Our (Sandy) Future

Here Today Hell Tomorrow

Photo: Osiris Torres

"It'd be sick to surf right in front of the Dream hotel," says New York's Balaram Stack about a futuristic, flooded New York. "You'd have the hottest chicks just balling out while you're getting barreled. Then you'd go in and grab a $20 cocktail and try to spit game to girls twice as tall as you. I don't really think it would happen, and it would suck if it did, but I'm sure there would be plenty of improvised waves."

Is this the future? With the polar icecaps melting like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert and superstorms like Sandy raping the Eastern Seaboard, we can at least agree that the times they are a-changin'. In the geological sense. In the social sense. Some good. Some bad. Sandy was a bitch, we know that. But what can we learn from that vixen? What can we, as surfers, expect when we move forward?

Dr. Gavin Schmidt of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies is a climatologist who specializes in ocean circulation. He is a genius. So much so that other geniuses have given him awards for communicating climate change issues to the public. Oh, to be elite. Frankly, the good doctor knows his shit and knows how to talk about it in a way you'll understand, so turn the volume up and pay attention.

Chris Ward during Sandy, South Florida. Photo:Patrick Ruddy

DR. SCHMIDT: In terms of climate change, Sandy's harsh impact may have been a partial result of the sea level rising. It has risen about two feet in the past 150 years and is likely to rise an additional two or three feet by the end of the century. When you have storms like Sandy and you're increasing the sea level due to climate change, you're going to increase damages quite substantially.

This issue is partially within our control. Our carbon dioxide emissions are largely responsible for driving the acceleration of climate change. We can effectively choose to live in a society that keeps increasing those numbers through the burning of fossil fuel and increased deforestation, or we can decide that we don't want to do that and try to curtail the emissions. If we keep on warming, our contribution to the sea level rise could increase dramatically. So while we will have to adapt to some degree of climate change in the future, we do have some control over how drastic those changes are.

In the past, our surf industry has been excited but brief with its handling of natural disasters. Most of us chipped in a few bucks to help with Katrina (a few even took Jet Skis to New Orleans to help with evacuations). The Japan earthquake/tsunami combo saw excited fundraising, but man, that place is far away. Yes, most tragedies have evoked two or three days of weeping to a Florence and the Machine song before the collective focus moves on to the next webcast. But Sandy dug deep, ripping up layers of apathy until she found something more substantial. The surf world rallied. Brands worked together with competing brands. Rival media shared photos. And surfers from all over converged on the East Coast to lend a hand.

Photo: Matt Lusk

Jon Rose was one of those surfers. Founder of the nonprofit Waves for Water, which has a focused goal of getting clean water to every single person who needs it, Jon was forced to make a decision in the wake of Sandy. While the availability of clean water wasn't a long-term issue with Sandy, Jon, an expert in disaster relief, could definitely help. And so he had to choose between sticking to his foundation's mission or going out on a limb to use his experience to aid the suffering surf communities. He chose the latter.

"I wanted to use Waves for Water as a vehicle for the surf community to get behind." Jon says, looking back on the decision. And within a week of the storm, that vehicle of his was pinning it in the left lane of the Jersey Turnpike. Support rained in from all ends of the surfing spectrum. Established mega-brands and feisty startups pooled resources. Big dogs like Jack Johnson and Kelly Slater tossed some bones. Relief fund T-shirts sprouted like dandelions from the industry's Chinese cotton groves and all funds were pumped into Jon's effort. "Seeing the way the surf industry as a whole rallied has been mind-blowing," says Jon. "Everyone is partnering for the greater good. Egos have been left at the door." But with mountains of support, it can be challenging to maintain Waves for Water's focus on the individual. "I don't know these communities too well, and I would never pretend that I do. But through guidance from key people in these areas, I can pinpoint what needs to be done and how to do it with integrity and heritage preserved."

In New Jersey, Sam Hammer is to surfing what Bruce Springsteen is to music. He is one of those key people, guiding Waves for Water through his city of ruins. Sam recalls his community's reaction to the surfing world's effort. "People see what we've raised and wonder where it's coming from. And then they realize that it's all from surfers. People are noticing the impact we're making." Truckloads of donations. Armies of volunteers. With such a sustained effort, the public's perception of surfers is shifting from beach bum to humanitarian. "The towns are taking the surfers very seriously," says Jon. "They see what we're doing and see that we're going to have a solid hand in the way things are rebuilt. It'll change stereotypes for good."--Brendan Buckley