All surfers are infatuated with the warm waters, hollow barrels, and native beauty of the Hawaiian Islands.  Out in the lineup, it’s common to meet someone who became seduced by the Hawaiian surfer-lifestyle, moved to the Islands and never looked back.  Stuart Coleman did just that.  Home grown in the East Coast, Coleman was on the constant search for bigger waves and sunny weather.  After landing a job that brought him to the Islands, Coleman decided to make his dream a reality and turn Oahu into his permanent vacation spot.
In the past few years Coleman has published two books and has become the Hawaii Chapter Coordinator for Surfrider Foundation.  Even with working on his upcoming book and Surfrider’s Rise Above Plastics Campaign, Coleman still finds time to surf and enjoy the slow-paced lifestyle Oahu has to share.  A big mahalo to Stuart Coleman for sharing a little bit about his journey.

LT: The first thought that comes to my mind whenever I meet someone from the East Coast that has made the journey to Hawaii is “this guy has got it right.” What sparked you, a South Carolina native, to move to Oahu and completely integrate yourself into surf culture?

SC: I started surfing the menehune waves in Charleston, SC when I was 14, and it changed my life.  Even though my dad was a minister, the ocean became my church.  From then on, I read all the surf mags and dreamed of surfing bigger waves in California and Hawaii.  I even had tsunami nightmares! I moved to SoCal after college and enjoyed surfing classic spots like Malibu.  Then, after studying creative writing in grad school, I landed a job teaching English at Punahou School, and Honolulu has been my home ever since. So my dream of living in Hawaii finally came true.

LT: In 2002 you published your book “Eddie Would Go” about the life of Hawaiian surf icon Eddie Aikau. What’s your interpretation on Eddie’s impact on what you refer to as the Hawaiian Renaissance?

SC: As a surfer, Eddie was an amazing big-wave rider who rode some of the biggest waves ever surfed at Waimea Bay.  As a waterman, Eddie became one of the first lifeguards on the North Shore and saved hundreds of lives during his career, never losing anyone under his watch.  But when Eddie sailed on the Hokule’a and sacrificed his life to rescue his fellow crew members, that’s when he became an icon of the Hawaiian Renaissance.  The Hokule’a embodied the resurgence of Hawaiian culture at that time, and he gave his life trying to save the voyaging canoe, its crew and the vision of the Hawaiian Renaissance.  That sacrifice is what made him a real hero.

LT: During your three years of research for the book, you had the rare opportunity to interview the Aikau family. Why do you think they were so willing to share their family story with you compared to the numerous other publications and documentaries that have approached them?

SC:  While teaching at Punahou, I met former teachers and big-wave pioneers Peter Cole and Fred Van Dyke, and they introduced me to the Aikau family.  Seeing how passionate I was about telling Eddie’s story, they really opened up and started sharing these amazing stories about his life.  After talking to them, I interviewed almost forty people, including the fellow lifeguards who worked with Eddie and the sailors who had sailed on the Hokule’a with Eddie.  I think the family understood how much I respected Eddie’s legacy and was willing to do the extensive research to get the story right.

LT: In addition to being an accomplished author, you are also a prominent figure in the Surfrider Foundation. How did you end up becoming the Hawaii Chapter Coordinator?

SC: I had worked as a volunteer for the Surfrider Foundation’s Oahu Chapter for eight years before finally becoming the Hawaii Coordinator position.  At that time, I was also finishing my second book Fierce Heart and was writing about Rell Sunn’s work as a board member with the Surfrider Foundation. So my roles as a writer and environmental activist really came together at that point.

LT: As an environmental activist, why do you think is it important that other surfers and watermen become involved with foundations like Surfrider? 

SC: Surfrider is one of the most prominent and effective environmental organizations in the country dedicated to protecting the world’s oceans, waves and beaches.  With almost 80 chapters, our activists are always fighting for better water quality, beach access, conservation and coastal preservation. Yet it’s sometimes frustrating to see how many surfers take these things for granted until there’s a crisis at their local break.  If surfers want to protect our beautiful coastal playgrounds, they should join Surfrider and help our efforts to save the last ocean frontier.

LT: How do you get locals involved with Surfrider? I know you guys have an event coming up in March…

SC: We have four Surfrider chapters in Hawaii on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and in Kona, and we have an active Surfrider Club at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.  We are trying to start more Clubs at high schools and community colleges, and  anyone can join by coming to one of our monthly meetings, beach cleanups or special events.  We’re having a big Rise Above Plastics Party at the Waikiki Aquarium on Sat., March 26, and that should be a fun way to get our message out there and recruit new members because we throw some good parties!

LT: What other events or projects are the Hawaii chapters working on?

SC: Our biggest project right now is the Rise Above Plastics campaign because we’re trying to reduce the proliferation of single-use plastic bags and bottles.  Americans go through more than 100 billion plastic bags each year, and on average we use them for about 15 minutes, and then they end up in landfills or in the ocean for hundreds of years.  Seabirds, sea turtles and other animals mistake the floating plastic bags for jellyfish and eat them.  Millions of marine creatures die each year to ingestion and entanglement of plastics.  So to reduce the source of these land-based plastics, we need to ban or impose a small fee on single-use plastic bags.

LT: John Kelly and George Downing paved the way for coastal protection groups with their organization Save Our Surf. Why was SOS so significant in the historical perspective of beach and ocean conservation?

SC: John Kelly was the founder of Save Our Surf, and he used his status as a legendary waterman to educate people about the threats to our coastal areas.  Along with George Downing and many young activists, they helped stop more than 300 projects that threatened Hawaii’s shorelines, including a proposed freeway built on the reefs over the ocean! Each November, Surfrider’s Oahu Chapter hosts our annual John Kelly Environmental Awards Party to honor those who have made a difference to our coastal environment.  John Kelly was the first lifetime achievement winner, George Downing was the second, and we at Surfrider are following in their footsteps.

LT: Can we expect another book from you in the near future? Perhaps on surf conservation?

SC: I’m working on a new novel about a surfer whose brother is brutally beaten and almost killed, and he tries to find out who did it and why…well, I’d love to tell you more about it, but that wave is still building and can’t be ridden just yet!

LT: Any plans on moving back to the mainland, or has the slow-paced rhythm of the Islands captured you?

SC: Although I miss my family and friends on the mainland, Hawaii has gotten under my skin and seduced me with its warm water and beautiful beaches.

LT: I recall reading you began surfing during your childhood and it helped overcome your fear of drowning. Have you succeeded in overcoming that fear?

SC: Yes, I used to have a recurring nightmare about drowning as a kid, and I could see a huge wave rising on the horizon and washing away my hometown.  Ironically, after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004, I saw my worst fears realized when I saw small coastal towns in Sri Lanka that had been devastated by walls of water almost 30 feet high.  Staring at the rubble of buildings that were washed away, I rediscovered a healthy fear of the ocean.  But surfing always helped me overcome those fears.

LT: As an avid surfer, do you have any new fears that have arisen? Sharks? Spiky reefs? Polluted waters?

SC: When I was living in SoCal and surfing in Malibu, I remember getting sick because the water quality was so bad at times.  So my new fears are that our coastal areas will become so polluted that we can’t surf anymore without coming down with something.  That’s partly why Rell Sunn got involved with Surfrider to help protect our beaches and water quality, and we’re fighting to keep that vision of healthy coastlines alive.

 

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If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter an issue that stirs within you the desire to fight and protest for a cause. We all deal with the insignificant trials of daily life, but it’s rare when we find a cause worth protesting for.  Here’s a guy who risked sitting in front of a moving bulldozer in hopes of defending the world-class surf breaks in Malibu against destruction.  He claims this act of bravery led to the creation of one of the largest coastal preservation groups of all time: the Surfrider Foundation.   – Leila Thomas

The account by Gordon Polk:

Back in the early 80’s Malibu County decided to renovate the area behind the colony.  To this day I have not been in there. Although as a young boy I played there often and caught lizards, frogs and stepped on rusty nails. Brad Ford had a fort we spent the night in as well.  But that’s another story.

Cut to the chase.

The water that ran underneath the bridges needed to be “flushed” occasionally due to the fact that it was stage two water. I believe the man in charge was Kurt Wallace. He would have the bulldozer dredge the sand at First Point, and the water would come rushing out. I imagine First Point was better than Third Point because after a few days the current would seal the break, and the water would start to fill up again. Thus this produced ample water for the park behind the colony.

Well after some time, the water began to rush out causing damage to the bottom at First Point. The wave started to close out, mushy and sectioned. One Sunday the wave was actually breaking all the way in. This had become a rarity. It was a fun day for all of us out surfing.  Then from the Third Point area we suddenly heard the destructive sound of the bulldozer. Enraged, I turned to the guys with me in the water and said, “Hey! Are we going to let this happen?” The surfers replied, “Calm down. There’s nothing we can do.”  Infuriated by their passive reactions, I took matters into my own hands and paddled straight up to Mike Sprock, who was president of the MSA at the time. He told me to calm down. Thank you Mr. President.

I directed my attention to the guys hanging out behind the lifeguard tower only to get the same reply. Unwilling of surrender, I stood in front of this massive dozer and started to yell at the conductor to back off.  He ignored my angry complaints and continued on his destructive path. Once I became an unavoidable nuisance, he and I began to scream back and forth. I demanded to see his supervisor.

After some time this guy came down and said that he was his super. “Great”, I said. “If you are so low on the totem pole that you are watching a guy on a bull dozer on a Sunday afternoon, then I want to talk to your supervisor.”  I sat back down. If you can imagine, this was getting a bit out of hand at this time. Soon after a woman appeared and declared that she was the supervisor of the guy watching the driver of the bulldozer. Again, I demanded to speak to her supervisor.  Her refusal led me to another enraged yelling fest. Oddly enough the everyday beach goers that passed by decided to help out this angry surfer, and sat down. Then some of the guys that weren’t at first interested in my cause decided to join in, although to mock more me than help. Mike even came over and wanted me to chill because MSA was a member of the chamber. Ha!

At this point, with the mob of people creating a commotion the bulldozer began to loose steam and halted progress. I then slipped out the back of the crowd and phoned Lance Carson. By this time sheriff cars, a blazer, and a helicopter circled the beach as I watched from the street above.

Lance called me a couple of days later, and we met at the Baja Cantina with Snodgrass, a surf legend, a lady from the LA Times and Tom Pratt. Lance and Tom took it from there.  I really just sat back and listened. Guess I was invited cuz I pushed the snowball down the hill. Lance went up, I think with Tom to meet with Wallace. He said he was a real A-hole.

I was semi threatened by some guys who said, “They knew who I was.” I replied, “See those guys?” and pointed to the surfers by the wall. I threatened that if they hassled me that these locals by the wall would take them into the polluted lagoon and tie them up at low tide. This was of course not meant seriously.

I opted to take a back seat and stay low, out of the picture. But there’s one thing that has always bugged me that I have never spoken of, and I am going to throw them under the bus now. Joe Sanders was one of the surfers in the water that told me to calm down and just stood by watching the bulldozer destroy our home break. Yet later I see him and Mike Sprock on the news “tackling the problem.”  That really got my goat since that fateful day at Third Break they did nothing but mock me. There I said it.

Almost a year later, there was this big meeting at the Point Dume Civic Center. Jerry Browns, J Paul Getty Jr., blah. Charts, graphs, newscasters, the whole deal.  Even with a high fever, I knew I couldn’t miss the spectacle. So with a temperature of 102, I trudged down to the Civic Center and stationed myself in the back of the room. Funny, the day of the bulldozer it was only about the waves, but now it was much more. The pier was getting trashed, and the colony was loosing beach. It was so much more and so many people were involved. Really, it was huge.

After all was said and done, I sat waiting for the hall to empty. Feeling nauseous, I didn’t want to get up and see anyone. But here’s my small gratification. As I sat on the aisle seat a complete stranger came by to shake my hand. Then another and another until a small line formed down the isle to shake my hand. Even to this day I get a little wishy-washy when I think of it. Someone in there must have said, “That’s the idiot that sat in front of the bull dozer.”

From my understanding this is the cause that brought together Lance and Tom to start the Surfrider Foundation.

As for me, I am old and surf shitty breaks in North County, San Diego.

There ya go. I am sure there are people that will say I am full of shit. That it didn’t happen that way. It did and I don’t care what anyone says.

Peace,

Leroy Blowfish Buttlips Polk II

 

 

The other day I got the privilege of spotting one of my favorite professional surfers ripping at Ala Moana Bowls.  On his way in, he spotted a plastic bag floating in the water and pocketed it before paddling on.  Once on the shore, he did a scan of the beach and  picked up any rubbish that had been littered in the sand.  His actions reminded me that even the simplest of actions can make a big impact.  Here’s a list of the beach cleanups the Surfrider Foundation is sponsoring for the month of September.  Let’s all do our part of keeping our sandbox clean.

Huntington Beach

  1. Sat. September 11, Bolsa Chica State Beach 8 am to 12 pm, meet at lifeguard tower 21 at blue Surfrider tent
  2. Sat. September 25, 9th Street 8 am to 12 pm, look for blue Surfrider tent

Long Beach

  1. Sat. September 11, Alamitos Beach (downtown) 10 am to 10:30 am
  2. Sat September 18, Granada Ave. 10 am to 10:30 am, meet at end of Granada Ave. and bike path

Newport Beach

  1. Sat. September 11, Echo Beach 3 pm to 5 pm, meet at 54 St. and Seashore Dr.

San Diego

  1. Sat. September 18, Encinitas Moonlight Beach 9 am to 11 am, meet by sand at Cottonwood Creek
  2. Sat. September 25, California Coastal Cleanup Day 9 am to 12 pm, location TBD

South Orange County

  1. Sat. September 25, California Coastal Cleanup Day 9 am to 1 pm, San Juan Creek