Dustin Barca Interview

The pro surfer turned activist is running for mayor of Kauai

After seeing the current mayor's corporate supporters, Dustin Barca decided to run for office. Photo: Hennings

After seeing the current mayor’s corporate supporters, Dustin Barca decided to run for office. Photo: Hennings

Last week, Dustin Barca filed the official paperwork to enter the upcoming mayoral race in Kauai. Barca, a former World Tour surfer and, in recent years, an anti-GMO activist, discusses what prompted his move into politics, what changes he would make if elected, and his plan to run around the entire island to raise support.

[Ed note: In the Outer Islands of Hawaii, mayors are elected to represent each island county as a whole.]

What made you want to run for mayor?

I've been pretty active in what's happening on our island for the past few years, and I'm passionate about bringing positive change to our island. But the tipping point came recently. I drove to town to run some errands and I just happened to be there when our current mayor was announcing his run. There were about 20 to 30 people in the crowd and a lot of them were actually the bosses of the giant chemical companies tied to our GMO problems. These companies are actually suing our county and they're rallying in support of our current mayor. I saw that and just lost it. I made up my mind that I couldn’t wait. I had to do something.

When was this?

About a month and a half ago. After that, I went out and called everyone to tell them I was running. It was on.

How has the feedback been?

So far, the feedback has been amazing. I feel like everyone over here wants change. We need change. If you look at what I'm advocating for, it's hard to argue against it.

Can you break down your platform?

Sure. It's based on four pillars. The first one is the restoration of Kauaian culture. For the past 100 years, the Hawaiian culture has been shoved under the rug. The language, our historical sites, anything that has to do with the culture has suffered. We want to bring those historical places back. We want to reinvigorate our culture. That means opening up the fishponds that historically fed the islands, that means restoring the heiaus (ancient Hawaiian temples), that means protecting our burial grounds. Culturally, that's what we want to change. We think it's crucial that we connect our next generation with our past. Additionally, when we restore the elements that make our historic culture, we'll be giving tourists an opportunity to see something different, making this good for the economy as well.

The second part of our platform is sustainable agriculture. We import 90 percent of our food and that's unacceptable, considering that we live in such a sustainable place. Reconnecting farmers to the land and being able to produce our own food for the island is really important. Recently, in the town that I live in on Kauai, we were able to finally get an agriculture center. It took 30 years to get that in place. We can create more projects like that, at a quicker pace, while creating new farming jobs for our people and becoming more sustainable. It's not going to be easy, but we can do it.

Sugarcane was a huge industry in Hawaii for a long time and it took a toll on our soil. So we need to work to remediate our soil. We can do this by growing things like hemp. It's a money crop and it's good for the soil. The sustainable, environmental, and economical benefits are huge.

Restoring our waterways is our third pillar. A lot of our streams were diverted to irrigate sugarcane fields and that's had a lot of negative effects over the past century. We want to restore the old waterways. This is huge to everyone over here. We're losing a lot of our natural fish and shrimp from the diversions of these streams. Water is crucial to our livelihood and we want to fix the damage that's been done. It’s time for us to get serious. We can't keep going down this road. We have to change it and move it forward.

A lot of people aren't aware but our streams are carrying chemicals from a lot of the big GMO fields and it's literally killing our reefs. We have a reef disease on the north shore of Kauai that’s causing us to lose an inch of reef a day. This is a major problem for our island. On the west side of the island, we’re losing thousands of sea urchins out on the reef. In an ecosystem, when you see a species dying off like that, that's a huge red flag.

The last pillar of our platform is addressing drug use on our island. It's a major problem that needs to be addressed. We've lost too many people to drugs over here. Something needs to change ’cause what we're doing now isn't working. We're proposing that instead of prison sentences for addicts—because anyone on this island will tell you that approach isn't doing any good for anyone—we want to create a farming rehab center that allows addicts to reconnect with the earth and give back to the people. We don’t want to lock people away. That hasn't worked. We want to heal them. This will not only give them a sense of purpose and responsibility, but it goes back into creating a more sustainable environment for our people where we're producing more of our own food.

So when is the election?

August 9. We're going hard. We're grassroots versus corporate money. I'm going to be running as an independent. I vote based on the issue, not the party.

Did you ever envision yourself going from the cover of surf mags to the World Tour to running for mayor?

Never. Two years ago, I never thought I would do this. But I think God has another plan for me. I've never been religious, but I've always known right from wrong and had a feeling that I was meant to do something. And that's what is pushing me to do this.

Can you tell me about your plan to run around the island?

It's called Dustin Barca's Run For Mayor. I'm gonna run around the whole island and pay my respects to all the people and cultural sites of Kauai. I'm going to sail on a Hawaiian canoe from the end of the road on the north shore to the west side [There's no road connecting the entire island.] Then I'll run around the rest of the island. It’s going to take three days and it's a 90-mile trip. We're going to do events along the way. We'll set up voter registration booths. Talk to community members, and get the word out along the way.

If you want to learn more about Barca’s campaign, go to Barca4Mayor.com.