Morning chat: facing death in the tube

I’m not normally one to bug people. When I saw Nathan Fletcher surfing Salt Creek this morning, I paddled over to the least crowded peak I could find and intended to leave him alone. But I got to thinking about that Teahupoo wave that recently got him the covers of Transworld Surf and Surfer Magazine, who called it the heaviest one ever ridden.

I had seen the mag in the grocery store, but hadn’t read the story, or seen this interview. I knew nothing more than that photo. So I got curious partly to hear what it was like, and partly to see how this guy would describe it.

He took a few seconds to respond, like he had to sift through some troubling imprints to access the memory.

After we had spoken for a few minutes I asked, “Did it hold you down long? Or was it quick but really brutal?”

He paused, looked up at me.

“Both…” he said, then trailed off, as if the memory had taken him somewhere he could only go alone. I sat there looking around at the glassy peaks bowling around us, and other surfers scratching into heaving two footers.

He then came back.

“I was surprised.”

“Surprised it was so brutal?” I asked.

“Surprised I came up.”

No qualifiers. Not, “came up so quickly,” or “came up without any injuries,” just “came up.”


He truly thought it was over.

Someone yelled, “Hey bro!” from the other side of the peak to the north of us, and hurried over, almost paddling over the nose of Nathan’s board, high-fiving him as he tried to finish talking to me, asking if he was heading to the North Shore soon. Nathan finished his sentence, said hi to the guy, and as a set was approaching we paddled off toward different bumps in the peaky, bending beach break morning.

That’s when it happened.

I got the sickest barrel. It was like shoulder high. I was so in there. Seriously. I even caught air on the kick out. It was epic. I think a bodyboarder hooted. There was a guy on the beach with a huge lens. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be in the next issue of Surfer.

And here’s proof I know what it’s like to eat it in the tube on a wave only slightly less threatening than Fletcher’s.

Photo by David Pu’u.

Upcycling is the new recycling

Method, maker of home care and personal care products, has figured out how to take plastic from the ocean and recycle it into new bottles for their products. This is cooler than it first appears.

Even though researchers predicted trash would collect in the north Pacific Gyre in the late 1980s, it wasn’t until Charles J. Moore, returning to California from Hawaii after finishing the 1997 TransPac race, sailed right through the Pacific garbage patch, that ocean plastic emerged in the public eye.

By now, the often cited “garbage patch twice the size of Texas,” is the well-known culprit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of marine animals each year, but scientists are just beginning to dig into the implications of plastic components like polymers making their way into our food supply through the sea animals that eat them. (Styrene monomers cause cancer, but that’s another story.)

There has been no shortage of efforts to remove the plastic from the ocean, and turn our plastic waste into constructive things before it hits the ocean. Moore and crew launched the JUNK Raft in summer of 2008, sailing from California to Hawaii, through the garbage patch on a vessel made of an old cessna fuselage and 15,000 plastic bottles. David de Rothschild and crew went one further and pulled off the brilliant Plastiki expedition in 2010, sailing a boat made of 12,500 plastic bottles – the amount consumed every 8.3 seconds in the US according to the website – from San Francisco to Sydney. Hug It Forward has leveraged kid power in Guatemala to build 12 schools out of plastic bottles. The City of Taipei went bigger and built the EcoARK out of 1.5 million recycled plastic bottles. The list goes on, and they’re all awesome.

Now Method has shown that creative use of recycled plastic is more than an attention-getter — it’s part of a successful business model. (They were in Target stores nationwide within 2 years of launching, and were the 7th fastest growing private company in the US in 2006.)  They’ve teamed up with beach clean up orgs in Hawaii to gather plastic that landed there from the Pacific Gyre, ship it to their recycling partner Envision Plastics, and recycle it into bottles for their products.

William McDonough and Michael Braungart, writers of Cradle to Cradle, said that recycling often is not really recycling but downcycling – giving an object one more go around on its way to the land fill. True recycling is when something can be reused at the same level without degradation, indefinitely, like when Patagonia takes your old clothes and makes…more clothes.

Upcycling – taking something and transforming it into a higher quality or function, is even better. I would say taking bits of plastic that have floated their way to beaches in Hawaii, and turning them into bottles for Method products — eco-friendly hand wash, fabric softener, etc — qualifies.

End note from Method: “The point, of course, is not to clean up the Gyre. The scientists who study this problem will tell you there is no practical way to clean it up; the area is just too remote, and the plastic too small. The goal is to raise awareness about the issue of plastic pollution, and to point us toward the solution already in front of us – using the plastic that’s already on the planet.”

Navigational Awareness

Colin Philip walks around the Hine Moana, at anchor in Dana Point, climbing over railings, ducking under rigging, making sure everything is in place. He is voyage coordinator for six vakas, traditional Polynesian sailing canoes, which have sailed from Hawaii to San Francisco and are now on their way down the West Coast to San Diego. The mast broke on his vessel, so he will be towed to San Diego, while the rest of the fleet will sail. They are scheduled to leave in under an hour and tourists are still shuffling on and off the boats, asking questions, taking pictures.

Philip is an understated man who doesn’t seem inclined to the spotlight, but knows he needs it. His fleet needs it. The ocean they’ve sailed across needs it.

I never received a press release, or any other notification they were coming here. I only knew because of a Facebook post a few fays ago from a friend of mine who happens to be tuned into these kinds of things. There has been almost no fanfare from the ocean-loving beach communities of Southern California, which seems odd when something so unique as a fleet of six ancient sailing vessels come through the harbor entrance down the street. Philip cites a frustrating lack of PR planning, though he and the rest of the crew seem overwhelmingly positive. I offer to use my tools as a journalist to help however I can.

The crew members of this voyage, which began over six months ago, come from Aotearoa (New Zealand), Hawaii, Fiji, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu. From their website:

We are voyaging to strengthen our ties with the sea, renew our commitment to healthy ecosystems for future generations, and to honour our ancestors who have sailed before us. As we sail our Vaka across the Pacific, we are respectful and gentle, always remembering our voyage motto: “Move your paddle silently through the water.”

The Ocean provides us with the air we breathe, the food we eat, life-sustaining medicines, and nourishment for our souls. Currently, our Ocean is in peril and these essential gifts are quickly disappearing…The Pacific is our home, our breath, our future.  We can only survive if we come together as cultures, as crew-mates, to preserve the health of our ocean planet – Our Blue Canoe.

With the Okeanos Foundation, they are launching the “Vaka Motu” project, through which communities on remote Pacific Islands will build their own vakas in a carbon-neutral manner.

The Vakas have fiberglass hulls, but follow an ancient design and otherwise use traditional materials for the superstructure, sails and rigging.

Colin Philip, Voyage Coordinator, below deck. All crew sleep inside the hulls.

This would be the other modern addition to the Vaka. Colin showing me the 2 x pod motors that can power the canoe at 6 knots all day, from solar panels, as long as there is plenty of sun.

20 year old Fijian Setareki Ledua, the navigator on board one of the canoes. Make that traditional navigator. You know that cliche about navigating by the stars? This man does it, and can set sail from Dana Point harbor and safely land you thousands of miles across blue water in Hawaii, Tahiti, where ever. He was wearing his sheepskin jacket all morning — still getting used to the cold climes of Dana Point in August. That 1900W solar array is what powers the motors above.

Kalei Velasco, from Kauai, plays the ukelele for Perry Makiha, of New Zealand.


Edging Closer to a Shark Finning Ban

Shark fins are about to be banned in California. You can help finalize the deal.

Shark finning, the wasteful practice of catching sharks, cutting off their fins and tossing them back into the ocean to die, is about to be dealt a blow by the CA state legislature, and you can help make sure it happens. Shark finning is already banned in US waters but enforcing laws governing fishing practices is incredibly difficult at sea, hence the existence of things like Whale Wars, so lawmakers have turned their attention toward land, pushing a new law that would ban the sale of shark fins in California. The bill (AB 376) was already passed by the assembly, and goes before the state senate for final vote Thursday.

For those coming a little late to the conversation, populations of sharks, keystone species critical to the balance of marine ecosystems, are in serious decline worldwide, and finning is exacerbating the problem.

Click here to send an email to your state senators in support of this bill.

Let’s show our state legislators, we are paying attention. San Francisco assemblywoman Fiona Ma, Monterey Park assemblyman Mike Eng, and Senator Ted Lieu are opposing the bill on the basis that it is unfair to their constituents who are fans of Cantonese culinary creations, shark fin prized among them. Contact and encourage them to support the shark fin ban instead of opposing it. Your support and engagement will make the difference.


The rest of the story goes like this: after Julita and Leonard Jones lost their Laguna Beach home, as well as their extensive art collection and life work, in a fire, they moved into a temporary home  in Laguna Canyon. A few months later that was hit by a 100 year flood that inundated the area. Now, finally, they are building their new house, modeled after the old one, on their property in Laguna Beach. I shot this photo of Julita checking in on the construction site, in the same spot where the other photo was taken, a week ago.

Here is an excerpt form the complete story:

“Printmaker Julita Jones lost her Arroyo Chico home to a fire last summer along with most of her own art and a sizable personal art collection. Flooding in Laguna Canyon dealt her a second blow. Jones had stored a number of works with fellow artist Marsh Scott, a metal sculptor whose studio was destroyed by flooding.

“We still have our lives,” said Jones, undaunted. She and husband Leonard are rebuilding their house on the same tree-lined street. “It’s in the framing stage now, but we are still trying to figure out everything we lost for the insurance,” she said.

Devoid of studio space, she is not making prints, but shifted her focus to photography. She also teaches art classes at the Sawdust. But, while remaining upbeat, she concedes that it’s hard to make art while also being preoccupied with building a house. At her Sawdust booth, a helper is sometimes reluctant to sell some rescued prints due to their sentimental value, she said.”

A Special Award

I won Orange County Press Club’s Photo of the Year for 2010!

I won for my picture of Julita and Leonard Jones, who lost their home and almost all of Julita’s life work as a print maker last August. The upside is they rebuilt their home and it’s better than ever.

Julita Jones

Julita Jones on the job site as their new home is rebuilt. She is standing in the same place as the photo below was taken.


Orange County Press Club Photo of the Year, 2010.

Guest speakers at the awards dinner were Ruben Vives and Jeff Gottlieb, the Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times reporters who broke the City of Bell corruption scandal last year. It was pretty cool hearing about how they were just sitting through another boring city council meeting, like so many reporters have so many times, when they came across this story that gradually got weirder and weirder. They were just doing their jobs, asking uncomfortable questions, like, “How much money do you make?”

Do you know how much your city manager gets paid?

Vives brought up a point which may seem self-congratulatory, but bears repeating: this would have kept going on if we weren’t there, if our society didn’t have reporters.

Most of journalism is done alone, either out on assignment somewhere, or in the office, in front of a computer. It’s a gradual process that only comes together after a lot of leg work usually, and aside from seeing your story in print, it’s rare to get a single moment when you really feel anything tangible come of your work. So it was cool to see the community of journalists that exists, and have them all together in one place, and have a single point in time where something gratifying happened: recognition.

(There were some pretty interesting conversations going on too. You gather a bunch of people whose job it is to dig things up, all in one place, and what do you expect?)

Yes that is a diaper in your parking space

The new Refuse Redistribution plan is brilliant. And this Memorial Day was a testament to its success.

For those readers that haven’t heard, the leadership of Southern California cities have banded together in a heroic effort to reduce the immense amounts of trash going into our landfills. The plan: use well established travel and recreation patterns of Southern California residents to redistribute the trash to the streets, and more importantly, beaches, of coastal towns.

Memorial Day was the perfect day to launch the campaign, not only because it is the de facto opening of the summer beach season, but because of America’s strict adherence to keeping the memory of those who fought and died for this great country at the forefront of our awareness on this drunken holiday.

What better way to memorialize our country’s unsung heroes and patriots than by showing our commitment to being good stewards of the community and giving our all to the Refuse Redistribution plan?

I only have one complaint: we didn’t think big enough. Several pieces of trash per square foot across the entire coastline of Laguna Beach is not insignificant, but if we are going to keep up with our voracious, almost incomprehensible appetite for disposable products and their accompanying packaging, we are going to need to step it up. We are going to need our trash per square foot ratio to hit the triple digits. That’s right, hundreds of pieces of trash per square foot is the only way forward.

I know what you’re thinking – I forgot about recycling. Not so. A long walk on the beach this evening made it clear – your fellow citizens are doing their part to lighten the load on our compatriots at recycling centers across the region. There were water bottles, Starbucks to go cups, sunscreen tubes, sandals, buckets, balloons, Styrofoam cups and plates, plastic knives and forks, plastic bags, glass bottles, and other assorted plastic flotsam everywhere.

Heisler Park, gateway to our city's marine reserve.

I only have one other small complaint: most of the trash was too close to the waterline. As the tide comes in, which it did a few hours ago, our collective waste was mostly washed away, carried by the currents toward other beaches and coastlines further afield, and eventually to the great garbage patch in the North Pacific Gyre. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a great method of disposal. Its mode of transport – ocean currents – has a low carbon footprint, and it’s far from shore where no one will see it. But that is actually the counterintuitive problem here. If all the trash is washed away within a few hours of it’s deposition at our shoreline, it won’t serve as a reminder to future beach visitors of our efforts. If we simply put the trash a little higher up from the water line, it will stay with us longer, and stand as a small memorial to the great work we all did on this Memorial Day.

So next time you come to the beach, please, remember those who fought for the freedoms we all enjoy, bring as much trash as you possibly can fit in your vehicle, and put it on the beach, but well above the mean high tide line.

Up and at ’em

I had just shot something near Heisler Park the other day and saw this on the walk back. I often struggle to get out of bed when the alarm comes early — it’s easy to downgrade the priority of something that needs done in exchange for a bit more sleep. Then there was this view. The light and the fog aren’t like this most mornings. I remembered by being out there a lot you to capture the cool things when they do happen to occur. So here’s to all those early mornings when you could have slept in but got up and slogged through something that didn’t really need to be done.

Shooting Standing Still

As a journalist I respond to news, and cover stories as they happen. Sometimes I do a more investigative piece, or a character portrait, but usually it’s a matter of keeping up with a story as it happens, and getting ahead of it. I’m often shooting from the hip. Don’t get me wrong, a good photojournalist is well trained in the finer points of crafting images, but that expertise is often applied in a very quick, improvisational way. Here are some examples of the best.

Of course you try to think, as something is happening, about where it is going to go, and put yourself in position for it, but that only works part of the time. I’ve lost count of the times I had a great shot set up and then the subject changed direction at the last second, or the moment changed, and I was left with the back of a head, or the side of a van.

On the other hand, a lot of photos that look straightforward were difficult to get because of an uncooperative light source, or the need to get past a physical obstacle (say, climbing a street sign to get above a crowd), or a situational obstacle (talking your way past a traffic cop to gain access to a crime scene). And then, after dealing with settings, light, angle, etc. there is still the matter of capturing the moment. Sometimes you get the happy accidents, when a shot emerges where you never expected it. But you can’t count on these.

Shooting news is a combination of showing up in a new situation, trying to craft an image out of whatever you are given, and accepting the image you end up with – sometimes it’s better than the one you were planning.

When I set up a tripod the other night (thanks for the loaner Ed), stood in one place and shot a landscape — with a 25 second exposure (ha!) — it was like photography meets spa day.

Ps. I still had to illegally park, run across a busy, windy mountain road in the dark and shoot from private property without permission.