Todd Richards Sounds off on Snowboarding’s Roots and Why Coffee Is the Key to Happiness

There’s a phrase out there that goes something like this: “Don’t meet your heroes, they’ll just disappoint you.” Whoever coined it wasn’t a snowboarder and had definitely never met Todd Richards.

The soon-to-be forty-eight-year-old is a bonafide legend. In the sport’s nascence, he was among the group of riders to take elements of skateboarding and bring them to the snow – a trend that radically changed snowboarding’s trajectory. Todd went on to become one of the most influential and competitively successful snowboarders of his day and lays claim as one of the few to have ever beaten Terje Håkonsen in a contest. Recently, he’s built a reputation doing color commentary for NBC covering the Olympics and the Dew Tour, and just days ago received Transworld SNOWboarding Riders’ Poll Legend Award.

Months ago, though, we were sitting face to face talking story on couches at a glamping resort in Ojai, California. In shorts and t-shirts, we discussed where snowboarding has been, and where it’s going. “I want to start from the beginning. How’d you get into it?” I asked. Todd didn’t hold back.

“I initially hated snowboarding, like hated it,” he said. “Back east with blue ice, no edges, no highbacks, it was horrible. Anyone would’ve hated it.”

Damn, I like this guy, I thought.

Todd continued to candidly sound off on snowboarding’s early influences, why progression for its own sake is lame, and why snowboarding’s recent celebratory love affair with the turn is a total fallacy–according to Todd, “It never really left.”

Given his success as an on-air personality, Todd’s comfort in front of the camera was understandable. But what I appreciated about him most was his no bullshit demeanor. So often in interviews, athletes at the pinnacle of their sport pussyfoot around topics, worried about who they might piss off if they say what they really think. Talking with Todd, on the other hand, was a breath of fresh air. With decades of success, he’s got nothing left to prove. Or hide.

So what’s the key to happiness, according to one of snowboarding’s true living legends? “Flip everyone the bird and be who you are.” That, and coffee.

Video shot by Casey Acaster and edited by Brendan Zipfel. Interview conducted by Dylan Heyden

Pro Snowboarder Robin Van Gyn: ‘Women in Big Snowboard Films Shouldn’t Be an Anomaly’

Robin Van Gyn stars alongside Travis Rice, Austen Sweetin, and Bryan Fox in Travis’ new film project Depth Perception. Photo: Andrew Miller

This time last year, our founder Zach Weisberg and I were navigating around USC in the heart of Los Angeles to find parking. Travis Rice’s newest film, The Fourth Phase, was set to premiere at the Shrine Auditorium across the street from the Trojans’ campus – the same place that Bob Dylan played just a few months before. Point being, it was a sizable turnout at least two hours’ drive from the nearest mountain with the fanfare you’d expect at the premiere of a Hollywood blockbuster, not a snowboard film.

The hoopla is a testament to the wildly ambitious film projects that Travis Rice has undertaken over the years. From That’s It, That’s All to The Art of Flight to The Fourth Phase, and the reception they’ve received goes well beyond the world of snowboarding.

For Rice’s most recent project, Depth Perception he knew he wanted to film exclusively in the British Columbia backcountry. And he knew he wanted someone who knew the place like the back of their hand. Enter Robin Van Gyn. The B.C. local has made a name for herself over the years as a serious charger who rides powder with the best of ’em. She also just so happens to be the first female rider to star in a Travis Rice film. We caught up with Robin to get the scoop on the new film, and what it was like to shoot for such a big project in her own backyard:



Depth Perception is all filmed in the B.C. backcountry. What was it like to have Travis Rice and the other Quiksilver team riders in the film in your neck of the woods? Especially with your local knowledge.

Actually, that’s something that’s so special about snowboarding and the film is that, like, really growing up in B.C. you take for granted what you have because you’ve always just known that. You’ve known that the terrain is insane and it’s beautiful, and we live in this amazing nature Disneyland of the world, and really until you start traveling you don’t really realize that you live in the Holy Grail. And it’s been very apparent in the last 10 years for me, after traveling, to kind of realize that B.C. is kind of the world gem of snowboarding.

Totally. I think it’s notable, too, that you’re the first female rider to be featured in one of Travis Rice’s films. What are your thoughts around that?

Um, it’s an honor. Honestly, it is. I think there’s something else, though. Like at first I was like, “Woah, this is so crazy. I’m the first female to do a Travis film,” and I was really, really nervous. And there was a lot of pressure, too that it almost made me sick to my stomach trying to like swallow it before it even happened. But, you know it was really great and the guys were super supportive, especially Travis. He was really good about making me feel a part of the crew as much as everyone else, and that was amazing.

But the other thing that I think about, too, is, you know I’ve been asked a lot of questions like, “How does it feel to be the first woman to do that,” and on a darker note it almost makes me a little sad that it’s such a surprise for everyone that a woman would be involved. I mean if you look at the big picture, it shouldn’t be a surprise. It shouldn’t be an anomaly. It shouldn’t be just one token girl in a film. And I think, like, sometimes that’s kind of the way it goes. And, I’ve always filmed with girls, so I never really noticed it as much.

So, it is great to be included, and it is a step forward which is awesome. And I applaud Travis for taking it on because sometimes it’s not easy.

“We live in this amazing nature Disneyland of the world, and really until you start traveling you don’t really realize that you live in the Holy Grail.” Photo: Andrew Miller

Who are some of the snowboarders that led the way for you and inspired you?

It’s funny because most of those people are my closest friends. So, Leanne Pelosi and Marie France-Roy and Hana Beaman and actually Tara Dakides was a big one. I went filming with Runway Films – Leanne invited me on a trip – and it was basically the turning point for me. If I hadn’t gone on that trip, I don’t even know where I would be today. It was kind of like Leanne just called me up. And I had never really filmed. I had never had, like, a published photo. And Leanne had seen me snowboard like a couple of times, and they both just took me under their wing, and I ended up snowboarding beside Leanne for most of my career. She’s been such an awesome inspiration and she’s really brought me a lot of places, and I have to thank her so much for that.

And yeah, also being on the Roxy team. The girls involved there, I mean, Roxy made me who I am. They let me have the creative input to be who I am. They were basically like, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I was like, “I want to ride powderrrr.” And they were like, “Okay, well you’re just gonna do that. That’s gonna be your focus. And Amber Stackhouse who was my team manager basically just handed over the reins to me and said, “Do what you’re best at.” So I had my brand and Leanne and Hana and all those girls around me supporting it, and it just kind of happened like that. And it kept happening like that.

“I was like, ‘I want to ride powderrrr.’ And Roxy was like, ‘Okay, well you’re just gonna do that.'” Photo: Andrew Miller

So what’s next?

I’ve actually kind of been dreaming up a project with a couple other girls on the Roxy surf team. It’s kind of like an alternate reality piece between surf and snowboarding called Parallels. And who knows what will happen, but that’s my big dream is I kind of want to do something that I have a vision for, but I do want to keep filming with the crew I’m on also.

This post was originally published on The Inertia here.

Patagonia Spends $700,000 In First-Ever Ad to Blast Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Update: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Recommends Shrinking at Least Three National Monuments

The battle for public lands continues to be a sticking point for Patagonia. The outdoor apparel titan’s ethos has always been one of doing the least harm – e.g. transparency in their supply chain and sustainable practices while advocating for the planet.

In the final months of President Obama’s tenure, Patagonia initiated a campaign to protect Bears Ears in southeastern Utah. Three days before he left office, the then-president designated the area a national monument.

Since coming into office, though, President Trump has deputized Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to conduct a review of national monument designations like Bears Ears – a move that could result in the overturning of many existing public land designations.

In response, Patagonia has purchased $700,000 in radio and television airtime in Secretary Zinke’s home state of Montana, as well as Utah, and Nevada, to run ads imploring the public to pressure Secretary Zinke to do the right thing and “keep public lands in public hands.”

“In Patagonia’s almost 45 years of doing business, they’ve never run a television advertisement,” said the company in a press release. “But with America’s public lands under unprecedented threat, Patagonia continues its legacy of advocating for the planet by bringing its voice to the airwaves.”

According to the release, the effort in Secretary Zinke’s home state is to “[remind] him of what he said, ‘our greatest treasures are public lands.'” In Utah, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments could be recommended to be rescinded, and in Nevada Gold Butte and Basin and Range National Monuments are also under threat.

“There is limited time before Secretary Zinke makes his August 24th decision on the remaining 21 national monuments and it is Patagonia’s hope that he will follow in the tradition of President Teddy Roosevelt and conserve our shared public lands for future generations,” said the release. “But no matter the outcome (we) won’t stop fighting to protect our public lands. (We) believe the voices of the people will be heard.”

This piece was originally published on The Inertia.

Champion Skater Dennis Martinez Was an Addict, Now He’s Giving Former Inmates a Second Chance

“I should be in prison with him,” said Martinez about his good friend serving 678 years. But after turning his life around, now he’s in the business of second chances. Photo: Chris Peck

This is the fourth installment of  The Inertia’s INSPIRED Series, presented by Cobian’s Every Step Matters (ESM) initiative. This series looks at compelling moments, people, and places that inspire athletes to do what they do, that in turn inspire us. 

Dennis put down four bills on his desk in different denominations – a hundred, a twenty, a ten, and a one. “Each of these bills costs the same to make,” he said. “I tell my guys, ‘How much is this one worth?”‘ He picked up the one. “‘Not much.’ They usually say. So I respond, ‘You’re right, and this is you, brotha. This is what society says you’re worth. But the only reason these bills are worth anything different is because man places different values on them. Same story for you. You might be crumpled, spit on, torn. But, I don’t see it that way. You’re worth more than society says you are.'”

I was speechless. It was a metaphor I’d never heard before. People (in this case, inmates) adopt the value of themselves that society imposes on them, and to become more requires breaking that cycle of thought, recognizing past transgressions, and moving on – understanding that they’re worth more. Capable of more.

Dennis Martinez is a skateboarding legend. He was the 1977 World Freestyle Champion and remained good friends with skateboard royalty Jay Adams through to his tragic passing.

Somewhere along the way in the late ’70s, though, Dennis developed a drug habit, and the passion for skateboarding that fueled him was temporarily shrouded, if not entirely lost. “I was a drug addict for 20 years, 16 on the needle,” he said.

When the drugs took over, skateboarding took a back seat. Photo: Courtesy of Dennis Marinez

When Dennis talks about that time now, he puts what became his mission once the drugs took hold plainly. “I had to rob to get the money to get the dope to get the needle to get the hotel room to get the girl.”

And his life would have continued as such had it not been for two events that rocked him to his core. The first was when a judge gave Dennis’ good friend, Paul Dornberg, a 678-year sentence. And later, Dennis’ brother was charged with 27 counts of burglary. Both hit close to home.

In the case of Dornberg, Dennis said they used to commit crimes together. “I should be in prison with him,” he said. As for his brother, Dennis says that he was simply modeling Dennis’ behavior and got locked up for it. His brother is out now. “I went from being in front of a judge for my own sentencing to standing next to an ex-district attorney in front of that same judge trying to plea for our client’s leniency,” says Dennis’ brother. “From state prison to state court, from orange jumpsuit to Armani trial suit.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dennis Martinez

It’s those stories, though, and the ones of other inmates across the country in which Dennis sees himself. After deviating from the drug riddled path, and finding God, Dennis and his business partner took it upon themselves to give others a second chance, opening a drug and alcohol treatment center for men transitioning from prison back into society. The Training Center is a faith-based facility that offers the men housing, counseling services, treatment planning, anger management, and life skills workshops. The amount of respect shown to each person that goes through the program is evident down to the way that each person is referred to as a “client.”

Dennis and Jay Adams before Jay’s tragic passing in 2014. Photo: Martinez

“Not only does our program work, it saves the state money,” he said, emphatically. “It’s a no-brainer for them. It costs $62,300 per year to house a man in prison vs. $24,000 per year to rehabilitate a man in our facility.” Dennis pulled out a calculator, punching it hard murmuring to himself, punching numbers. Then he flipped it around. “That’s about $7 million we save the state per year!”

Following our chat in his office, Dennis took me around to meet the current crop of clients. Walking through the halls we passed a handful of folks he pointed out as graduates of the program that were now working at the facility full time.

“Let me introduce you to some of the lifers,” he said (prison lingo for someone given a life sentence). “One guy who just came to us this week after more than thirty years inside has this eternal grin on his face. He’s just so happy to be out.”

At the Training Center, the men are treated with respect, down to the way they’re referred to simply as clients. Photo: Chris Peck

Lifers, Dennis explains, aren’t like other clients. For one, they spent much of their sentence feeling like they’d never get out. They’ve defied the odds. And even then, once released the rules are different for them. If they screw up on the outside, there are no second chances.

We walked inside one of the shared residences – like a small two-story condo, with a living space and a few bedrooms. We chatted with the guys living there. The majority had only been out for a week or two.

“Man, the craziest thing to me was eating with a metal fork and hearing the sound of it clanging against your teeth,” said one of the men. Dennis starts busting up. “We had one guy a few weeks ago walk across the street and just hug a tree!” said Dennis, laughing. “It had been decades since he’d seen a tree.”

The guys remarked they were happy to take things slow in their first weeks of freedom – to just soak it in and take the time to complete small tasks, like getting themselves new IDs.

It’s these small steps, Dennis explains, that matter, and the guidance that The Training Center provides that give these men the opportunity to take steps in the right direction for themselves. As a Cobian ambassador, Dennis takes the message that “Every Step Matters” to heart, and each year Cobian provides sandals for staff and “clients” to help support their mission.

Photo: Chris Peck

When I went to leave, I heard footsteps behind me. One of the clients we’d been talking to rushed to the gate to say goodbye. “I was just in my cell… I mean my room…” he began, but stopped short, then flashed a grin. A reminder to himself that he was on the outside now.

This piece was originally published on The Inertia.

California Fighting to Ban Plastic Bags Statewide

California could make history come November, so you never have to take a bag to the face in the lineup again. And it's good for marine wildlife too! Photo: Surfrider

California could make history come November, so you never have to take a bag to the face in the lineup again. And it’s good for marine wildlife too! Photo: Surfrider

At 7-years-old, Zoe Florence could hardly see above the podium when she approached the microphone to speak her mind in the Huntington Beach City Council Chamber. During an August meeting in 2011, then-mayor, Joe Carchio, had yielded the floor to public comment. “I’ve lived in Huntington Beach my whole life,” said Zoe, “and first I want to thank you for thinking about what plastic bags are doing to our coast and our city.” She went on to talk about the merits of a city ordinance to ban single-use plastic bags in grocery stores and other retailers. Behind her stood two representatives from the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, and to her left, 13-year-old Aimee Borgmeyer, clad head-to-toe in a suit made entirely of plastic bags, an effort to demonstrate the environmental impact of the convenience aspect of convenience stores and grocers.

Zoe Florence (left), Aimee Borgmeyer (right), and two representatives from Surfrider's local chapter speak at an HB city council meeting in August, 2011. Photo: HBTV

Zoe Florence (left), Aimee Borgmeyer (right), and two representatives from Surfrider’s local chapter speak at an HB city council meeting in August, 2011. Photo: HBTV

After Zoe’s plea, it took the city (my hometown) two years to join countless other municipalities across the country in instituting a ban on single-use plastic bags. It was a win for environmentalism in an unlikely place.

It became a defining issue for Surf City. In 2012, Mayor Pro Tem Devin Dwyer became the first incumbent city councilman to lose a re-election race since 1996. He blamed his ‘yes’ vote on the ban for alienating his constituency.

In the 2014 city council race, candidate Mike Posey said in his official campaign statement, he would, “bring the plastic bag ban issue to the voters,” – one of two separate occasions Posey mentions the ban in his 242-word statement. Posey won a seat on the council, and took it upon himself to make it a centerpiece of his tenure.

The issue ultimately came to a head in 2015 when the city voted 6-1 to repeal the ordinance, the first municipality in the country to do so. Councilman Mike Posey was there, leading the charge, and according to the OC Register, it was the plastic bag issue that compelled him to run in the first place. “It was the most important issue to me,” Posey told the Register. “The ban has nothing to do with the environment. It has everything to do with a consumer’s freedom of choice.”

A handful of environmental groups, including the Surfrider Foundation, fundamentally disagreed, and levied a lawsuit against the city that is still pending.

Come November 8, disputes like these on the local level across California may be moot.

In 2014, while Posey was deciding to run for City Council, California Governor Jerry Brown was signing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags. Political maneuvering, though, resulted in delayed implementation. Now, the measure will be put to vote this year.

According to some estimates, plastics may outnumber fish in our oceans by 2050. Continued production and use of plastic bags certainly isn't helping. Photo: Surfrider

According to some estimates, plastics may outnumber fish in our oceans by 2050. Continued production and use of plastic bags certainly isn’t helping. Photo: Surfrider

According to the Surfrider Foundation, large plastic corporations are seeking to misinform the public by injecting a similar line of thinking to that of Councilman Posey that bag bans, “[have] nothing to do with the environment,” or even that they’re bad environmental policy.

One such campaign, an initiative called Bag the Ban, is supported by a South Carolina company called NOVOLEX that’s one of the leading manufacturers of plastic bags in the country. They go so far as to say bans on plastic bags increase a community’s carbon footprint.

“Misguided bans and taxes on plastic bags could weigh down the economy, increase costs for consumers and small business, and leave a larger carbon footprint on the environment than alternatives,” says the campaign website. “Plus, plastic bags are 100 percent recyclable and reused by 90 percent of consumers.”

But these claims are unsubstantiated. On the other hand, numerous environmental impact studies have shown the negative effects of single-use plastic bags, and/or the positive effects of a ban. One such study, conducted by Aecom Technology Corp, found that plastic bags have a negative short and longterm impacts on marine ecosystems, solid waste management, global resource consumption and litter. Ironically, the 2011 economic impact report solicited by the city of Huntington Beach (again, the only city to repeal a plastic bag ban) highlights the positive environmental impact of a ban in detail. And the city of San Jose found a 76% reduction in creek and river litter, a 59% drop in park and roadside plastic bag litter, and a 69% reduction in plastic bag litter in storm drains following their plastic bag ban.

The kicker, of course, is plastic bag bans aren’t effective in reducing waste alone. That requires a shift in behavior on behalf of the consumer. According to a study conducted by the UK Environment Agency, reusable bags made from polyethylene need to be used four times, polypropylene 11 times, and cotton 131 times before they’re better for the environment than single-use plastic bags. In other words, consumers need to be trained to reuse grocery bags in order to have a positive impact. Yet it’s difficult to deny that a lack of availability of plastic bags and a charge for paper bags might force the issue vis-à-vis the wallet.

Environmental studies resoundingly show the potential of municipal bans, leaving plastic bag manufacturers backed into a proverbial corner. And what does one do when backed into a corner? Well, fight tooth and nail to survive, even if the methods to do so don’t make all that much sense. Case in point, an additional proposition that’s made its way onto the California ballot – Proposition 65.

Funded by plastic bag manufacturers, Prop 65 calls for setting up a fund that would collect all profits accrued from the tax and sale of paper bags in grocery stores that would ultimately be applied to environmental projects across the state. Some political analysts speculate this as an effort to divide environmental groups and grocery lobbies – both of which support the statewide ban.

California communities have made history on this issue. San Francisco was the first city in the country to institute a ban in 2007. Huntington Beach, the first city to repeal in 2015. Now, the entire state could make history as the first in the continental US to impose a ban statewide (Hawaii became the first in 2015, but unlike California it was done county by county). But with the millions already spent by plastic bag companies to dissuade the public from upholding the ban, its far from in the bag.

This article was originally published on The Inertia on October 12, 2016.

Why No Surfer On Tour Has A College Degree

No pro surfer has a college degree, nor will they probably ever.

No pro surfer on tour has a college degree. Is that a problem?

When Robert Frost wrote, “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both,” he might as well have been talking about professional surfing and higher education. Of the 32 professional surfers on the men’s world tour, not one has attended a four-year university. The same is true for women.

Surfing at large has battled with negative characterizations – the slack jaw, stoner, hippie, nitwit kind – for decades. The Spicoli-cization of surfers in the eyes of non-surfers you might say. This kind of stereotype wasn’t born out of thin air. Indeed, for a long time surfing personified a subculture that rejected the school, work, pension reality of mainstream society. Intrinsic in that was a non-scholastic reputation.

But, in most developed countries over the last several decades there has been a trend toward higher education across the general population. College attendance rates are higher than ever before, and within the surfing subculture (that maybe is no longer even a sub-culture anyway), that same pattern rings true. Consider the proliferation of college surf teams, for instance.

But for professional surfing in particular, and the path to get there, the importance of education has remained particularly elusive. Probably because, well, aside from the fact that only a handful of colleges on this planet offer an adequate training ground for a surfer to mature as a competitor, it’d be really hard – especially in the United States – to do both simultaneously. Online classes may be the only way. But for traditional schooling that leaves two options: try to qualify for the world tour, then if all goes south, go to college; or go to college and take a four-year hiatus from making a run at qualifying, then chase points on the WQS. The former runs the risk of never going to college (one study found only 6% of students that take a year or more off will earn a bachelor’s degree by 26), and the latter runs the risk of being outpaced by the competition, and losing sponsorship deals that might minimize the cost of traveling the world to chase qualification dreams.

To put it differently, take your average 14-year-old ripper here in the U.S. At some point before this kid started competing, one grom gained an edge in the local contest scene by choosing to be home schooled  instead of attending mainstream public school, surfing two, or even three times a day. Maybe that kid even went on to achieve his professional surfing dreams without ever finishing high school. Other parents caught on and pulled their little prodigies from school too. In all likelihood, our 14-year-old friend is either leaning toward, or has already decided, that homeschool is the way to go, or has dropped out of high school altogether.

Surfing historian Matt Warshaw put it this way, “No doubt the planning and strategizing begins early, grade school maybe, and while you want to think that parents are steering their young pro tour hopeful to class, I suppose these days, more often than not, it comes down to ‘home schooling,’ which 98% means you’re not aiming at college, or just, I guess you’d say, a very relaxed idea about going to school at all.”

From then on, qualification becomes a young surfer’s raison d’être. Once the decision is made, few envision properly finishing high school, let alone attending college. And, of course, a select few make it on the dream tour, realizing their dreams, and that possibility motivates kids around the world – the slim shot that maybe they’re good enough.

But even surfers who’ve successfully made the jump to the World Championship Tour have expressed uneasiness about professional surfing’s relationship with education.

“My concern is with the amount of kids who choose, or feel the need to choose, to drop out of high school in order to chase their dream of becoming a pro surfer, and the number of parents that enable that decision,” says Ace Buchan. “I think the professional surf system has some questions to answer because the majority of kids who drop out of school to chase that dream end up 5 years down the track disillusioned, unfulfilled, uneducated, unsponsored and working out in the mines or waiting tables.”

But being a parent in this day and age is hard. Dino Andino is a former professional surfer himself, and the father of one kid (now adult) – Kolohe Andino – who made his world tour dreams a reality. When I spoke to him about what it’s like to come to the decision together to either pursue scholarship or surfing, Dino was candid. “You know I came from a broken home. And when it came to pro surfing, I was what you’d call a grinder,” he said. Dino would go to every event or photo shoot, and surf every contest. When Kolohe showed promise in surfing, he followed his father’s footsteps.

But Kolohe was good at school too, Dino said. He was in high achieving math classes. Ultimately surfing took over, and he never finished high school – something Dino expressed some regret over, looking back. “If there’s one thing I want people to know, it’s that all the small stuff doesn’t matter as much as you think it does in the moment,” he said.

When I asked him if he thought mandatory college attendance would be good for surfing, he had a point. “I’ve got buddies whose kids now have a shit ton of debt and no job, so I think it’s tough to speak on that.” He’s right. It’s a complex situation. College doesn’t necessarily equal a quality, paying job today. Not by a long shot. It’s a gamble, but almost certainly less so than surfing.

But if not a focus on college, maybe on high school. “Maybe there needs to be some sort of minimum standard education required to qualify for the tour of even the ‘QS,” says Ace.

Professional surfing is, obviously enough, very different from basketball, football, and even baseball. Surfing is a lifestyle, not a sport, you might say. It’s an individual, not a team. True. But on the college issue, they’re worthy of comparison for argument’s sake.

All leagues allow for an athlete to skip college altogether, but in the event that happens, the player is ineligible to be drafted into the league immediately after high school. In the NFL, the delay is four complete seasons. In other words, why not go to college and get a degree while you wait for eligibility to play? That explains why 50% of players have college degrees. In the NBA, the rule is a single year. Often players complete one year of college and skip out to play professional ball. That’s better than nothing. Baseball has the worst record of college graduates, as it doesn’t require any years of college per se, with 4.3% of players possessing a bachelor’s degree. Still, that’s better than surfing. Also consider that the NFL, NBA, and MLB all incorporate where the athlete attended school (even if it was just through high school) in the athlete’s bio online. The WSL does not. It, literally, cannot, because many would be left completely empty.

We asked the WSL what sort of infrastructure or support might exist for competitors hoping to pursue higher education. They declined to comment.

Of course, football, basketball, and even baseball are sports recognized by the NCAA. There is money to be made in sponsorship of college bowl games, and March Madness. College-level surfing doesn’t attract the same level of sponsorship, or even garner much hype whatsoever, because those surfing at the highest level avoid the Ivory Tower completely.

Professional surfing isn’t alone in this problem. Far from it. And college isn’t the end all be all, either. Plenty of men and women have become successful without a college education. But at the very least it’s a sad reality that surfing and college (and to a lesser extent mainstream high school) have to be mutually exclusive, and, as of now, a choice must be made. How many kids have lost that gamble? And is it really their fault? When you’re twelve years old and your sponsors are pumping you up about how great you are, is it all on you when you decide you’re going to effectively end the possibility of going to college to chase the glamor of the Dream Tour?

Ultimately, what it comes down to is what kind of sport we want surfing to be. Should the WSL require a high school diploma or GED? A year of college? Two? Four? Maybe that would push talent to colleges, giving surf teams more money through sponsorship deals. Hell, maybe then we’ll be watching live streams of college surf championships. But that requires change, and thoughtful reevaluation. First, professional surfing must recognize it has a problem. And that’s an issue that might require hitting the books.

Editor’s Note: The WSL acknowledged that no athlete on tour has attended a college or university but declined to comment on the topic of education’s place in professional surfing.

This article was originally published on The Inertia on August 3, 2016. 

Where Did the Word “Kook” Come From, Kook?

Kook of the day

Photo: @kook_of_the_day

“Off my wave, you fucking kook!” If you haven’t heard or said some variation of this, you’re either lying or don’t surf. The word “kook” is ubiquitous in surfing. So much so that the moment it becomes a part of your vocabulary is like dipping your head in the baptismal font of culture. You’re in the club. And with one word you can point out everyone who isn’t. The guy with his wetsuit on backward: kook. The chick with her leash on her front foot: kook. The tourist couple waxing the bottom of their boards: kooks.

But kookiness, let’s call it, is a social construct. What I mean is it’s not real. It’s imaginary. And it’s divisive for no good reason. We’re all kooks from time to time. And trying not to be all the time is, frankly, kind of exhausting.

The word, depending on who you ask, has been a part of surf culture since the 1940s—at least in the way we use it today. Tom Blake, famous for developing hollow surfboards in the 1930s and ‘40s, called his design a cigar box or kook box. But in this case, the kook usage doesn’t fit the modern definition of an “inexperienced surfer or someone in violation of the unwritten rules.”

Popularization of the word has a contested history. Matt Warshaw, the preeminent surf historian of our time and developer of the Encyclopedia of Surfing, along with contributor Jeff Divine, argue it derives from the Hawaiian word for shit, “kukae”. The story goes that Dorian “Doc” Paskowitz and his friends who surfed San Onofre in the ‘40s nicknamed a break in the cliffs where they’d relieve themselves Kukae Canyon.

They quickly began to say they needed to ‘take a kook.’ And from there, anything bad became “a kook,” including if you were a piss poor surfer.

Warshaw and Divine say explicitly in the kook entry that the word does not derive from “cuckoo,” as in crazy. It’s worth noting that in the 1950s and ’60s surfers would steal words or phrases from popular culture—particularly television and movies—and appropriate them in an ironic way. Though it didn’t last. “Cowabunga” is a perfect example. Originally spelled “Kowabunga”, this was Chief Thunderthud’s greeting on The Howdy Doody Show. He first appeared on the show in 1953, and the surf world later caught on most likely mocking the kids show as an element of pop culture.

Similarly, another popular TV show that ran from the late ’50s to the early ‘60s, 77 Sunset Strip, featured a recurring comic relief character: Edd “Kookie” Byrns. With surfing’s explosion in popularity around that time (Gidget came out in 1959), the hoards of would-be surfers descending on Malibu, its proximity to Hollywood, etc. it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think “kook” could derive from “kookie.” Who knows, maybe both Doc and friends’ use of the term and “kookie” in pop culture both played a part. The bottom line is unlike other words like cowabunga, kook is one that stuck and pervades to this day.

Our attraction to kook as a word isn’t unlike other insults in English. It has a four-letter monosyllabic musicality. Two harsh consonants with a vowel digraph in the middle (see other four letter words: fuck, shit, you get the picture). But unlike other insults, kook is uniquely rooted in surfing. Other groups have probably appropriated it by now, but its origins are clear.

Calling someone a kook in an effort to put them down, though, whether it’s to their face or among friends, is what Michel Foucault would likely call an act of othering. That is, pointing out someone as an “other” to distance themselves and the group they belong to from that person. It’s artificial and super demeaning. But since the explosion of surfing into the mainstream in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s surfing has become a brand and sold, paradoxically, to even the most landlocked corners of the country. Surfing has an allure, an association with tropical paradise, the beach, and the sun, and, since Gidget, has attracted new surfers in droves. It makes sense that core surfers would feel the need to assert themselves for having been surfing longer, doing it better, doing it the right way, and other nonsense (though there is a right way to put on a wetsuit). So the word to do so has prevailed, and spilled into other cultures.

But when it comes down to it, the essence of kook is uniquely us. We are all kooks, each and every one of us. Acting like it may be the only way to get rid of the seriousness of the oh-so not serious act of playing in the ocean.

Aloha, my fellow kook! Photo: @kook_of_the_day

Aloha, my fellow kook! Photo: @kook_of_the_day

This article was originally published on The Inertia on May 19, 2016.

Zika Virus: A Global Cry for Help

(Originally published here).

There’s a lot we don’t know about the Zika Virus. Every media outlet reporting on the pandemic that has ravaged the Americas over the last few months has made that abundantly clear. The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that it is extremely concerned about Zika. And yet, other columnists downplay the danger, arguing the virus is nothing like the Ebola virus that claimed the lives of more than 11,000 across West Africa in 2014. Still, coverage of Zika mirrors that of Ebola; calls to action become regional and patriarchal, where the developed world must come to the developing world’s rescue. This dynamic stifles global collective action and prevention efforts.

It’s true. This is a different kind of epidemic. Zika is a mosquito-borne virus, not transmitted by fluids. The virus has a negligible mortality rate and usually causes mild flu-like symptoms. Rarely does it lead to hospitalization. Unlike the global health emergencies in recent memory—Ebola, swine flu, bird flu or SARS—Zika frightens us not because it kills its victims, but because it threatens the unborn.The regions affected by Zika are also witnessing a dramatic increase in microcephaly, a congenital birth defect that hinders brain development. Zika is thought to be a cause.

Fear has driven South and Central American governments to discourage pregnancy until the outbreak is quelled. In El Salvador, policymakers warned women not to get pregnant for two years.

Our fear of Zika is closely tied to our ignorance. We don’t know how common microcephaly is among women infected with Zika. We don’t know at what stage of pregnancy the baby remains at risk. We don’t know how long after contracting Zika a woman can safely get pregnant. And we don’t know the details of sexual transmission of the disease—there is some evidence but it appears rare.

Reading the popular press, one comes to the conclusion that Zika is a “Latin American problem.”Zika coverage has been consistent in this regard. One Guardian op-ed columnist went so far as to describe Zika as, “a disease of poverty.”

This perpetuates a paradigm of separation within global health pandemics and epidemics: the sick and dysfunctional developing world and the sterile developed world. This separation is ill founded. It also paints the developing world as an incubator of disease as a result of poor health infrastructure. And the developed world is the unsuspecting victim.

The reality, of course, is pandemics and epidemics exploit the vulnerabilities of any system, no matter how robust, albeit to varying degrees. That’s what makes them so frightening in the first place. Labeling health emergencies as the problem of a country or particular region only perpetuates a false sense of security elsewhere and discourages global cooperation.

Mosquitoes know no borders. And the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) declaration of a Level 1 alert—the same as that during Ebola and H1N1—reflects concern that the virus will spread in the United States. Of the 35 domestic cases of Zika observed thus far, all have been travel related. But that is likely to change as average temperatures increase across the nation during the spring and summer months.

For other regions, the danger may be less clear and present, but not outside the realm of possibility. According to the CDC, mosquitoes can spread the virus by biting a healthy individual after biting an infected individual. A traveler could contract the virus in an impacted country and bring it home to Europe, Asia, Africa or the Middle East.

The Zika Virus is only the most recent of potential pandemics that threaten the global population. And even though the symptoms are in most cases not serious to the individual that contracts the virus, transmission during pregnancy is of concern. Each epidemic is a cry for help. They demand recognition as global issues, not regional ones. We should table the distinction between the developed and developing worlds in favor of global collaboration.

Cuba: A Tale of Two Currencies


Dealing with security guards wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we decided to go on an ice cream run. It was a mild March day in Havana, by Cuban standards. Yet, having just flown in from New York days prior, we hoped a scoop could ease the transition from the blustery weather back home.

We were eight NYU students part of a larger group taking a field intensive course in Cuba, and after a lecture, we had decided to head to La Coppelia. It is one of the world’s largest ice creams parlors and occupies an entire city block in the Vedado district of Havana. The central structure looks like something out of the Jetsons, but the area surrounding it is more like a park with tables and awnings where Cubans can enjoy their ice cream. As we approached, a guard stopped us in our tracks.

“Español?” he asked.

“Yes,” I replied in Spanish.

“Will you be paying in Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) or pesos?” he continued.

“CUCs,” I said.

“Come with me.”

We followed him to a set of stairs. Another guard noticed us and gestured for us to follow him to the second floor. We were taken to a private room with a handful of people inside. We sat down and ordered.

Something was off. We had bypassed a line outside that snaked around the block. More entrepreneurial types even hawked cones and various ice cream-accouterments in line as customers patiently waited, but we received special treatment.

Come to find out, this event was a microcosm of a pressing reality in Cuba—the plight of two currencies. The issue has already fractured Cuban society, but as the country makes preparations to integrate further into the global market economy, the situation is an indication of the island’s fragility.

The two-currency system was created in 1994 as a way to deal with a weak economy. The Convertible Cuban Peso emerged as a second currency, and was pegged to the U.S. dollar. The Cuban government originally implemented CUCs to be used in the tourist industry and for luxury goods, but over time, this has created issues of access. What makes the situation more complex, is that there are two valuations of the peso in this system. At official exchange offices, or CADECAs, the rate is approximately 25 pesos per CUC. However, for state purposes the peso to CUC exchange is seen as one to one.

La Coppelia is a perfect example. Run by the state, it accepts both currencies and the price is the same across the board: if one scoop of vanilla costs one CUC, for those paying in pesos, the price would be one peso. In absolute U.S. dollar terms, the price would equate to about $1 USD for those paying in CUCs, and 4 cents for those paying in pesos. This is a dramatic difference, but it also explains the line. Most Cubans choose to endure the wait to pay four percent of the price we paid,

Though, not all Cubans even have access to CUCs. La Coppelia is one of the few cases where the dichotomy is so blatant. But consider a doctor who makes $64 USD per month. Paid out in Cuban pesos, this equates to $1,675 pesos per month. However, the real value of this salary depends on where it is used. If it is falsely inflated by the state, like it is at La Coppelia, the doctor’s monthly salary will be equivalent to $1,675 CUCs. At a CADECA, however, the doctor could only exchange that monthly salary for $67 CUCs.

Doctors used to be some of the highest paid professionals in Cuba. But now, lesser skilled entrepreneurs that are paid in CUCs have been able to exploit the two-currency system. Taxi drivers, hotel staff, and restaurant owners are perfect examples. For instance, if a typical taxi driver charges 8 CUC to take someone from the Vedado district of Havana to Old Havana, he or she only needs to complete this trip nine times per month to make more than a doctor. The trip takes less than 15 minutes.

The dual currency system has fractured the Cuban society. It can only be dealt with by uniting the two currencies—which the Cuban government announced it would do back in 2013. But even then there is potential for crisis. If the Cuban government were to announce overnight that one currency was no longer relevant, inflation would skyrocket—precipitating a serious economic crisis. Not to mention this would discourage foreign investment, which the island is so desperate for. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution, these are some of the growing pains that Cuba must endure in order to successfully transition to a full-fledged member of the global economy. Cuba cannot continue to have its ice cream and eat it too.

This article was originally published on on April 30, 2015. 

From Havana, With Love


“Hello, happy holidays!” In mid-March?

Strolling down the cobble stone streets that skirt the Plaza of the Cathedral and the Plaza de Armas, this phrase is ubiquitous. As any visitor of Old Havana can attest, Cubans often hurl this at passing tourists irrespective of the season. To U.S. citizens, the moment may falsely present itself as an opportunity to laugh. Look how out of touch Cubans are, they might say. After digging a bit deeper, a more troublesome reality is revealed: the U.S. and Cuba are on completely different wavelengths. This failure of Cubans and U.S. citizens to connect with one another over a simple greeting is a microcosm. It reveals that as the United States and Cuba grow ever closer politically, the way the United States has been conditioned to view Cuban society is no longer accurate or relevant. Cuba is not the static, backward, Cold War relic often represented in the U.S. media. And the picture of the old Cuba, once frozen in time, versus the new thawing Cuba is inaccurate. The persistence of this antiquated narrative is therefore a social problem for the United States. And if Washington hopes to normalize relations with Cuba any time soon, efforts must begin by tabling the paradigm on the home front.

Every winter under the noses of the United States, Canada’s snowbirds flock to Cuba to escape the frozen tundra of their homeland. This has had a tremendous influence not only on the Cuban economy but also on Cuban society. Canadians’ propensity, for instance, to call their vacation a holiday is likely the explanation for the popularity of the phrase “happy holidays”—wishing tourists a happy vacation. This is evidence that Cuba remains one of the only bastions of tourism that has successfully avoided U.S. influence. However, U.S. travelers are ill equipped to understand this reality. A chuckle or remark about how out of touch Cubans are would be better served if directed inwardly.

The U.S. is out of touch. Cuba has a booming tourism industry, and is being influenced by face-to-face contact with other cultures. These are details the U.S. narrative fails to encapsulate.

Historically, Cuba has also been represented as a Cold War relic. This characterization fails on two accounts. First, it suggests that Cuba has undergone no internal change, when in fact it is extremely dynamic. Second, it implies that with the U.S. embargo and a lack of influence, Cuba is virtually the same as during the Cold War. Politically this may carry weight. Economically, though, Cuba has undergone significant changes: from relying heavily on Soviet imports, to a restructuring in the “Special Period” of the 90’s, to a burgeoning private sector in the 21st century. Also, Cuba’s human rights record—specifically with respect to LGBT rights—has drastically improved since the early years of the revolution. As in any country, Cuba has seen waves of change. Unfortunately, change for Cuba has been defined in the U.S. as complete regime change. Therefore, these developments go unrecognized and the common narrative fails to adapt.

In order to support claims that Cuba is somehow backward or not modern, authors point to the World Bank statistic that only 25 of every 100 Cubans have access to the Internet. This assumes, though, that only those with access to the web are capable of accessing information. In fact Cubans have found a work around. El paquete semanal, or the weekly package, is a one-terabyte hard drive distributed on the black market that includes the most recent television shows, movies, games, documentaries, and information from around the world. Prices vary from 10 cuban pesos ($0.40 USD) to $10 USD depending on the amount of content and the type of package. While many Cubans lack Internet, el paquete broadens access to entertainment and information. This is not reflected in statistics. Therefore the official U.S. narrative is incomplete at best. Greater access to the internet does not breed modernity so much as access to information. And the Cuban people have access to information—albeit in an extralegal way.

Normalizing relations may be a diplomatic endeavor, but the importance of public opinion in the United States cannot be overstated. It will take an Act of Congress to dismantle the trade embargo completely. And U.S. citizens continue to elect senators and congressmen that espouse an antiquated view on the Cuban issue. They represent major barriers to normalization. Therefore, if President Obama is serious about pursuing strategies to throw out a policy that began just one year after he was born, he must actively pursue to change how Cuba is envisaged in the U.S. imagination. If not, a ‘happy holiday’ in Cuba for U.S. citizens might remain a dream.

This article was originally published on the Global Politics website on April 5, 2015.