Inspiration from the 2018 Global Wave Conference

(View of Cowell’s Beach from the conference, photo courtesy of Save the Waves Coalition)

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the 5th Global Wave Conference in Santa Cruz, CA hosted by the Surfrider Foundation and Save the Waves Coalition. The 3-day conference united ocean scientists, surfers, international NGOs, students, and climate allies (sometimes all 5 wrapped into one person). Perched above iconic Cowell’s Beach, we covered Land and Sea Connection, Protected Areas and Surf, and Climate Change and Innovation. I was inspired by the frankness of the discussion that unfolded throughout the 3 days. Public officials stood in front of the 300-strong crowd and told stories of climate action, and lawyers and scientists from around the world shared tools for protecting marine reserves and the waves we love.

PhD after PhD took the stage and spoke with vigor about the impending climate crisis, yet the morale and drive of the crowd was not broken. An air of hope and optimism flowed through conversations over coffee and the groups huddled in the patches of sun during lunch breaks. Now that I have had a weekend to sit and reflect on the big issues and actions discussed, I can boil it down to three lessons: the need to champion women in the surf industry, action waits for no one, and do not underestimate the power of storytelling.

I had the opportunity to listen to Sachi Cunningham, professor, filmmaker, and ocean champion about her upcoming project, She Change, documenting women in the big wave surfing scene. She spoke with urgency about how the surf industry needs to take a hard look in the mirror about how we represent women on surfboards and in the ocean. Cunningham referenced a 2011 study, “90% of surfers in the US at the time were men. While the number has surely gone up, I know from my time in lineups around the world that there are not enough women in the water.” Cunnignham’s sentiments were echoed by Dr. Krista Cormer, co-founder of the Institute of Women Surfers (IWS), and Captain Liz Clark, sailor, surfer, and author of Swell: A Sailing Surfer’s Voyage of Awakening, Cunngingham closed her talk by challenging everyone in the audience to introduce at least one woman to the water and waves this year.

Dr. Gary Griggs spoke of “measured optimism and radical incrementalism.” Sea-level rise, ocean acidification, the accumulation of plastic in our waterways and oceans – these are issues that everyone can agree on. I was inspired by not only the work that is being done by civil society and the scientists in the room, but also by the private sector. Companies like, Clif Bar, Vissla, Finistere and Sustainable Surf are taking action by reducing their ecological footprints, supporting environmental organizations, innovating with product design and manufacturing, and using their brands as platforms to educate and spur action.

(filmmakers Rodrigo Farais Moreno, Chris Malloy, Sachi Cunningham and Greg MacGillivray)

Lastly, storytelling was a theme throughout the conference. I spent the week listening to the collaborative efforts of companies and NGOs to save Punta de Lobos in Chile from development and to stories of vulnerability and overcoming fear from Captain Liz Clark. I also had the privilege of sitting with filmmakers Sachi Cunningham, Chris Malloy, Rodrigo Farais Moreno, and Greg MacGillivray and listening to their stories of sacrifice and creativity. Storytelling is a powerful part of any toolkit intended to inspire and affect social and environmental change.

Needless to say, I have left the Global Wave Conference inspired with a renewed sense of purpose and resolve that I will take with me into my professional career. To follow the lead of world champion surfer Shaun Thomson and his book I Will, I will explore, surf, and take action to protect the places I love.

Written by sholland

Sam is 2019 MBA with the Center for Sustainable Business Practices. Sam is a self-starter and team builder with 4 years of international development experience specializing in program development and research. Sam is passionate about business because of its ability to have a positive social and environmental impact on communities.