Friday, June 6, 2008

All Points South: A New Film by Save the Waves Coalition

I just returned from an incredible trip to Southern Chile, to continue filming our next film project, All Point South. This new film follows our past films "Pulp, Poo & Perfection" and "Lost Jewel of the Atlantic," and promises to be our best yet. We at Save the Waves take a different approach to conservation issues than many other non-profits. We believe that to win battles in a consumer society, it is just as important to influence the consumer market than it is to attack the polluters themselves.

All Points South is a documentary film about the pulp mill pollution in Chile and what all of us, as consumers of paper, can do to influence the problem. While Chile may seem a long way away, what many of us don't realize is that the US, and many other countries in the Northern hemisphere, make up the largest market for Chilean-manufactured pulp. Pulp is the raw material used to make paper, and its manufacture creates a waste stream of toxic chemicals that go straight into our oceans.

Every time we go to the office store and buy bright, white paper, we are supporting companies like CELCO (Celulosa Arauco-Constitución), which over the last few years has killed two of Chile's most beautiful watersheds due to industrial accidents, and promises to pollute one of the world's best surfing coastlines. Save the Waves has been at the forefront of the battle to stop this negligent polluting. We have funded legal research through FIMA (Fiscalía del Medio Ambiente) to start what will be a long legal battle against CELCO's practices. But in analyzing the best ways to fight this behemoth of an industry, we realized that the quickest and most effective tactic would be to influence their consumer market. After all, is their customers start to demand more eco-friendly paper, they would have no choice but to change.

I haver been visiting Chile since 1992, making an annual pilgrimage south to sample what I consider to be one of the world's best surf destinations. What I have learned over the past 15 years is that the coastline is being raped by industrial interests. This discovery has led to Save the Waves Coalition's ambitious campaign to put a stop to this abuse. We as surfers, along with the many thousands of native fisherman that eek out an existence along this coastline, will bear the brunt of this increasing threat of pollution. But we as world citizens cannot afford to ignore it. Chile's fisheries are some of the richest in the world, and they are rapidly disappearing. The fish that survive may someday be too contaminated to eat. What we hope to convince the Chilean government is that this is not a sustainable plan for the future.

All Points South will feature surfing from some of the world's best - Keith Malloy, Raph Bruhwiler, Timmy Turner - and some of the hottest upcoming surfers from Chile, such as Ramon Navarro, Leon Vicuña and Nano Zegers. On our last trip, accompanied by Portuguese friends João Valente, Edgar "Macaco" Nozes, and João "Massas" Macedo, we scored 16 straight days of perfect surf, including sessions at Puertecillo, Punta de Lobos, and string of secret spots in the deep south, hosted by our good friend Sergio "Pocha" Susarte at the home of the infamous Masi. Our luck couldn't have been better. Let's hope that our luck against CELCO will, in the long run, prove equal.

In the meantime, all of us can do our part to curtail pulp mill pollution. Next time you buy paper, get the one that is 100% recycled content, and chlorine-free. It's out there, and is even available in most large office supply stores. If you can't find it, buy from eco-friendly paper companies like New Leaf Paper, at The ocean and the fishies will thank you!
- Will Henry

Thursday, January 3, 2008

How Much Is Your Wave Worth?

(Published in Surf Portugal, January 2008)

What is a surf spot worth? That is a question that could change our sport – for better or for worse – over the next few decades. To a surfer, the value of a surfing wave is obvious. We know how rare they are. How many waves like Coxos are there in Portugal? Only one. So what is that wave worth? The simple answer is: hell of a lot of money.

The main problem is that governments don’t always realize this simple fact. Take, for instance, Madeira, where the wave in Jardim do Mar was damaged just for the sole purpose of building a massive concrete wall. There, surfers were the victims of political pandering. The politicians wanted a big project so that they could look good before the elections, and so they ignored the surfers’ pleas and built a huge pork-barrel project right on top of the surf spot. Now the wave is mostly gone, the town a good deal uglier, and everyone seems to have forgotten about Jardim. Everyone except the surfers, of course, and the local people who depended on their money from abroad.

If the surfers in Jardim would have been able to demonstrate to the government of Madeira that the wave there was worth, say, 20 million Euros over the next 10 years, perhaps they could have convinced them not to build the wall. With hard data regarding the high economic value of surf spots, surfers stand a better chance of preserving their wave heritage.

The Madeiran President reacted in a way that shows us that the world still does not always hold our sport in high regard. He called us “barefoot tourists,” and told us to “go surf somewhere else.” From these comments we can learn that (1) surfers are still seen as beach bums with no money, and (2) the government did not recognize the unique characteristics of the surf spots they were destroying. If surf spot preservation is going to become reality, these misperceptions will have to change.

Some new studies currently in progress seek to provide surfers with better data regarding wave value. The Surfrider Foundation has two such studies, one headed by Environmental Director Chad Nelson to study about the waves of Puerto Rico, and the other by Surfrider Australia’s Neil Lazarow, to determine the value of a surf spot to certain economies in Oz. Save the Waves is also managing a similar research project, focusing both on Mundaka Bay, Spain (which lost its wave for two years this decade, as well as the WCT event that went with it), and the country of Costa Rica. All are prime examples of the benefits of surf tourism towards economic growth.

Surfers are not barefoot tourists any more. The sport has grown to a multi-billion euro industry – and that’s just the clothing sales. Take tourism into account, and we’re talking about a major global economic force. I think back to my trip to the Mentawai Islands last year, where I boarded a flight in Singapore to discover it was filled – every seat – by surfers. They almost couldn’t fit all of the boards in the cargo hold. And to think that every one of these surfers was going to get off the plane, book a hotel room, eat in restaurants, and then hop on a boat trip – itself for upwards of 100 euro per day – and we have a major boon for the local economy. This was a great example of what good waves can bring, in terms of real wealth, for an economy – especially one that has little else to offer.

The visit to Portugal in October by Dr. Kerry Black of ASR Ltd., the world’s leading surfing reef manufacturer, was yet another reminder of how the perceptions of our sport need to change. ASR has projects going all over the world, and some of their reefs are being built for the sole purpose of bringing tourist dollars to a nearby area. So, if governments are willing to pay millions of dollars to build a new surf spot, why would they ever want to pay money to take one out? It doesn’t stand to reason.

Says Dr. Black, “if you build a 2 million Euro wave, the income generated for the local economy will bring about a tenfold return on your money in less than ten years. That’s just good business.” Good business, indeed. The trick is how to get governments like that in Madeira to recognize it. But then again, the more we move towards this goal, the better armed we will be to take on the next battle.

So what is a wave worth? The long answer is that every wave is unique, and thus each has different value. Of course, that value is also difficult to quantify. But suffice it to say that a surf spot is worth a lot more than people realize. The studies by the Surfrider Foundation and Save the Waves, and the ongoing projects by ASR, all have a striking similarity – they remind the world that surf spots are good for business. Perhaps for this reason, some day we will live in on a planet with more surf spots, and not less of them.

Carrying the Torch

Some people might be wondering what I've been up to lately, and why I'm no longer Executive Director of Save the Waves Coalition. So, allow me to explain.

After five years as ED of Save the Waves, I decided to pass the helm over to long-time board member Dean LaTourrette. No, I wasn't deposed by mutiny, or "asked" to leave. I simply moved to the Board of Directors, where I was subsequently elected Board President. Truth be told, I needed a break. Running a non-profit is a tough job.

Nonetheless, I think the move will be a very good one for Save the Waves Coalition. Dean is an immensely talented individual, with more practical business experience than I. My career started as an artist, and despite my best efforts to become a leader in the non-profit field, an artist I will always remain. In the end I realized that my strenghts would be better employed in other ways, both for my own personal growth as well as for that of the organization.

So, I continue to remain very involved in Save the Waves' daily affairs. I am also managing the project to produce our next film, All Points South, which I describe below. That, and remaining an integral part of the Eco-Warrior project (, which will certainly become yet another way to publicize the plight of our oceans worldwide.

For the past six months I have been living in Portugal (waves pictured above - yes, it has been good). This has always been one of my dreams. The time here has also helped me to promote our last film project, Lost Jewel of the Atlantic, here in Europe, as well as become more involved in the endangered wave issues in Northern Spain. I return to the US this month, and am excited to be coming home. I hope to see you all in the water.
- Will Henry, founder, Save The Waves Coalition