Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Eco-Warriors Conquer Northern Spain

The Eco-Warrior team of Henry and Pribram traveled to Asturias, a region of Northern Spain, in October 2007, to support fellow eco-warriors that are trying to protect the waves on the Spanish coast. Accompanied by Dean LaTourrette, currently executive director of Save the Waves Coalition, and Vince Deur, their trusty filmmaker, they traveled from Henry's home in Central Portugal northwards on a classic Euro surf trip. The group met good weather and friendly locals on the journey up the coast, finally making it to the home of Dr. Tony Butt, the famous surfing scientist who pens articles for the Surfer's Path, among others.

Tony toured them around the local spots and introduced them to the local surf association's leaders, Hugo Santos, Gonzalo Iglesia, and photographer Juan Fernandez. On their first night in Villaviciosa, the American boys were treated to a dinner at a cidreria, a traditional apple cider bar, where the waiters stand on pedestals and pour from up high into pint glasses below. Here they developed (in addition to a decent cider buzz), a strategy for the days to come.

Over the next few days in Asturias, the eco-warriors appeared on three different television news programs and in two newspapers. They spoke about the value of surfing - from both an economic and a social standpoint - while making sure to mention the wave in Mundaka Bay, which was hosting the annual WCT event at the time.

Mundaka Bay, for those who don't know, had a wave that disappeared a few years ago after a massive harbor dredging project destroyed the sandbar at the river mouth, over which the wave breaks. The disappearance of the wave caused a rift in the local economy, which didn't know how much it had come to depend on surfers and the money spend until it was almost too late. This year marks the triumphant return of the sandbar at Mundaka, and the return of the Mundaka Pro - but a bitter taste has been left behind for residents of the town.

Two other projects on the north coast of Spain threaten prime surfing locations. In Gijón, a harbor expansion and seawall are slowly encroaching on neighboring coastline, on which five surf spots will be buried. Gijón promises to be, upon its completion, the largest port in Spain. In nearby Rodiles lies a wave often described as "Mundaka's Little Sister" due to the vast similarities between it and its more famous brother. This wave is jeopardized by a harbor expansion and dredging project - a combination that sounds all too familiar to the surfers of this coastline.

"Surfers understand what many non-surfers don't, that these places are rare beauties and should be preserved, no matter what," said Pribram. "It would be like filling Yosemite in with concrete," added Henry.

The Eco-Warrior project hopes that in the future, there will no longer be a battle about whether or not surf spots are valuable, as they will be protected regardless. Until then, we will continue to do our best to spread the message around the globe.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Eco-Warriors Return to Chile

Almost one year ago, Will Henry and James Pribram met each other for the first time, at a secluded surf spot many hours south of the capital of Santiago. On the original trip in 2005, Pribram and Henry joined hundreds of local Chileans and international conservation groups to protest the construction of a new pulp mill on the Rio Itata, which threatened to pollute a pristine watershed and harm local businesses and industry. Hence, exactly one year ago in the exact same place, the eco-warrior project was set into motion. The initial trip led Save the Waves Coalition to hire Josh Berry as their Chile Program Director, and for the organization to begin formulating a long-term plan that will they hope will eventually lead to better environmental stewardship along Chile's vast and desolate coastline. The new mill at Nueva Aldea, then nearing completion, was seen by many environmental groups as a giant step backward for Chile's future reputation as a favorite location for outdoor enthusiasts. Surfers and fishermen who enter the waters along this coast on a daily basis see it as a threat to their very lives.

Now one year later, the mill at Nueva Aldea is operating at 50% capacity, and local residents have begun lose hope of stopping the new mill's operations. The company behind the mill, CELCO, is owned by the Angelini Group, which was listed recently as a Fortune 500 company, and controls 49% of Chile's fuel industry. Needless to say, their formidable political clout has allowed them a great deal of leniency from CONAMA, which is Chile's equivalent to the EPA. CELCO operates numerous pulp mills which have been blamed for many of Chile's most heinous environmental disasters, including the poisoning of a UNESCO biosphere in Valdivia in 2005 that killed thousand of black-neck swans. (Read more about their Valdivia disaster by going to Their new mill in Nueva Aldea is the largest in Chile. Currently CELCO is constructing a pipeline that will bring mill effluent directly to the sea - both for the Nueva Aldea mill and for the one in Valdivia. While the plan is placating some residents of the Rio Itata river valley and those near the plant in Valdivia, fishermen and other ocean enthusiasts are vehemently opposed. Mill pollution carries numerous toxins and carcinogens that threaten sea life and human health.

The eco-warriors added to their numbers in May, this time bringing together a group of professional surfers and activists, to work on new film project for Save the Waves Coalition, entitled All Points South. This documentary surf film will highlight the natural wonders that exist along the Chilean coastline, world-class surfing talent, and the industry that threatens to destroy it all. Joining Pribram and Henry were filmmakers Vince Deur, Jeremy Koreski and Timmy Turner, as well as surfers Keith Malloy, Raph Bruhwiler, Ramon Navarro and Brett Schwarz. The film hopes to bring international attention to the harm that the pulp industry is bringing to the landscape and ocean environment in Chile's south.

At the start of the trip, the crew visited Ramon Navarro in his home town of Pichilemu, surfing a heavy beach break one day, and then scoring a good day at the world-famous Punta de Lobos. Ramon comes from a family of fisherman, and treated the boys to a dinner of locally-caught delicacies at his family's home, including fresh corvina and raw sea urchin, as well as a rare Chilean treat: a crab that lives inside the urchin, which is eaten alive. Josh Berry, Save the Waves Chile Program Director, was the first to take the challenge, holding the squirming crab in his hands before tossing it in his mouth. Henry went second. Both claimed it was one of the best things they've ever tasted, but many of the others in the group didn't trust their word.

The trip moved further into the deep south, where the crew visited the town of Constitucion. This small city has five great waves at its doorstep. At one point in the not-so-distant past, it was a hugely popular tourist destination, with a massive bay and beach. Now the beach is trashed, and a mill operated by CELCO fouls the air and water. The crew surfed anyway, but at one of the better waves, in the rivermouth near the mill's effluent pipe, the pollution was overwhelming. Henry nearly became sick to his stomach, and the filmy water burned the skin. No wonder the town has so few local surfers.

Filming continued further south to the region where the Nueva Aldea mill is set to heighten the disaster to all-time levels. The surf was good, but the spirit of the local people seemed a bit downtrodden. All we can hope is that the film will revive their hope.

If all goes well, the film All Points South will put extra pressure on CELCO, CONOMA, and the government of Chile to clean up its act. Chile is at a crossroads in its future - choose between sustainability and a healthy balance of industries, or favor one at the expense of all others. More to come from the eco-warriors as they continue to rally for change across the globe.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Eco-Warriors Make Waves in New Zealand

Eco-Warriors James Pribram and Will Henry completed yet another successful mission on a voyage sponsored by XS Energy Drinks. Henry and Pribram traveled to New Zealand’s North Island in order to bolster the effort by local Kiwi surfers to preserve Whangamata Bar, a world-class wave that could possibly be damaged by a marina proposal. They met with leaders from the Surfbreak Protection Society (SPS), a New Zealand based surf protection organization, in order to help them prevent the marina's construction from moving forward. On March 28, Henry and Pribram joined SPS representatives Grant McIntosh and Michael Gunson in a meeting with Tariana Turia, leader of the Maori Party, in the capitol city of Wellington. Following the meeting at Parliament with Ms. Turia, the Eco-Warriors traveled up the east coast, where they sampled waves near the new artificial surfing reef at Mount Maunganui. The following day they met up with SPS President Paul Shanks (pictured above at Whanga Bar) in Whangamata, and were greeted with offshore winds and a head-high swell.

“The wave at Whangamata is an absolute gem,” said Pribram after his first surf at Whanga Bar, as the locals call it. “To damage this spot would be a crime against nature.” The wave, which peels down a long sand bar at the mouth of an estuary, is being threatened by a marina proposal that will dredge huge amounts of sand and other material from inside the wetlands of the estuary, as well as construct a large seawall to protect the newly dredged channel. Surfers and ocean experts fear that the disruption inside the estuary will cause the sandbar to disappear, hence causing serious degradation to the wave quality at Whanga Bar.

“The estuary has existed for thousands of years in a delicate equilibrium," stated Paul Shanks, "with sand on the inside and the outside of the channel in a perfect balance, which is what creates the excellent surfing conditions. What we are worried will happen is, if you dig a hole inside the estuary, sand will disappear off the bar to fill it in.”

Proponents of the marina have been trying for more than fifteen years to gain approval for the project, despite the fact that over 100 moorings already exist inside the estuary, and many local residents are against it. Approval was just granted this year, in a controversial reversal of a previous decision by Minister for the Environment Hon. Chris Carter to deny the application. "Somehow the Marina Society managed to pull strings to get the permit pushed through again," stated Shanks. By then, Hon. Chris Carter had changed positions in the government, and the application was subsequently approved by Hon. David Benson-Pope, Minister of Conservation.

"When you start to dig into the facts," stated Will Henry, "you realize pretty quickly that this decision to approve the marina was influenced by people who stand to make a lot of money off of this project. I would call it a conflict of interest, but some people would say it is outright corruption."

Mooring space near the open ocean is relatively scarce these days in New Zealand, driven by a booming sportfishing and boating industry. Investors in the marina project undoubtedly stand to make a substantial sum of money by selling their berth space once the marina is complete, which appears to be the driving force behind the marina proposal. But opponents of the marina don’t believe that the project is worth sacrificing a world-class surf spot just to make a few people more wealthy. “Whangamata is a surf town – it started out as one and still is one – so why is it that the boaters suddenly can come in here and walk all over us?” furthered Shanks.

During the trip, the marina society attempted to dig test holes in the estuary in order to prepare for the marina’s construction. The testing was halted by four local Maori, who stood on the equipment in protest. “The marina society is working on an illegal consent,” stated Grant McIntosh, a representative of SPS who was present at the protest. Regardless, marina proponents vowed to move forward with the contentious project.

“Once again, it’s a case of the big guys versus the little guys,” said Henry. “As soon as investors smell money, the surfers will have to go surf somewhere else. This can't be allowed to happen.”

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eco-Warriors help to save La Enramada
during mission to the Canary Islands

Representatives from Save the Waves Coalition returned February 8 from a diplomatic environmental mission to the Canary Islands, succeeding in an effort to protect and possibly enhance the island’s surfing environment. During the ten-day trip sponsored by XS Energy Drinks, the two surfing emissaries focused on the wave known as La Enramada, a point break on the island of Tenerife that was threatened by a coastal development proposal. The mission proved more successful than any surfer would have thought possible.

The ‘eco-warrior’ series was initiated last year as a regular feature article in the Surfer’s Path, the world’s first 100% green surf magazine. The eco-warriors are: James Pribram, a professional surfer, writer, and environmental spokesperson; and photographer Will Henry, who is also founder and executive director of Save the Waves Coalition, a non-profit that preserves surf spots globally. The trip also included filmmaker Vince Deur, creator of the popular surfing film ‘Unsalted,’ who will be producing a documentary series about the surfer-environmentalist’s current and upcoming adventures.

The construction project threatening La Enramada was originally proposed by the Hotel Riu Palace in 2006, which intended to create an artificial beach in front of the luxury hotel. The sand would have been transported from another part of the Canary Islands, and seawalls constructed for sand retention. Leading up to the trip, Save the Waves Coalition worked closely with the Canary Islands Surfing Federation in an attempt to persuade the Spanish government to deny the proposal. The southwest coast of Tenerife has already seen the destruction of numerous surf spots in the past three decades due to similar artificial beach projects, especially in the tourist zone known as Las Americas, where over eight seawalls currently exist. Numerous artificial beaches already dot the area, and the project at La Enramada was seen not only as unnecessary, but also as an additional blight on a stretch of coast that already is severely scarred by coastal armament projects.

Upon arriving on Tenerife, the eco-warriors heard promising news: the government had just denied the hotel’s application to construct the project. Unfortunately, before the victory could be celebrated, a second proposal was submitted on the heels of the first, this time by a “private developer” who intended to build a marina in the very same location. Henry and Pribram, along with Angel Lobo, the President of the Canary Islands Surfing Federation, met with officials in the Ministry of the Environment and made a strong case for the preservation of all surf spots on the island, including La Enramada. The Ministry responded by denying the marina proposal at La Enramada, and to consider promoting protected status for the remaining surf spots on the island.

The Ministry also expressed a desire to explore options for the removal or redesign of some of the seawalls in the Las Americas region, in an effort to restore some of the beauty lost along this part of the island’s coast. They did express concern, however, that the loss of sand on the artificial beaches might have a negative impact on tourism, as the hotels with beach front locations would lose a valuable asset.

Henry presented the officials with the idea of using artificial surfing reefs to replace the seawalls, which could prove to be a win-win situation for both surfers and hotel owners alike. Artificial surfing reefs have been proven to act much like seawalls in their ability to dampen wave energy on the shore behind them, and in their effectiveness at preventing coastal erosion. The reefs could be built partially using the rocks from the existing seawalls, and would not only add beauty to the coast, but become a new tourism attraction.

After the meeting, Henry felt positive that the Spanish government would explore the new technology. “It’s the most open-minded reception I have ever experienced from government officials,” stated Henry. “They realize the value of surfing, and the need to restore the natural beauty of the coastline. It’s extremely encouraging.”

Pribram added, “Their response was great, and if the government stays the path, it will mean even better things for the surfers and the economy on the island.”

For more information, visit, or send an email to info@savethewaves.