Wayne Lynch has lived a truly incredible surfing life. He surfed like you want to now, long before the thruster was invented, as if he could peer into a future accessible only to him. Lynch has also spent much of his life living in idyllic Australian coastal environs, surfing, fishing, camping, and he’s long been inspired to protect the land and seas he loves. We talked with Lynch about what it means to be a surfer in an era of threats to the environment everywhere we turn. Read on below.
Do surfers have a responsibility to be stewards of the environment?
At whatever level you participate in surfing, surfers have such an amazingly unique life. It gives us so much. We're so lucky when you look at the bigger picture of what goes on the world and the negative aspects of human life—whether it's poverty, oppression or violence—then here we are, falling into this thing called surfing, and it's just absolutely amazing what it gives us. It's everything. We're interacting as close as you can with the natural environment. If anybody should be aware of how special and unique and, in some ways, fragile our earth is, it should be surfers. We're so immersed in it. It's easy to not pay attention to what goes on in the world, and we all do that from time to time, but we should be paying more attention to what's happening and we should be giving the earth and the ocean a voice—somebody has to. It's important to stand up for what we're concerned about.
What can a concerned surfer do in the face of massive global environmental challenges?
All I can say is keep talking about it. Keep putting the facts about global warming in front of people's eyes and ears. You can't get evangelical. Just quietly and constantly talk about it. Make sure you have facts, not just rhetoric. That's all we can do. Bring awareness to the space around you. Hopefully people will understand that we don't have very long to make changes in terms of global warming. Cutting emissions isn't even that big of a deal, really, in terms of how it impacts our life. But people become afraid to stand up because they think conservationists are idealistic, or they're afraid of peer pressure. Conservation has been politicized as part of the lunatic fringe, or the radical left—just convenient ways to limit its power, really. The people who've done that are very good at it. We have to push back against it.
What about people who may be interested in conservation but who don't want to be outwardly activist? Do you feel like simply not taking part in what's destructive can itself be a kind of activism?
I do, and that's really important. "Living consciously" might be the way to put it. That has incredible potential to make change—filling the space around you with what you feel is important, and with integrity and intention. Even little changes like solar panels, or not using plastic bags, or buying products that are organic or minimize damage to the environment, and on and on. There are many ways to make small changes yourself. That's super important. I've learned that when people have opposing views, don't engage them with anger. Try to understand why they're thinking like this. Have real, civil respect. The only revolution that's real and lasting is a revolution of the heart. All we can do is stand up and say the
things we feel are important and hope it triggers other people to think. It's like that with my work in surfboards. There's organic foam being made now that is 100 percent biodegradable. There are plant-based resins. Surfboards in the future can be not only biodegradable, but also 90 percent organic. People in the surf industry are actually quietly working away on this. But change comes slowly. It comes with intent and a lot of hard work. I've been asked to support environmental causes my whole life, and I have, but it's really hard to ask people to make changes that we're not making ourselves. You can't just point the finger at somebody else. That's the message I want to get out: Look at the big picture, make the small changes yourself. It's not about preaching to other people.
Do you think sustainably-made surfboards will ever really dent the marketplace?
I do. Because these boards are going to feel the same as boards you've grown up with. But the really important aspect is that the cost will hardly be any different. That's what will help the change. You can't say, "Our boards are going to be organic, but they're going to cost $2,000." That just won't work. These boards will only be $50 or $100 more. Not a lot. I think people will embrace them. The more I've talked about these new organic foams, the more and more interest I've heard.
Are we, as surfers, doing a good enough job speaking up for the environment?
In Australia, there are plenty of local communities and groups trying to bring things that are very environmentally destructive to the general public's attention, but I don't think the wider surf industry has taken note and done all that they can. Hopefully they'll start to realize even their business depends on this— no one is immune from environmental degradation or social upheaval, whichis what will happen if the environment does degrade enough through climate change. This affects everybody. It could be done better. Patagonia is obviously in support of activism, and, for the first time in my working surf life, they've given me a voice to talk about the things I feel are important.
In the '60s and '70s there were very vital conversations in the surf community about the environment and society. We were redefining, in many ways, what it meant to be a human on this planet. Somehow those conversations got marginalized and were forgotten. Surfing became more about marketing a product, and a lot of the people inside the industry didn't care.
But the one good thing about there being so many surfers in the world, even though we bitch and moan about that, is that we do have a huge collective voice if we choose to use it. We can lift the level of these conversations. We can stand up to environmental degradation and say: "No, we don't want this." Local people should have a say about what happens in their area. That's the true meaning of democracy. It's time we took our potential power into our own hands and exercised it.
Lynch is currently touring his film, “Never Town,” with co-narrator and surfer Dave Rastovich, for tour dates, click here.
[This interview originally appeared in the September Issue. Subscribe to the print or digital versions here.]