Protect the places you love

I recently read something really random in a magazine. A group of psychologists working at the Duke University in North Carolina have come up with a rather intriguing theory – people who take short breaks have more happy memories of their time away than those who go on one long holiday. Why? Well, apparently, according to their research, the enjoyment of the experiences diminishes the longer we are away. I guess what happens in a number of cases is that after an initial period of excitement when people are keen to discover as much as possible of the new environment the novelty almost wears off, being often replaced by a sense of temporarily accomplishment. I can only guess as my enjoyment of a place seems to have more to do with the type of place and what I do in it rather than the time I spend away.

I can think of a few places that since the very first time I visited represented an extraordinary source of inspiration for me and I am sure that regardless the amount of time I will be spending in them in the future, they will not stop inspiring me. The places are obviously always the same; what it does change all the time though, is my perception of them and the personal connection I am able to establish every time I am in them simply doing something I am passionate about, whether that place might be in the mountains or by the sea.

We all know that when it comes to people we love, family and friends, most of us believe that one of the most important aspects of the relationship with them is to spend time together, trying to share our life with them. I have always felt the same about places. I believe that when you really love a place the more time you spend in it the more familiar you become with that area and more ways you can discover to experience and enjoy it. One of my favorite spot in the UK is a 3 mile stretch of beach and sand dunes in North Devon called Saunton Sands. I first went to North Devon in 2006, looking for surf breaks with long and not too big waves to ride on my longboard. It did take me little time to discover it and even less to fall in love with it.

As soon as you pass Braunton, continuing along the B3231, you are suddenly immersed in the famous beauty of the North Devon coastline – a combination of lush, unspoiled, undeveloped coast and lovely views on the open Ocean. Saunton Sands is only a couple of miles north of Braunton, and about 1 mile from Croyde Bay, another very popular beach and excellent surf break. I felt in love with the area almost instantly. Welcome to Saunton Sands.

To the east of Braunton is a large sand dune system called Braunton Burrows, famous for its plant and animal life. It’s one of the largest sand dune systems in the UK. Due to the diversity and abundance of rare flora and continuous human use over the centuries it’s been declared an area of outstanding natural beauty and I believe it’s Britain’s first UNESCO biosphere reserve. Saunton Sands is at the northern edge of the sand dune system. It is the start of a 3 mile crescent of fine golden sands, that stretch southwards between the sea and the Braunton Burrows.

Since I started surfing in the UK I have done a fair amount of travelling around Cornwall, Devon and Wales in different seasons of the year. One of the aspects I have always found fascinating is observing how the incessant and changing rhythm of the tides is capable of constantly shaping the landscape, endlessly blending and transforming land into sea and sea into land.

This is Woolacoombe, another gorgeous portion of the North Devon coast line and good surf break.

And this is Putsborough – at the southrn end of Woolacombe – on a small day.and on a big day

My friend Nina on Wooly on her way to some small morning glory surf

 

I love being in the sea or on the beach not only on cloudless days when the sun shines, that would be too easy. I had some really good days in the water when it was grey, cloudy and raining and I really enjoy walking on the beach even when the wind blows so strong that you feel you could fly away if you jump in the air right in the middle of a gust.

What I am trying to say is that I find it difficult not to have a good day when I am out there and if for some reason I don’t have a great day as usual I certainly don’t blame the place or the Devon weather Gods for that. Along the line of there is no good or bad weather but only good or bad equipment, my good friend Simon and I never blame the surf or the weather conditions when we experience a less enjoyable than average day. We simply blame ourselves calling it, equipment failure.

This is also the approach I try to follow not just when I am out in the mountains, surfing or just enjoying being in the outdoors. I try to maintain the same philosophy in all other areas of my life, family/friends, work environment and many others. I believe there are fundamentally two ways of dealing with the many different aspects of the external world. The “western” way where you stay in your comfort zone, expecting people to behave in a way that suits you and circumstances always to go according to your plans and then there is the “eastern” way where you venture into new terrain, trying to really learn something along the way every time, not expecting people to give more than what they can or want and adapting yourself to situations, remaining true to yourself of curse!

Although the first approach might sound the easiest one to follow, you’ll soon find out that it’s only by trying to change yourself and choose the second one, that you will start understanding and learning more about yourself and about the world around you. Although most people would find it hard, I believe it’s worth trying as the reward is higher – you will become a better person by changing yourself and evolve. Have you ever heard: smooth seas never made a skillful sailor? I hope it makes sense.

Last weekend when I got to the beach I immediately noticed that the high tide, helped by strong on shore winds, had left a good number of plastic bottles and other various plastic waste on the beach so the first thing I did was start cleaning up! I wasn’t exactly equipped for cleaning; I didn’t have gloves or bags to collect the rubbish so I waited for my friend Nick to come out the water and used his board to take the rubbish off the beach.

 

When I got to the beach I saw a group of beginners with an instructor who works for a local surf school, they seemed to have just finished their lesson and they were leaving the beach. What I found shocking is that although they must have spent a good 15-20 minutes doing some warm up exercises before entering the sea, jumping up and down and literally running around the rubbish that was laying only a few meters away from them, not a single person in the group thought about collecting some of the rubbish on the beach. I know that first and foremost you need to identify yourself and connect at some level to a place in order to trigger inside you the desire to protect it, it needs to become part of you and your life. These people were on the beach and in the water, having great time. I really don’t get it. Their connection wasn’t obviously strong enough.

In one of his beautiful essays about his time spent in the Sierras in California, John Muir writes: “Go to the mountains and get their good times”. I think what he meant is that there is so much out there we can receive from the natural world that enhances and enriches us and our experiences, triggering deep inside amazing feelings. It’s something very special. When you spend time in the outdoors you realize you have a sense of responsibility towards the natural world and that is again why I want to try to protect nature and the special places I love. Taking rubbish off the beach every time I see it is not going to make a big difference but it seems to me the least I can do to try to give something back to nature. I just like the idea of leaving a place a little bit cleaner than when it was when I got there.

I wish that more people took the time to think that as citizens and consumers, we all have our own responsibilities when it comes to climate change and the increased pollution of water and air around us. It’s a fact that this trend will continue if we don’t all become smarter about how we interact with the natural environment and change our attitude. Do you remember one of Gandhi’s most famous phrases: be the change you want to see in the world.

Some people like to think that surfers are generally an environmentally-friendly bunch. Well, that remains to be proven true. Generally surfers seem to have a more intimate relationship with the ocean, true, but at least for what I have seen so far around me that still hasn’t transformed into a lot of activism and coastal stewardship. Although there are many good NGOs started by surfers like the Surfrider Foundation, Surfers Against Sewage, and Save The Waves too many surfers and surfing communities don’t seem to do much to protect their local beaches.

The number of people who surf out there is pretty big and it’s growing. I hope that pro surfers who are influential to new surfers and the younger generation would impart the simple notion that innate to a true surfer is the unflinching desire to defend the coastlines and the animals with which we share them. They are perfectly placed to be the stewards of the coasts. Scanning the horizon looking for surf, it doesn’t take much to look out for poachers, destructive commercial fishing methods, pollutants and human marine debris too.

When I think about it, one of the most frustrating aspects is certainly the human’s imbalanced perception of nature and our place within the biosphere I see around me all the time. Sadly, I could use dozens of examples. Take commercial fishing for instance. Given the current EU legal framework and relevant legislation still represents a huge threat for the Ocean environment and up until recently was still largely unchallenged. The good news is that the situation is going to change as early as next year as the EU parliament has agreed to review the legislation currently in place.

Eating fish knowing the source of the fish you are eating is so important. Please do not support any commercial fishing operation. Catch a fish yourself if you feel you have to eat fish. If you can’t catch a fish or don’t know the source of the fish on the menu, then eat something else. There must be something else on the menu! Arguably, one of the best things we can all do on a personal level is reducing our consumption of meet, eating more responsibly, or even better, stop eating it altogether.

If you are interested in the topic, please visit http://www.goveg.org/ and http://www.meat.org/ and read about the environmental impact of eating meat. According to a number of very reliable sources, including the Environment Agency (http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk) and the Environmental Protection UK (http://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/), the run-off from factory farms pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined. Polluted waterways equal polluted oceans, equals polluted people and planet. A fairly straightforward concept.

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