, I couldn’t help but feel that California should serve as a warning sign about the dangers of loving a place to death. To not be able to go surfing because the water is literally contaminated with feces and other bacteria is not something I’d ever faced before on the East Coast. I was continually inspired by the many folks working to clean up Southern California, as they are doing laborious and often thankless work for us all. And hopefully those lessons and motives can be applied here on the Rightside.

We set out to learn about marine ecosystems in California, organizations working to protect those ecosystems, and to share what we learned with surfing communities along the way. We also wanted to have fun, which is one of the reasons why we chose to move down the coast in 18-foot sail-assisted Hobie kayaks. The Band Of Frequencies from Australia also joined the crew and created a soundtrack for the entire trip, making one song to illustrate each day. Several artists, led by cetacean activist and painter Howie Cooke, created an artwork each day of whales or dolphins.

Essentially, we sought to utilize our passions for surfing, adventure, music, art, and community as channels for activating small pockets of the surfing community in accepting our collective roles as caretakers for the places that gift us such joy. Responses were as varied as the number of people who heard about the trip, I’m sure. I experienced responses of gratitude from representatives of the non-profits we worked with. Sandy Lejeune from Surfrider Foundation explained, “We’ve maintained a 20-year campaign to preserve the Gaviota Coast, and having the crew launch their SoCal tour from Gaviota State Beach gave us such a huge boost, bringing the international spotlight to a unique and threatened area.”

Responses from families and groms were mostly filled with excitement. Lem, a Billabong employee, brought his daughter to one of our events, and she made her dad take the family whale watching in the following days. They had an incredible encounter with whales that has bonded the family and opened their eyes to the beauty in their backyard. I’ve also heard some grumbling responses from salty surfers about TransparentSea being too soft, ineffective, focused on the “wrong” issues, or just a marketing ploy. But ultimately it seemed like most people were stoked that, if nothing else, we came to experience California with genuine interest in the place and its issues beyond just getting surf.

As surfers, it is our responsibility to protect the health and prosperity of the oceans and all life within them. Environmental issues can feel overwhelming, so choose one issue that you feel passionate about, educate yourself on the topic, gather some friends and get to work. Along the TransparentSea Voyage we worked with local environmental NGOs including the Marine Mammal Care Center, Environmental Defense Center, Surfrider Foundation, Heal The Bay, Save Malibu Lagoon, and La Jolla Friends of the Seals. And there are many regional chapters of these organizations, along with East Coast-centric ones like Clean Ocean Action and Surfers’ Environmental Alliance, which you can get involved with.

We’ve already received requests to replicate the TransparentSea Voyage in Hawaii, Florida, the Caribbean, Africa, and Europe, and our crew likely will undertake another voyage at some point. More importantly, TransparentSea is an effective template that anyone can use to explore his or her coastline, experience environmental threats, and raise awareness about those issues. No one cares more about your beach than you do, so get out there and protect it.

To find out more about TransparentSea, visit

Transparentsea-ers with some living legends (left to right) JJ Jenkins, Rich Pavel, Mike Hynson, Rusty Miller, Hilton Dawe, Chadd Konig, Chris Del Moro, John Peck, Dave Rastovich, Lauren Hill, and Will Conner.

Check out for more photos and video.


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