Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Inspirational Wednesdays: Interview with Jim Moriarty and his influence in wave sports

I had the opportunity to meet Jim in 2011 at Surfrider Foundation when I was organizing the Global Wave Conference II in Europe. A lot of people from the international network came for this event and I was more than lucky to connect with all of them.
Since our first contact by e-mail he was a very approachable person, helpful and considered. Very surprising he was even more helpful and attentive than my boss at the time. What a delight working with people like this, specially with the head of an organization such as Surfrider.

Since that we kept the contact, and I can say my first impression remains. He's still the cool considered guy I met, surfing and enjoying life directing one of the most important environmental NGOS for surfers.

Last year while I was in California doing my California Vision project, I interviewed him about an article featuring him between the 25 most influential people in wave sports in 2013, his beginnings in SF, how he started to surf, etc...

-Jim, what do you think about the article and the people listed in?
I loved one word in the longer description of the list and that word is "change." It's one thing to influence people and another to change them. I'm drawn to people who do that latter. I think we all are. Of course I  feel like I don't deserve to be on the list.

-Would you include someone else? why?
Mark Price's new wood Firewire boards are insane. He's merging two concepts rarely seen together, super high performance and a deeper commitment to a smaller environmental footprint. The founders of Sustainable Surf are truly challenging surfboard construction as well, they probably deserve a slot.

There is another category of surfers… free surfers riding non-traditional craft and influencing (changing) the worlds perspective regarding what a surfboard looks like; Tyler Warren, Ryan Burch, Al Knost and Ellis Ericsson come to mind.

-Why do you think Surfrider is considered one of the most important environmental surf NGOs in the world?
Our network of grassroots activists. It's that simple.

We are real people who are actively engaged in 84 coastal regions in the United States alone (we're also in 20 other countries).

It is quite hard, exceptionally hard, to dismiss a person who knows local issues better than most, understands the short-term and long-term consequences connected to decisions being made and who is engaged with a commitment deep enough to stick around until those issues are resolved. The world is full of smart people but it turns out there are very few who are both smart and engage as volunteers. We are made of the latter. We are made up of smart people who engage for years and in doing so... change the world.

-Jim, what is for you, the best part of working with surfers?
We have all worked with different types of people; tech mavens, government officials, lawyers, teachers, etc. One of the things that has changed is that you can find surfers in all of these categories. The Senator of the State of Washington is a hard core surfer.

We all like working with surfers because they are connected to nature at a pretty deep level. You can't duck dive without being completely, 100%, immersed in the ocean. Surfers have that deeper connection. They don't see pollution on a blog or Instagram… they experience pollution because they get sick. The best part of working with surfers is the common connection we have with the ocean.

-What do you think has been the biggest change for the surf in the past decade? 
Surfing has changed, for the better, due to the increased diversity in the lineup. We don't even think about this anymore because having different groups is now the norm. A decade ago lineups were a bit more intense, more aggro. I credit increased diversity of the lineup with changing the sport at a meaningful level. There are more women in the lineup and more kids. It's a nicer place. This phenomenon also seems to be a global one.

-How was your first contact with surf?
My parents used to take us to Rhode Island when I was a kid. We'd paddle around on surfboards but not really surf them. I was a skateboarder in the late seventies and all the moves at that time were surf-inspired… until things went vertical. I've also snowboarded most of my life, always seeking powder… which is much like surfing. I didn't really pitch everything else and become a surfer until my twenties.

-How did you end up working at Surfrider, and what do you love of your job?
I was a member of Surfrider for years. At number of years ago a search was undertaken to fill the leadership position. I didn't see the fit initially because I was more of a traditional software and web professional. The combination of my existing connection to the Surfrider mission and my experience with evolving platforms was enough for the board to offer me the role.

What I love most about this job is our mission. Surfrider's mission is protection and enjoyment of oceans, waves and beaches via our powerful activist network. I love that we're not just about protection, we're users of the coast… we're surfers. I love the focus of the mission on a narrow swath of land, where the land meets the ocean. I also love that our mission is fueled by people not money. We're like Linux or Wikipedia, the value that we offer the world is directly related to our ability to engage the world.

-What's the big adventure for Surfrider this year, and what the main issue you're dealing with?
The rise of single-use plastics entering our oceans has become a larger and larger issue in our chapter network. It became so large that it became our priority campaign for the United States. The last time I looked we had more than 55 wins connected to this issue here, that is there are 55 places in the United States that have proactively passed legislation to minimize the amount of plastics entering our oceans.

We have other issues pressing coastal communities; clean water, beach access, coastal adaptation, ocean protection, etc. We are a local-first organization, that means that locals are the ones who prioritize what campaigns are taken on in their regions. We, the staff, support those efforts.

-Do you collaborate with other environmental surf communities around the world? how?
Yes. Always. What I mean by this is that we always seek to build the broadest, deepest front we can.

We're not making this up as we go. We're drawing from good strategy… business strategy, military strategy, campaign strategy.

We know that the best fight is one you don't have to fight. Thus we seek to have the largest amount of influence in a region so that bad projects aren't even proposed, beach access isn't taken away or water isn't polluted. No one desires a fight… but you've also got to be ready to invest resources if you need to. If something is proposed that will damage our coastline we'll engage and we'll do so with as much commitment, with as many people as we can. We'll also keep fighting if we hit a loss… we tend not to walk away from a battle until we've won.

I've gone to into multiple fights, hearings where a regional governing body was making a final decision, knowing in advance that we were going to lose. We knew this because we knew the votes. It's so clear, crystal clear, that the way you turn those losses into wins is to walk in the front door with 400… or 4,000 people behind you. The best way to build that kind of mass is to partner with everyone you can find who shares a similar vision of healthy coasts. It's easy to tell 4 people their views don't matter and you're going ahead with a bad plan and really hard to tell 400 that same thing.

One last point on this, those groups don't have to be environmental communities. For two Trestles hearings we had many of the major surf brands drive down very large busses and RVs which were wrapped with their brands… it looked like all of surfing, the sport… the industry… all of surfing was aligned. The day before that fight, and many other fights, we were facing a loss… and yet we walked through the front doors en masse and probably won before the hearings started.

-Where is Surfrider going within the next 5 years? what are the plans to achieve that?
In two words "network optimization." I know that may sound cold or techy, what we mean by that is that we know we are a network that exists to preserve healthy coasts. We need to get better at doing that.

We know that information flows in many ways and that at various times elements of the network focus strongly on a campaign and push it to a meaningful win that preserves the coast. We, everyone in the Surfrider network, need to work on getting better at information sharing, best practices identification and distribution, supporting large and small chapters, etc.

Any beach access that is lost can be won back. A region with clean water can be preserved so the water stays clean. We didn't used to deposit as much plastic into the ocean as we're now doing, we can shift that tide. To do all of these kinds of things we need to get better and better at optimizing how the Surfrider network operates. This has been our focus for the past few years and I'm sure it will be for some time to come.

- Thank you Jim! Very insightful indeed

Hope you like the interview, let me know what you think alright? Have a nice day everyone

Just Jim.. I think Google will be pleased with this one.  Surfrider Foundation, San Clemente
Inspiration board. Jim's office
Jim's explaining me one of his charts.
Jim shredding a glassy wave in El Salvador. Photocred ©Luis/ My edit. 
Pocketing! in El Salvador. Photocred ©Luis/ My edit. 

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